Alcohol and Preakness weekend go together like Old Bay and crabs. You don’t need one to have the other, but it sure does help.

Bars, restaurants and breweries in the Baltimore area are using the 149th running of the Preakness Stakes as an opportunity to carry on old traditions (like black-eyed Susans) and create new ones (like rye flights). They hope to gin up support at a time when interest in horse racing — and boozing — is on the wane.

“I think there’s a lot of magic in tradition and keeping these legacies alive,” said Oliver Gray, marketing manager for Guinness Open Gate Brewery, where guests this Saturday will be able to snack on Preakness Pie and sip Preakness Cream Ale.

Though large-scale manufacturing at the Guinness facility in Maryland ended last year, the brewery still produces some beer on site, including the cream ale, which will be available in its Halethorpe taproom, some local bars and even at Pimlico during the races. Gray called the drink “super light and refreshing.”

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It’s Guinness’ second year partnering with the Preakness Stakes, an effort that Gray said made sense for the approximately 265-year-old company he represents. Such longtime brands can endure by leaning on their histories while offering unique experiences to guests focused on gaining new ones.

Attendance at Preakness has dropped since the pandemic, and the affair is no longer quite the drunkfest of previous decades. It’s been years since anyone even attempted to run across the port-a-potties. In fact, young people in general aren’t drinking like they used to. At the same time, the nearly century-and-a-half horse race still brings hordes of out-of-town visitors and offers an opportunity for business owners to introduce even more Maryland traditions.

“As far as I can remember, Preakness was always something really special,” said Joseph Wight, co-founder of Baltimore’s Wight Tea Co. The day before Preakness, he’s helping to organize an event at Mount Vernon’s Hotel Revival that offers guests a chance to enjoy tea-infused cocktails, including his own spin on the black-eyed Susan, the signature drink of the races.

The flowery, fruity cocktail’s recipe has changed many times since it was introduced in 1973, but depending on the decade, it often includes pineapple juice, orange juice, bourbon or rum, vodka and either Triple Sec or peach schnapps.

The iconic Black-Eyed Susan cocktail was introduced in 1973. It tastes like it, too.

Black-eyed Susans — the drinks, not the flowers — will be flowing at Jennings Cafe this weekend. Horse racing is in the DNA of the Catonsville institution, which opened in 1958. Its original owner also ran the Pimlico Hotel, where horse racing fans once rubbed elbows with celebrities visiting Baltimore from out of town. (The hotel’s famed Pimlico cake is on the menu at Jennings, too, though it’s a different recipe from the original.) Many years later, Jennings still attracts people to watch the races, said owner Steve Iampieri, who purchased the business in 2017. “People come to watch horses,” he said. “They like the nostalgia of it.”

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He’s noticed a change in Preakness itself over the last few decades. When he was in college, the event was a “shitshow” known for its raucous infield party. The last time Iampieri went to the races about six years ago, though, he found it to be a classier and more sophisticated affair. Still, Iampieri anticipates a significant crowd at Jennings on Saturday. In addition to black-eyed Susans, the restaurant will be serving up six variations on the traditional mint julep, such as ones made with tequila, gin or Scotch whiskey.

Even newer eateries, like Bunny’s in Fells Point, are getting in on the celebration. This weekend marks the first-ever Preakness party at the year-old restaurant, where guests can view the event on one of four TVs at the bar. It’s one of three events owner Jesse Sandlin is hosting at her Baltimore restaurants: She previously held a Kentucky Derby at Sally O’s in Highlandtown; next up is a Belmont Stakes party at the Dive in Canton.

At Bunny’s on Saturday, special cocktails come with betting slips so “you have an actual chance to win real money,” said Sandlin, who is also having a friend “flower bomb” the restaurant with black-eyed Susan blooms.

Magdalena, the upscale restaurant below the boutique Ivy Hotel in Midtown-Belvedere, is offering their own fresh take on Maryland history. Leading up to Preakness and for a few weeks afterward, guests can partake in a rye whiskey flight that features spirits from each of the three states that host a leg of the Triple Crown.

Food and beverage director Dane Wilfong said the idea came from a desire to honor Maryland’s history and influence on national rye production. “Not many people know that Baltimore produced almost more whiskey than Tennessee prior to Prohibition,” Wilfong said.

Plus, he added: “We can only reinvent the black-eyed Susan so many times.”

Christina Tkacik is the food reporter for The Baltimore Banner.

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