When spring arrives, Central Kentuckians' thoughts often turn to warm weather, Keeneland and the chance to sip a new cocktail on a patio.
We asked Keeneland and two other Lexington restaurants popular with the horsey set to tell us about the cocktails they serve that are inspired by the track's Spring Meet, which opens Friday and continues through April 27.
Here's what they had to say.
"When we think of Keeneland, we think lemonade, big hats, being in the sun," says Merrick Inn manager Zac Ratliff, who has created Lexington Lemonade with bartender Phillip Tincher for the 2012 spring meet.
The drink is a tart, lemony concoction that has Lexington-made Town Branch Bourbon as its base.
"It's Kentucky, baby. You gotta use bourbon," says Ratliff, who has worked at Merrick Inn for six years.
"Town Branch is one of the newer bourbons," he says. It's "very mild, very smooth, very easy to mix with."
The drink will be on Merrick Inn's drink menu.
Pour 1 ounce each of Town Branch bourbon, triple sec and sour mix into a shaker with ice. Shake and pour over ice into a highball glass. Fill with ginger ale, and garnish with mint.
DUDLEY'S ON SHORT
For the Paddock Punch at Dudley's on Short, longtime Lexington mixologist Ricky Arnett took a recipe that he had seen for a rum-strawberry cocktail and tweaked it.
By adding pineapple-flavored simple syrup and a little more lime juice than the original recipe called for, the cocktail became "refreshing, sweet — like your girlfriend would drink," says Arnett, who has tended bar at Dudley's for about 20 years. "You can't taste the rum."
And because of that, "it can be deadly," he says.
Arnett — who says he has been a bartender "seems like all my life," including stints in Atlanta, Florida and New Hampshire — says Paddock Punch is a great drink, especially for a warm spring or summer day.
Combine in a shaker with ice the juice of two limes, 11/2 ounces of Jamaican white rum and a half-ounce each of strawberry simple syrup and pineapple simple syrup. Shake and pour over ice into a Collins or red wine glass. Add a splash of soda. Garnish with lime slice and strawberry.
Jeff Ponder, director of operations for Turf Catering, which handles food and beverage service at Keeneland, says two of the cocktails on the track's menu are perfect fits for the spring meet, and for this time of year in general.
The Keeneland Breeze, a bourbon-based orangey concoction, is new to the menu under that name. But if the drink seems familiar, it's because it has been served at the track but under various names, including Spring Meet.
It was developed by Maker's Mark, the bourbon distiller in Loretto, Ponder says. Keeneland and Maker's Mark have had "a really good partnership over the years," he says.
The Keeneland Breeze is a "really good cocktail that fits with the time of the year that Keeneland is running," says Ponder, who has been at Turf Catering for about 25 years.
The other drink, the Bluegrass Bloody Mary, is a relatively new version of a classic.
Bloody Marys in general have been "wildly popular" at Keeneland, Ponder says, maybe because of the time of the day that people show up for the races. The Bluegrass Bloody Mary, which was added to the menu a few years ago, uses the top-shelf Grey Goose French vodka instead of a well brand. At Keeneland, it's mixed with Major Peters brand bloody Mary mix.
Ponder says Keeneland tried a different bloody Mary mix about 20 years ago, but there was a revolt, and the track went back to Major Peters.
The drink came out of a partnership between Turf and Grey Goose.
"When you make one with Grey Goose," he says of bloody Marys, "it's hard to resist."
Both drinks are available in all Keeneland dining rooms and all the grandstand bars.
Pour 1 part Maker's Mark bourbon over ice in a highball glass. Add a splash of orange liqueur and top with ginger ale and a squeeze of fresh orange juice. Garnish with an orange slice.
Bluegrass Bloody Mary
Pour 1 part Grey Goose vodka and 4 parts bloody Mary mix over ice in a tall highball glass. Garnish with a celery stalk and an olive and lime slice on a spear.
Some Keeneland customers want them doctored up. Keeneland can add Tabasco, horseradish or Worcestershire sauce.