What to Drink While Watching the Belmont Stakes

Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog
June 8 2012 9:13 AM

Drinking at the 2012 Triple Crown: An FAQ About Having Another

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The field heads down the front stretch during the 143rd running of the Belmont Stakes in June 2011

Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

What happened at the Derby?

Troy Patterson Troy Patterson

Troy Patterson is Slate's writer at large and writes the Gentleman Scholar column.

On the first Saturday in May, at Churchill Downs in Louisville, a colt named I’ll Have Another won the Kentucky Derby.

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How was your mint julep?

What happened at the Preakness?

One fortnight and 9.5 dramatic furlongs later, at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, I’ll Have Another had another winthe Preakness Stakes.

What do they drink there?

Natty Boh’, fool. But the official drink of the Preakness is the “Black-Eyed Susan,” which is the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup of citrus-forward crowd-pleasers.

Hey! You got your whiskey sour in my screwdriver!”?

Precisely. There’s also a Preakness cocktail, which is essentially a Manhattan with a touch of Bénedictine.

Do they drink a lot of those in the infield at the Preakness? What happens there?

Can’t really talk about it. Being in the infield at the Preakness is rather like being in a fight club, in Las Vegas, bound not only by the terms of a confidentiality agreement and a non-compete but also with duct tape.

For further reference, see this Washington Post item about Pimlico’s metamorphosis into a pagan theme park with a mascot named Kegasus. And if you click on this FoxNews.com piece, you’ll discover a classic.

“Organizers chose ‘Get Your Preak On’ as the cornerstone of their new, social-media marketing campaign….” This is for real?

Wait till you get to the part about “UniCarl.”

“A half-man, half-unicorn serves as Kegasus' personal assistant and trainer, according to lore developed by Preakness marketing staff.”… Is there something in the water at Pimlico?

That would be the Boh’.

Belmont is Saturday, yes? What time?

Turn to NBC—or to Belmont Stakes radio, or what have you—to follow along as I’ll Have Another chases the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing at Belmont Park in Elmont, Long Island. The TV broadcast begins at 4:30 p.m. EST. Post time is 6:35.

With what would I best wet my whistle when tasting this test of champions?

Tricky question! Remember that this is a New York horse race: Animal locomotion meets location-location-location.

OK, LET’S SAY I’M GOING TO BELMONT PARK.

Do not go to Belmont Park.

Why not?

Because whenever a horse is running for a place in the record books alongside Secretariat (1973), Seattle Slew (1977), and Affirmed (1978), a few extra people show up, and then a few more, and all of a sudden there’s a crowd of 120,000. In my experience, watching Big Brown in 2008, the extra people do not especially care about the race. Nonetheless, they exhibit a powerful array of emotional and urinary needs. It’s like a cross among a fair, a picnic, Penn Station during a summer-holiday rush, and the opening scene of Don DeLillo’s Underworld. Imagine a litter of betting tickets raining upon a Jets tailgate during a Billy Joel video directed by David Milch. Now mingle in body spray, bratwurst belches, and the way some girls can be about horses. Then swirl all this into the essential air of seediness that Belmont shares with every other major racetrack. See the hardcore regulars glued to TV monitors beaming out-of-town action; pick up on their methadone-clinic vibe. Look at the historical record—the Tribune’s coverage of Belmont Park’s opening in 1905:

The attendance, moreover, was not restricted to any one locality nor to any one class. They came, men and women, old and young, from the classic confines of Boston and Cambridge, from Philadelphia and from the sporting environs of Chicago and the coast cities. The Bowery and the Avenue mingled in the surging democracy of the betting ring. And both the Bowery and the Avenue wore its best clothes—and went home with them tattered and torn.

Plus, of course, there is horseshit.

When it was Big Brown’s year—when the crowd, over capacity, paralyzed the plumbing system and the lines for the portable toilets were hilariously alinear—I saw two strangers sitting on the steps inside. They may have been a young couple—college kids on mushrooms or something, by the look of them—and for sure they were losing their shit in sorrow on a bad trip to Belmont Park. The boy was doing his bravest to console the girl, who wept hoarsely for her lost innocence, but there was trouble in his faraway eyes.

What’s all that supposed to mean?

That Belmont Park is AWESOME, but you should go during the fall championship meet (September 8 - October 28, 2012).

Shit. I’m already here. It’s a bachelor party. What do I do?

Stay calm. Sip on 24-ounce cans of Budweiser. It’s the most economical choice. Consider the savings in wait-time, opportunity cost, spillage, strength for later, and so on. The bridegroom-elect should be double-fisting at a moderate pace. It would also be charming for the best man to buy the party one round of the official drink at some point.

What is the official drink of the Belmont Stakes?

Well, back in the day, the official drink of Belmont Stakes was, essentially, a fizzy fuzzy navel with a splash of cream—the white carnation.

Ew.

Then, in 1997, Rainbow Room bartender Dale DeGroff whipped up the Belmont breeze, the less disgusting version of which involves bourbon, sherry, a medley of fruit flavors, and mint. The cranberry juice connects the drink to the cosmopolitan and other bygone fashions—SATC at APT, OK?

How does the Belmont breeze taste?

Julie Powell once described it as “refined trash can punch.” On a related note, in The Craft of the Cocktail, DeGroff offers directions for making Belmont breeze by the gallon.

What’s this I hear about the new official cocktail of the Belmont Stakes?

Last week, Brown-Forman, a diversified producer of fine quality consumer products, issued a press release debuting “The Woodford Reserve Belmont Jewel.” The capitalist tools at Forbes report that Belmont jewel creator Drew Revella “started with bourbon because of its tradition in the horse-racing world” and then “added in the fresh, natural ingredients as a nod to this year’s new farm-to-table inspired menu.”

How do I get one of those at the track?

They’re served on the second floor of the clubhouse (near the Player’s Club), on the third floor of the clubhouse (in the food court), in the grandstand (by the escalators), and also in the lower grandstand (at Crop and Saddle*).

* Crop and Saddle is not an S&M club. Repeat: not.

How do I make a Belmont jewel ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD?

To fix this unpretentious refreshment, mix unnecessarily good bourbon with lemonade and pomegranate juice. Garnish with lemon.

Can you explain what the deal is with pomegranate juice and antioxidants?

Sorry, no, not my bailiwick.

Are there any precedents for the Belmont jewel?

The Belmont jewel is in the tradition of the New York cocktail. The New York, a.k.a. the New Yorker, is oddly obscure, but its direct elegance has a hall-of-fame quality. All you need is ice, whiskey (bourbon or rye or Canadian or whatever), the juice of half a lemon (or, better, one whole lime), non-crappy grenadine (to taste), and maybe a little extra sugar, depending on the character of your whiskey (or lack thereof). In Playboy’s Host and Bar Book, Thomas Mario suggests serving the New York cocktail in a sugar-frosted glass to perfect a “fruity terrace cocktail appreciated equally under sun or stars.”

I could do that every weekend!

Indeed!

RECIPE PLEASE.

Here is Slate’s vulgarization of the indubitable Lucius Beebe:

2 oz. 100-proof rye

1 barspoon very sweet fresh grenadine

juice of one lime

Shake with ice. Strain into a chilled glass. Garnish with an orange twist.

THNX! Lucius Beebe is the illest. Do you think I could pull off a top hat? OMG, what am I going to wear at the track?!?

If you’re determined to wear a top hat, be sure it doesn’t clash with your waistcoat and drink a Mr. New Yorker, an aperitif cocktail with dry vermouth, dry gin, dry sherry, and a dash of Cointreau. It’s listed in Beebe’s Stork Club Bar Book, along with other fixtures of that Sweet Smell of Success era.

Should I strive to emulate that era in my attire?

Verily. A gentleman wears a collared shirt and a jacket to the Belmont Stakes, but a necktie is doomed once the party really gets going, might as well skip it. However, please stick a bow tie in your pocket. You may abruptly find yourself in a situation where it is desirable to be a bit dressier, such as dining in the Trustees’ Room or appearing before a judge.

Any special tips for husky guys?

Go to the big-and-tall section at Men’s Wearhouse. Show them the Guys and Dolls opener and ask for the Nicely Nicely treatment very nicely very nicely.

What about the ladies?

All the single ladies and such.

Per the official dress code, elegant attire has long been a tradition at Belmont Park. As a public service, I’ve cross-referenced those guidelines with Bill Cunningham’s most recent New York Times video, a forecast of a summer of “women deciding for themselves what lengths their skirts would be and how high they would wear their shorts.”

• You may not wear jeans in the box seats.

• You may not wear hot pants in the clubhouse.

• You may not wear a micro-miniskirt in the Garden Terrace.

• The management reserves discretion regarding leggings in the Trustees’ Room.

• There is no explicit prohibition against wearing an ethereal transparent gown in the paddock or the winner’s circle.

• Shoes and shirt required in the grandstand.

Any other tips for “the ladies”?

• Think with your head about your hat.

• Do not rule out cute flats.

• One more time: Take a sweater in case it gets cold.

What should I drink if I’m following the Belmont Stakes ELSEWHERE IN NEW YORK STATE? LIKE UPSTATE OR SOMETHING?

• Jerry Thomas’ Golden-Age recipe for the Saratoga is essentially a Manhattan with a slug of brandy in it. In 1882, Harry Johnson offered a yet-more-decadent cocktail of the same name, featuring brandy and Champagne. Johnson further proposed the “Saratoga Brace Up”—brandy with an egg in it—as a healthy snack.

• As ever, an important part of making yourself at home in a sponged-upon summer house is to check the liquor cabinet for small-batch whiskeys from the Hudson Valley.

• Rheingold gets results.

• See also Semi-Homemade Cocktail Time* by Sandra Lee, the girlfriend of Governor Cuomo.

* Before you look at the tie-in Web site, know that Lee suggests a retina-blasting tropical cocktail for this time of year—the “Cuervo Caribbean Mist”—and dim your screen accordingly.

What if I’m hosting a Belmont Stakes viewing party in THE HAMPTONS?

Remember to plan carefully when chilling Champagne for guests. As a rule of thumb, during daylight hours, you’ll go through one jeroboam of Moët per three social-climbing floozies per hour.

For further ideas, see MANHATTAN, below.

What should I drink ELSEWHERE ON LONG ISLAND? A Long Island Iced Tea, right??

Settle down, Beavis. Have a Manhasset, which is essentially a perfect Manhattan with lemon, or try a crisp white wine from a North Fork vineyard. If you’re feeling industrious, tinker with the old Belmont breeze recipe until it yields something worthy of the name “Redefined Trash Can Punch.” Start by borrowing a 10-gallon Gatorade drum from a lacrosse team.

For further ideas, see STATEN ISLAND, below.

What should I drink for the Belmont Stakes if I’m in MANHATTAN?

• You can enjoy pineapple juice in Harlem or on Park Avenue, and for ideas further south—the parts of Manhattan rezoned as a kind of “Flatiron Martini District”—see also BROOKLYN, below.

• If it’s warm out, stroll up to the Carlyle for a refreshing Tommy Rowles, or take an air-conditioned town car way downtown for a “Zuccotti Park Spritzer.”

• You could also test out this thing called the New York flip, which involves tawny port and an egg.

What should I drink for the Belmont Stakes if I’m in BROOKLYN?

If you live in Brooklyn and you want to get snobby with the Belmont jewel described above, you could buy some pomegranate molasses at Sahadi’s and play around with that. It’ll give the drink more of a tannic structure...

Oh, gawd.

You asked.

Just get on with it.

…But here, as in downtown Manhattan, you can’t swing a dishrag without hitting a world-famous mixologist. He or she can fix you a Brooklyn—or a Bensonhurst, a Brooklyn Heights, a Bushwick, a Carroll Gardens, a Cobble Hill, a DUMBO, a Greenpoint, a Red Hook, a [Park] Slope, or a Sunset at Gowanus, many of which are essentially variations on the Brooklyn, which is itself essentially a Manhattan wearing a vest…

Uh-huh.

…and given the context of a sporting event run under the local daylight, if you’re out on the town in so-called “Grown-Up Brooklyn,” I’d recommend tracking down a festive interpretation of the New York sour, such as the New Amsterdam sour.

Noted. Have you had the East New York flip?

No. What’s that?

It’s where you walk into this bar in East New York and you order an organic Brooklyn sour and then they stick half a lemon up your Lucky Peach.

In East New York, ask for Brass Monkey and pour some out for MCA.

What should I drink for the Belmont Stakes if I’m in QUEENS?

An aficionado of apricot ought to order an orange-kissed Aqueduct.

What about THE BRONX?

What should I drink for the Belmont Stakes if I’m on STATEN ISLAND?

What on Earth are you doing on Staten Island?

Wedding reception.

Toast the newlyweds and the Thoroughbreds with the Godfather.

What do you call the drink that’s one part Malibu and one part pineapple juice?

What should I buy a round of if I’ll Have Another wins the Triple Crown and, more to the point, my superfecta bet comes through?

Say, “Gimme a Cock-tail, New-York Style.” It’s the ritziest old-fashioned. David Wondrich (who grew up in Bay Ridge) reports that, by 1850, the city had harnessed the original “cocktail” for use as a status symbol. For the liquor, choose between genever (the thick gin of the old Dutch) or Cognac (a favorite of flossing spendthrifts from time immemorial). Demerara sugar enriches the richness. The absinthe is optional; the consumption, conspicuously delicious. Take care to pony up a Gatz of a tip.

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