Drink

Why We Have Black Bartenders To Thank For Classic Triple Crown Cocktails

Make your own version of the Southside with Cane Collective mixers.

southside cocktail
Photo by Cole Saladino for Thrillist

Everybody knows that the Mint Julep is synonymous with the Kentucky Derby. The imagery of bourbon and a heaping handful of crushed ice brimming out of a silver cup accented by a mint spring is practically ingrained in our minds. But what about the cocktails associated with the other two races apart of the Triple Crown and who, exactly, do we credit for their creation?

The Triple Crown of thoroughbred horse racing consists of the Kentucky Derby in Louisville, the Preakness Stakes in Baltimore, and the Belmont Stakes in New York. Each jewel has its own signature cocktail is reflective of its horse race’s heritage. 

“With the Kentucky Derby, bourbon plays a huge role because of the location,” says Aaron Joseph, co-owner of Cane Collective, a Baltimore-based mixer and consulting company, along with his partners Ezra Allen and Clinton Jackson. “The mint julep is one of the cocktails that has an affinity for that particular race, but what most people don’t know is the it was first made by a Black man.” 

Crafted with bourbon, mint, crushed ice, and sugar, the Mint Julep may seem simple enough, but it has a storied history. Created by Louisville’s Tom Bullock, the first African-American author of a cocktail book, The Ideal Bartender in 1917, the Mint Julep skyrocketed in popularity after the end of Prohibition and became the official drink of the Kentucky Derby in 1938. Since then, it’s become as synonymous with the Derby and Churchill Downs.

While its history is not as long as the Mint Julep, the Black-Eyed Susan has been the Preakness’ official drink since 1973. It was created by Harry M. Stevens Co., the longtime caterers at Pimlico Race Course. Though the name has remained the same, the cocktail’s ingredients haven’t been as consistent. It’s been made with rum, whiskey, and then bourbon—and then back to whiskey, with pineapple and grapefruit juices making appearances at some point, too. But vodka, orange juice, peach schnapps, and sour mix are always included in more recent versions.

At the Triple Crown’s third leg, the Belmont Stakes, there have been three different official drinks over the last 20 years. The White Carination was the official drink until 1997 when it was replaced by the Belmont Breeze the next year. The Belmont Jewel took center stage in 2011. It is the perfect light cocktail for a horse race, crafted with bourbon, lemonade, and pomegranate juice.

But the Black-Eyed Susan isn’t the only popular cocktail you’ll see on menus around Baltimore during the Preakness season. “In addition to the Black-Eyed Susan, cocktails like the Southside are very prominent this time of year,” Joseph says. 

A Southside is typically made with gin, lemon, mint, and sugar. While the Southside has ties to Long Island and Chicago (think Al Capone), leave it to Baltimore to have its own spin. Baltimoreans typically enjoy Southsides with rum or vodka. It has a different spirit application there because of what has been accessible over the years after Prohibition. 

Sailors received rum rations as they were coming to port and most times those rations were undesirable to drink by themselves. Naturally, they wanted to mask the rum’s impurities, so they substituted gin for rum. Fast forward to the 1970s when vodka gained prominence, so people began substituting it for rum in their Southsides. 

People also fled the city for the suburbs during this time and took their cocktails with them. To this day, Baltimore-area country clubs still have the Southside on their menus year-round in large part to Black bartenders who have worked at the same prominent places for many years. Andrew “Andy” Ervin, who was a bartender at the Elkridge Club in Baltimore County for 63 years, is credited as being one of the reasons why the Southside cocktail is so popular in the area.

But now things have gotten even more modernized, and these types of drinks can be found outside the confines of white-dominated country clubs, being celebrated in new and fresh ways.

“The city has had a modern revolution for about 10 years, where craft cocktails are now at the forefront of the drinking culture,” Joseph says. “People have high expectations when it comes to their cocktails, and fresh ingredients are imperative.”

Cane Collective, which outsources fresh ingredients from local farmers for its mixers, has a Southside Mix as a part of its regular offerings to pay homage to Baltimore’s past and present cocktail culture. Buy a bottle here or make one of these Preakness-themed cocktails below.

Southside 

Ingredients:

  • 3 oz. Cane Southside Mix
  • 1.5 oz. of vodka or light rum
  • 1 oz. club soda

Directions:
1. Add mix and spirits to mixer tins. Add ice to tins. Shake vigorously for 15 seconds. 
2. Strain into rocks glass. Add club soda and ice.
3. Garnish with lemon wheel and mint sprig. 

Southside Mule

Ingredients:

  • 3 oz. Cane Southside Mix
  • 2 oz. vodka or gin
  • 3 oz. ginger beer

Directions:
1. Add mix and spirits to mixer tins. Add ice to tins. Shake vigorously for 15 seconds. 
2. Strain into collins glass. Add ginger beer and ice.
3. Garnish with lemon wheel and mint sprig.

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Ashlee Tuck is the founder and editor-in-chief of Will Drink For Travel, a website dedicated to all things travel and mixology. She considers herself a cocktail enthusiast with a heart for highlighting Black-owned spirits.
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