Just before Christmas, I found myself in the company of Neil and Christine Hamilton, a couple of MasterChef critics and a tanned gentleman who apparently sits in judgment on Strictly Come Dancing, in a beautiful art-deco bar just off Piccadilly in London. We were watching 10 thrusting young bartenders vying with each other to make the best bloody mary, in a competition sponsored by the Louisiana hot sauce giant Tabasco.
I couldn’t help thinking such a noble drink deserved a little more in the way of celebrity fanfare, but as Tuesday afternoons go, it was a pleasingly surreal one. There were two rounds: one in which the competitors made a traditional bloody mary, and a second where they were allowed a freer rein to muck about with foams and smoke and the like, all of which left me more in love with the classic drink than ever. Garlic-infused vodka, which featured in the winning alternative recipe, may be clever, but it would certainly rank very high in a list of bad ideas for the morning after the night before, which is, along with the airbourne aperitif, surely the moment a bloody mary was made for.
Although I like the idea of being someone who can, when the occasion demands, put away a cocktail at any time of day, the truth is that drinking buck’s fizz or marmalade martinis at breakfast makes me feel a wee bit woozy. Bloody marys, conversely, have an almost invigorating effect. It’s probably a combination of their wholesome tomato juice and rejuvenating kick of spice – plus, perhaps, a happy vision of myself relaxing in shades and a sundress at Don Draper’s Sunday brunch party.
As with any classic worth its celery salt, there are as many variations on a bloody mary as there are stories behind the name. Most are pretty tasty, but which one’s bloody best?
- I say tomato …
- Spices and greenery
- To ice?
- The perfect bloody mary
- A Guide to the Bloody Mary and its Many Variations
- The Red Snapper
- Bloody Maria
- Bloody Caesar
- Green Mary
- Bloodless Mary
- Bacon Bloody Mary
- The Shrimp Cocktail
- Peruvian Bloody Mary
- The Absurd Garnish Variety
- The St. Regis New York
- Bartending/Cocktails/Bloody Mary
- Preparation and serving
- Bloody Mary
- How to make the ultimate Bloody Mary
- What is a Bloody Mary and who came up with it?
- How to make it part one: Pick your base
- Top tommies…
- A little something extra
- Garnish, garnish, garnish
- Build it like a pro
- Try something new
- A Little Background
- If You Like This, Try These
- What You Need
- The Drunken Vegan’s Guide to Bloody Marys: Animal-Free Versions in STL and At Home
I say tomato …
Tomato is, obviously, a non-negotiable element of a bloody mary. I have had colourless versions in the past but, while ‘tomato water’ might be the very essence of the fruit, without the pulp the drink lacks the requisite richness. I always think of a bloody mary as halfway between a cocktail and a snack, which means it needs to be brick red and satisfyingly thick.
I’m with Victoria Moore, author of the marvellous How to Drink, on the importance of spending a little bit of money on your tomato juice: it’s the principal ingredient, so it makes no sense to opt for a watery, bland value version. If you live somewhere where you get a good supply of really ripe tomatoes, you could even make your own in season, although personally I’m not convinced it’s worth the effort.
All the recipes I try use plain old tomato juice, but Margot Henderson has a trick up her sleeve in her book You’re All Invited: she mixes the juice with fresh horseradish, English and Dijon mustards, Tabasco, Worcestershire sauce, pepper, lemon juice and celery salt and leaves it to infuse for a week before use. Her bloody marys are intensely rich and tomatoey, with no individual ingredient predominating: delicious, but actually slightly overpowering at breakfast time.
I do like the way the ingredients have married though, so I’m going to leave mine to settle for half an hour – not long enough to put you off the idea (rarely do I plan my bloody marys a week in advance), but certainly enough time to make a difference to the finished drink.
Bloody mary aficionados are fiercely divided on the subject of gin versus vodka (strictly speaking, the first turns the drink into a red snapper, which I happen to think answers the question). Though I favour the first for a martini, I reckon the cleaner flavour of vodka works better with the hullabaloo of other ingredients in a bloody mary – as indeed do the authors of almost every recipe I try, save for that from the Hawksmoor recipe book, which calls for a good gin infused with fresh horseradish. (NB this is for their bloody mary no 7 – for the classic no 4, the steak people use vodka instead.) Whatever the spirit, the horseradish infusion lends a pleasantly peppery kick, without the slight harshness that I find comes with adding the grated stuff direct.
Many moons ago, I drank an extraordinarily good bloody mary in a bar in Bristol, and discovered the barman’s secret was the terminally unfashionable local tipple, Bristol cream sherry. It adds a subtle sweetness and richness to the drink and, as it turns out, it’s not actually that original: Lindsey Bareham rinses the glass with sherry in her Big Red Book of Tomatoes, while Victoria Moore specifies bone-dry fino or the slightly fuller amontillado sherry, saying that for her: “It’s the sherry that really makes , bridging the gulf between the hot but clean spirit and the fruity tomatoes.”
Spices and greenery
Certain elements of a bloody mary are non-negotiable: Worcestershire sauce, some variety of hot sauce (generally Tabasco), lemon juice, salt and pepper. Add tomato juice and vodka and you’ll have yourself a very decent drink. As I discovered at the bloody mary challenge, this isn’t a drink to be mucked around with – New York chef April Bloomfield adds lemon zest, for example, in her book A Girl and Her Pig, which gives a slightly bitter edge. Henderson’s mustards add an unwelcome hint of salad. Grated fresh horseradish is too harsh. Celery salt is the one luxury I’ll allow: the intensely savoury note is welcome with the sweet sherry and tomato juice. A celery stick makes an excellent stirrer, but there’sno need to put the leaves in the glass itself, as Bloomfield does: a tangled mass of vegetation just interferes with a civilised drink.
The bloody mary is an American drink, so it’s perhaps no surprise that most recipes call for it to be served over ice – they can’t get enough of the stuff. But as a bloody mary tends to be sipped rather than glugged, the melting ice fatally waters down your carefully made cocktail.
Victoria Moore suggests shaking a bloody mary over ice if making the drink in small quantities, but this is an even worse idea: shaking tomato juice just makes it fluffy and foamy. Much better to do as DeGroff suggests in the Craft of the Cocktail and “roll” the drink, or pour it back and forth between two glasses, instead. This mixes and allows you to look like a skilled mixologist – many of the competitors in the bloody mary challenge had perfected the trick of pouring from some height, which is probably something that ought to be practised in private with water before it becomes your party trick. Rolling is impractical if you’re making a jug, rather than individual drinks, however: instead, stir well, and make sure both your tomato mix and your vodka are well chilled before use to ensure maximum invigoration.
The perfect bloody mary
Certain elements of a bloody mary are non-negotiable. Photograph: Felicity Cloake for the Guardian
5cm piece of fresh horseradish
1l good tomato juice
2 tsp tabasco
2 tsp worcestershire sauce
1 tsp celery salt
1 lemon, cut into wedges
2 tbsp amontillado or cream sherry (cream is sweeter)
Celery, to serve (optional)
Cut the horseradish into chunks and stuff them into the vodka. Seal and leave to infuse for a day, then strain and discard the horseradish.
Mix together the tomato juice, Tabasco, Worcestershire sauce and celery salt and briefly squeeze each lemon wedge into the jug, leaving some juice in each. Season well with black pepper, and check the spice level for your taste, adjusting if necessary. Drop the wedges into the jug and stir together well. Cover and chill for at least 30 minutes.
Pour the vodka and sherry into the jug and stir well with a celery stick. Seize the day and serve immediately.
Bloody mary – is it the only thing to drink before lunch, or a weird hybrid of soup and snifter which is best left in the 1960s? Do you prefer yours with gin or vodka – or neither – and just why do so many of us order them on aeroplanes?
In its simplest form, the Bloody Mary is little more than a glass of tomato juice and a splash of vodka. At its most outrageous, you’ll find it garnished with bacon, shellfish, hamburgers — basically anything that’s likely to send your Instagram feed into a meltdown.
While some of these garnishes go too far, the beauty of the Bloody Mary is that it allows you to be as adventurous or inventive as you like. You can play around with citrus, spices, and heat to come up with a combination that caters to your individual taste.
Creativity shouldn’t stop with the Mary mix or the garnish, either. This is a cocktail, after all, and one of its best features is its alcoholic kick. And while vodka does a great job of doing this, the cocktail can be elevated even further by experimenting with different spirits. From some well-known alternatives to surprising supplements, here are eight alternatives to vodka for your Bloody Mary.
Gin (a.k.a Red Snapper)
Gin’s lengthy list of botanicals adds an extra layer of complexity, with juniper-forward options like Beefeater and Sipsmith amplifying the savory spices and celery salt. Citrus-heavy gins like Roku or Amalfi create a lighter, zingy, refreshing cocktail.
If you want to treat your Bloody Mary as more than a boozy brunch libation, Aquavit serves a serious, complex cocktail. It’s spicy, savory, and ever so slightly fishy, but somehow that works. Put simply, this is an even more nuanced Red Snapper, and one to impress your hippest friends.
Sherry (Fino or Manzanilla)
This mix is umami-rich with a lingering, smoked finish. The oxidative notes of the sherry highlight the savory side of the Bloody Mary mix, leading one taster to comment, “Drinking this, I feel like I’m eating a delicious roast chicken dish.”
Extra Dry Vermouth
The botanicals and herbs of vermouth blend elegantly with tomato, spice, and celery salt. The aromatic fortified wine seems to lift the drink, giving it a lighter, fresher texture. Meanwhile, its low ABV content will help keep a boozy brunch from getting out of hand.
Don’t be put off by its ketchupy nose — bourbon serves up a big, bold Bloody Mary. A sweet tang on the tip of your tongue is followed by the unmistakable finish of a charred bourbon barrel. Tomato takes a back seat, and bourbon leads the way as the dominant flavor.
Tequila (a.k.a Bloody Maria)
If you enjoy a spicy Bloody Mary, tequila’s agave notes pronounce the hot sauce and dampen the sweetness of the tomatoes. Meanwhile, the spirit’s peppery kick is a delicious match for the green celery notes. “This is bloody delicious,” one taster commented (apparently un-ironically). Another called for a huevos rancheros pairing.
Umami-rich and smoky, like a delicious cured meat, “this tastes like a smoke bomb,” one taster commented. Like tequila, the drink loses its tomato flavor and sweetness and takes on a savory, salty profile. Garnish with bacon, pickled jalapeños, or maybe even a burger if you’re feeling extra.
Sweet, smooth, and velvety, we can’t imagine exactly why you’d decide to put Cognac in your Bloody Mary — you have some spare Hennessy lying around, perhaps — but if you do, we can confirm that the mix is a winner. A straightforward alternative to the Bourbon Bloody Mary, with none of the smoky notes.
A Guide to the Bloody Mary and its Many Variations
The Bloody Mary has long since claimed brunch as its host, but that doesn’t mean that all Bloody Marys are created equal or, in another sense, that all Bloody Marys are even Bloody Marys.
A Bloody Mary, at its essence, is built of tomato juice and vodka. Add in some citrus or spices or garnishes, sure, but that’s the core of the drink. Yet, its variations may include just one of those two seemingly mandatory ingredients, or neither, and these drinks are often further embellished by all sorts of add-ons, twists and turns.
The ubiquitous brunch or hair of the dog concoction has spawned countless riffs, many of which have been indoctrinated as more or less official variants. Some feature slight divergences from the Bloody Mary, others seemingly took the idea and ran with the wind.
“One great thing about the Bloody Mary, in particular, is that the bartender can always claim that however he or she makes them is how the locals like it,” adds spirits and cocktail writer Robert Haynes-Peterson. He jokes that it’s a “genius” way of excusing a poorly made variation—”you can just claim it’s a local favorite and move on.”
A Bloody Mary, at its essence, is built of tomato juice and vodka.
The same idea, though, also highlights one of the drink’s most intriguing components, or, truly, what is a category of drinks—that different regions and even cultures can create their own variations, marked by local influences and ingredients. In Maryland, a Bloody Mary with Old Bay seasoning is never far from hand’s reach. Visit New Mexico and no doubt hatch chilies will be incorporated.
Below, a guide to many of today’s Bloody Mary variations, from the officially indoctrinated to the more obscure. Is this every type of Bloody Mary ever dreamed up? Of course not! That’s the beauty of it, there’s a limitless number of creations out there. Don’t be afraid to experiment with something new.
The Red Snapper
The Red Snapper at The St. Regis New York.
The Red Snapper is said to be the first-ever stateside Bloody Mary, created in 1934 by Fernand Petiot at The St. Regis New York’s King Cole Bar. The recipe served up by The St. Regis includes one ounce of vodka, 11 ounces of a house bloody mary mix, which includes lemon juice, tomato juice, Worcestershire, Tabasco, seasonings, and a lemon wedge garnish.
Like many original works of art, some believe that newer entrants have seemingly outdone the classic. “When I was in New York, some people would order the Red Snapper and would say that they have had a better Bloody Mary here or there,” says Dewayne Wright, former bar manager of the New York hotel. “But you know what, that’s the original.” So pay some respect!
Today, The St. Regis showcases a house specialty Bloody Mary at each of their locations around the world.
The Bloody Maria at Masa y Agave in New York.
The Bloody Maria is one of the Bloody Mary’s legitimized riffs, and it can be made with either tequila or mezcal in place of vodka. From there, the sky’s the limit, but those spirits certainly lend themselves to different types of flavors and influences.
At Masa y Agave in Manhattan, barman John McCarthy serves up a Bloody Maria made from a jalapeño- and-serrano-infused blanco tequila, and a house Bloody mix, which incorporates olive brine, horseradish, and celery salt. He tops it with a slice of roasted corn, a charred jalapeño, and a habañero-pickled red onion.
The Bloody Caesar at Nopa Kitchen + Bar in Washington, D.C.
The Bloody Caesar is an another “official” Bloody Mary take, and its home is in Canada. The seafaring cocktail debuted in Calgary in 1969 thanks to bar manager Walter Chell, and it adds clam juice into the mix, or often Clamato, a mix of clam broth and tomato juice.
At Nopa Kitchen + Bar in Washington, D.C., the restaurant makes a Bloody Caesar starting with a house bloody mix that incorporates tomato juice, horseradish, chili flakes, seasonings, and Lea & Perrins Worcestershire. They build the drink with an even ratio of Tito’s Vodka and clam broth, topping off the duo with ice and the Bloody mix.
The Michelada at El Centro D.F. in Washington, D.C.
The Michelada is the perfect drink for the Bloody Mary drinker who doesn’t really like Bloody Marys. At its heart, it switches out vodka for beer, but from there, it’s anybody’s game. The beer could stand alone, without tomato juice, and simply be spiced and seasoned. Or, it could be used as a half and half mix with tomato juice, in addition to lime and spices.
At Richard Sandoval’s El Centro D.F. restaurant, the bar takes the former approach. The house Michelada incorporates a Tecate beer, with fresh lime juice, a shot of a house sangrita blend, and some serrano chili. A spicy, salty rum is a must.
The Queen Mary at Southern chainlet Tupelo Honey Cafe.
The Green Mary incorporates green tomatoes, or tomatillos, as the base of a Bloody mix in place of regular red tomatoes. It’s important to adjust the rest of the mix accordingly to accommodate the tartness of the tomatillo. Once you go green, there’s no looking back, so feel free to add in additional green twists such as cucumbers or cilantro.
Other tomato spinoffs can be put to work as well. For instance, at Tupelo Honey Cafe, a small Southern food chain with about a dozen locations, one will find The Queen Mary, made from a golden tomato Bloody Mary mix. Guests then choose up to a dozen garnishes, along with a choice of Dixie Black Pepper vodka or a jalapeño- and poblano-infused moonshine.
The clarified tomato water house Bloody Mary at Belampo Meat Co. in Santa Monica, CA.
The Bloodless Mary is another go-to for Bloody Mary imbibers who don’t even like the drink. In fact, this one can be much closer to a Martini than a Bloody Mary.
It’s made with tomato water, rather than tomato juice, resulting in a thinner, mostly clear concoction. Tomato water is made by blending tomatoes and potentially spices and seasonings, and straining out all the pulp and solids. At Belcampo Meat Co. in Santa Monica, bartender Josh Goldman makes a version with clarified tomato water.
Bacon Bloody Mary
The Masa Bacon Bloody at Masa 14 in Washington, D.C.
Bacon as a garnish to a Bloody Mary has become near-universal. But a true bacon Bloody Mary goes a step farther by infusing its base spirit with bacony goodness.
Consider the Masa Bacon Bloody at Masa 14 in Washington D.C. It’s made with bacon-infused vodka, or bacon-infused rye whiskey and house Bloody mix, and is garnished liberally with bacon straight in the glass.
The Shrimp Cocktail
The Capitol Mary at The St. Regis Washington, D.C.
This makes the term “shrimp cocktail” quite literal. At The St. Regis Washington, D.C., their house Bloody Mary is the Capitol Mary. It includes clam juice, Old Bay and horseradish, gin as opposed to vodka, and is garnished with a shrimp and served with oyster crackers.
Peruvian Bloody Mary
A Peruvian Bloody Mary is made with, you guessed it, pisco. Besides that, feel free to take it any direction by adding tomato juice, fresh lemon or lime juice, horseradish and Worcestershire, seasonings and the typical garnishes atop.
The Pantera at Del Campo in Washington, D.C.
The Pantera is a standoff from a single establishment, Washington, D.C.’s Del Campo, but it’s unique enough that it warrants inclusion here. Del Campo takes a Peruvian Bloody Mary, utilizing pisco, in a new direction. The restaurant uses an applewood-smoked tomato juice, mixed with fish stock, lemon juice, and squid ink, garnished with a grilled octopus tentacle. If this becomes a trend beyond Del Campo, let’s consider it the Black Mary.
The Absurd Garnish Variety
The Lox N’ Loaded at Buffalo & Bergen in Washington, D.C.
Call this one a catch-all category. Excessively garnished Bloody Marys are nothing new. Some relish in these enormous concoctions, while other more fragile souls may be left aghast. Slide a bit of tomato juice and vodka underneath a hamburger, a pizza, a rack of ribs, or who knows what, and call it a Bloody Mary.
Some of these are certainly worth trying on their own merits though. Check out the Lox N’ Loaded at Buffalo & Bergen in Washington, D.C.’s Union Market. The Bloody itself is made with Ketel One vodka, and a spicy house-made mix, and is topped with a loaded everything bagel stuffed with cream cheese, lox, capers and red onion. Order your brunch drink and brunch cocktail all at once! #drinkswithsnacks
And Even More Bloody Mary Variations to Try…
- Bloody Bull: Use beef bouillon with tomato juice
- Bloody Eight: Use V8 rather than a Bloody Mary mix
- Bloody Geisha: Use sake
- Bloody Mary Oyster Shooters: Add an oyster to a shot glass plus traditional Bloody Mary ingredients
- Bloody Pirate: Use dark, spiced rum
- Bloody Scotsman: Use Scotch
- Brown Mary: Use whiskey
- Ruddy Mary: Use gin
- Virgin Mary: AKA, “Bloody Shame” – no booze
The St. Regis New York
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A Bloody Mary is a popular cocktail containing vodka, tomato juice, and usually other spices or flavorings such as Worcestershire Sauce,Tabasco sauce, beef consommé or Bouillon Cube, Horseradish, Celery salt, Black pepper, Cayenne Pepper, Lemon Juice, & Celery salt.
Preparation and serving
A Bloody Mary, as well as the non-alcoholic Virgin Mary, is commonly served in the morning (as are mimosas and screwdrivers).
While there is not much complexity in mixing vodka and tomato juice, more elaborate versions of the drink have become trademarks of the bartenders who make them. A common garnish is a celery stalk when served in a tall glass, often over ice. A beer chaser may also be served with the Bloody Mary, although this varies from region to region.
Bloody Mary recipe courtesy of the New York School of Bartending:
- 1 oz. to 1 1/2 oz.vodka in a Highball glass filled with ice.
- Fill glass with tomato juice
- 1 dash celery salt
- 1 dash ground black pepper
- 1 dash Tabasco
- 2-4 dashes of Lea & Perrin’s Worcestershire sauce
- 1/8 tsp. horseradish (pure, never creamed)
- Dash of lemon or lime juice
Garnish with celery stalk.
May be shaken vigorously or stirred lazily, as desired. Garnish with a celery stalk; a skewer of olives, pickles, carrots, mushrooms, or other vegetables; or even meat or fish (salami, shrimp, etc.) and cheese (see photos). Occasionally, pickled asparagus spears or pickled beans are also used.
Prepackaged Bloody Mary mixes that combine the spicy, non-alcoholic components of a Bloody Mary are commercially available.
Variations in alcohol
Bloody Philip Thailand Lao Khao (literally white liquor} 80 proof, rice distilled, replacing vodka in equal measure Bloody Bishop Sherry in equal measure to vodka Bloody Fairy, Red Fairy Absinthe replacing the vodka. Bloody Geisha Sake replacing vodka. Bloody Maria Tequila replacing vodka. Brown Mary or Whiskey Mary Whiskey replacing the vodka. Bloody Pirate Dark rum replacing vodka. Bloody Scotsman Scotch replacing vodka. Bloody Maureen Guinness replacing vodka. Michelada Clementina (or simply “Chelada”) Mexican beer replacing vodka, usually flavored with a couple of dashes of Worcestershire sauce and Maggi Sauce and Tabasco sauce. Usually the proportion of beer equals the tomato juice. Ruddy Mary Gin replacing vodka. Popular in UK. Sometimes known as a Red Snapper. Red Eye, Calgary Red Eye, or Saskatchewan Red Eye Beer replacing vodka, usually in a 50/50 mixture with Clamato in place of the tomato juice. Red Eye 1 Pint Glass, 1 Shot Of Vokda, Filled Half Way With Beer, Then Topped Up With Tomato Juice, Then An Egg Cracked In (DO NOT STIR) Then Drunk. Red Hammer Through the 1950s in the north eastern USA, while vodka was scarce, gin instead of vodka was known as a Bloody Mary; once vodka became readily available in those regions, the traditional vodka-based Bloody Mary was known as a Red Hammer for a time Virgin Mary, Bloody Shame, or Bloody Virgin Without alcohol; the second term is commonly used in Australia.
Variations in mixers
Bloody Bull Beef bouillon and tomato juice. The drink originated at Brennan’s restaurant in New Orleans and is served at Commander’s Palace as well as other Brennan Family Restaurants. Bull Shot Beef bouillon or beef consommé in place of tomato juice. It may also contain salt, pepper, lemon juice, Tabasco sauce and Worcestershire sauce. Caesar, Bloody Caesar, or Clammy Mary Clamato replacing tomato juice, much more popular in Canada than the traditional Bloody Mary. Bloody Eight or Eight Ball V8 replacing tomato juice, or a mixture, usually equal parts Harry’s Original
The original Bloody Mary created at Harry’s New York Bar in Paris, was only vodka and tomato juice
Variation in drink format
Frozen Bloody Mary Placed in a blender with ice. Flaming Bloody Mary A small amount of 151 rum is floated on top and a string hangs outside the glass and is ignited for a cold weather drink. Flaming, Frozen Bloody Mary A frozen Bloody Mary is topped with 151 rum and ignited. Also called “Bloody Fire and Ice”. (Note be sure to use a ceramic mug to avoid shattered glass)
Bloodless Mary Without tomato juice Bleeding Mary Without tomato juice, 1:1 Tabasco to vodka. Screaming Emo Traditional Bloody Mary, but with a habanero pepper added to it for more heat. Screw Mary Equal parts vodka, orange juice, and tomato juice or V8, spiced to taste.
Originally a blend of primarily tomato juice and vodka, the Bloody Mary, or just the “Bloody,” has since started to include ingredients as diverse as basil and roasted garlic. Just as the tomato is one of the most fertile ingredients for cookery, tomato juice and vodka in the form of the Bloody Mary has been endlessly reinvented. One wonders why a recipe should be included here, since almost everyone already makes the best Bloody Mary. Let us say it is for the sake of completeness, and for yet another definitive version.
Created by Fernand “Pete” Petiot of Harry’s American Bar in Paris, the Bloody Mary was supposedly named for one Mary who spent long hours at the bar awaiting her lover. After Prohibition, Petiot went to New York to become head bartender at the Regis. Of course, vodka was not yet popular in the States, so gin was substituted. The Regis also thought the drink’s name a bit grisly, and it was changed to the Red Snapper. As much as one may drink like a fish, however, few want a drink named after one. It is unclear when the Bloody Mary came to be called for the eponymous English queen, Mary Tudor, but Ernest Hemingway, in typical bravado, boasted to a friend in a letter of 1947 that he brought the drink to Hong Kong in 1941, where it “did more than any single factor except the Japanese Army to precipitate the fall of that Crown Colony.” The Bloody Mary did not enter its full phase of glory until several years later, when John Martin used it along with several other drinks to promote a relative newcomer to the American drinking scene—Smirnoff vodka. The rest is history and the future.
The Bloody Mary will vary with every bar and bartender. When you find one you like, ask for the ingredients. It is also a drink the home bartender continually experiments with “the morning after.”
It is no secret that the Bloody Mary is the quintessential “hair of the dog that bit you” and is presumed to be an antidote to a hangover. Brunch is therefore the most common time to mix a batch of Bloody Marys, especially since you probably overslept breakfast. It is equally a stimulating predinner drink. You may as well bite the dog before it bites you.
As much as we emphasize that all drink mixtures should be made fresh, the Bloody Mary is one rare exception, but only during a particular instance—when traveling by plane. Since you may want an in-flight cocktail, the Bloody Mary will supply you with a much-needed stimulant while providing nourishment. A can of Bloody Mary mix will have to suffice.
Horseradish or no horseradish? Celery salt, seeds, stalk, or none? These are the questions. Whatever your choice, build your Bloody Mary fresh. Experiment with vegetable juice as an alternative to tomato. In the best of all possible worlds, New York barman Dale DeGroff may have the best solution: a Bloody Mary buffet. Set out a large pitcher of tomato juice and a cold bottle of vodka. Then place any ingredient ever used to concoct a Bloody Mary next to the two, and encourage guests to make their own. Note that the Bloody Mary is not a vegetarian drink, because Worcestershire sauce has anchovies. Keeping that in mind, try a dash of clam juice.
We’ve heard Bloody Marys referred to as a ‘meal in a glass’, and we have to say that’s not far off the mark. The combination of thick tomato juice and vodka is pretty much the most substantial cocktail you’ll find, and add to that the umami flavours and vegetal garnish and you’re looking at a potion that verges on something you’d serve with a spoon. While some people shun the mighty Mary, others are puritanical about how it’s best served. We entered the debate, vodka in hand, to find ourselves the perfect formula.
How to make the ultimate Bloody Mary
What is a Bloody Mary and who came up with it?
As with many drinks, the genealogy of this spicy tomato and vodka combo is debated. It seems likely the Bloody Mary was invented in America and originally contained oysters, and while we get the whole briny thing, we’re not sure how we’d handle that on a hangover. When tomato juice became more commercially available in the US, the drink was adapted, and apparently the first official Bloody Mary was ordered by comedian George Jessel in the 1920s. Cue a million bartenders taking on the basic formula and adding aromatics, pepper, heat and seasoning according to personal preference.
How to make it part one: Pick your base
Neutral vodka is the ideal partner for all the intense flavours that are layered on top of it. We’d usually advise buying the best spirit you can afford, but given the flavour will be all but entirely eliminated by spicy tomato, you might feel it apt to go budget. Flavoured vodka can be a good choice when matched carefully with later ingredient additions. Horseradish or chilli vodka both work well. Try infusing your own by leaving sliced red chilli to steep with your vodka overnight. By morning you’ll quite literally have yourself a jug of Russian firewater.
The jury’s out when it comes to other spirits. We love to experiment when making cocktails (we find our creativity tends to gush after the first drink – funny that) but, officially speaking, swapping vodka for gin makes the drink into a red snapper, which is an entirely separate beast. As for using brown spirits – we’d approach with caution.
You say tomato, we say… buy the best juice you can. Non-concentrate is ideal, or better still, make your own in a juicer. If you’re doing a cornershop dash and can only find cheap tomato juice, it’s not the end of the world – it can be spruced up to the nines, as we’ll soon see… We’d always plump for unflavoured tomato juice so we can have full control over the finished flavour, but we’d make an exception for clamato, a mix of tomato and clam juice that purportedly was invented in Canada. It forms the base for a Bloody Caesar, a variation on the classic Mary.
A little something extra
Lots of bartenders add an extra splash of booze to a BM. Erik Lorincz from the American Bar in London’s Savoy Hotel opts for a splash of port or sherry. Manzanilla sherry adds a dry mineral taste to give depth to the drink. We’ve been known to add a splash of stout to a Bloody Mary for colour and creaminess, but it seems a shame to open a can for such a small amount, so perhaps this is one for when you’re making for the masses.
Garnish, garnish, garnish
All the following additions are negotiable, and of course dosage is a very personal thing so always ask your guests how much heat they can handle.
Lemon juice: This we’d always put in a Bloody Mary. In fact, most drinks are improved by a squeeze of lemon juice. It’s an elixir that always sharpens and brightens.
Worcestershire sauce: This deep and dark liquid dream is one of the greatest ever storecupboard inventions. It adds colour and a vinegar-salt flavour but as it contains anchovies, make sure you don’t serve it to vegetarians.
Tabasco: The world’s most famous hot sauce. It goes without saying that this should be administered sparingly, slowly building up to your preferred heat. If you want a different kind of hot sauce, try garlicky Thai sriracha or Korean gochujang, a fermented red chilli miso. If you choose the latter, garnish your Bloody Mary with sesame seeds for added Korean kudos.
Horseradish: Add extra fire with scorching hot horseradish. Avoid the creamed stuff you can buy in jars – white globs floating around your drink will do nothing for your hangover. Freshly grated horseradish is ideal, but it can be hard to find.
Soy sauce: Erik recommends this in place of, or as well as, salt. Few ingredients add such intense umami with such small quantities.
Mustard: Go for a smooth English or Dijon, and remember to blend it well. An unexpected dose of raw mustard is one of the worst things your mouth can experience.
Pepper: Freshly-cracked black pepper is an absolute must in our eyes. If you’re a real pepper fan, you could wet the rim of your glass and press it onto a plate of fresh pepper to create a margarita-inspired decoration.
Salt: Flavour with a good flaky sea salt, or use celery salt for added pepperiness.
We love a stick of celery with a tuft of little leaves protruding from our BM. A wedge of lemon is a perfectly acceptable alternative. You could even add a sprig of hard herbs, if you like the whole botanical cocktail thing, or even a crispy, erect rasher of streaky bacon. Another modish garnish is a cocktail stick threaded with an olive, gherkin and pickled onion (homemade or dill-pickled would work best of all).
Build it like a pro
Unlike other cocktails, Bloody Mary is usually put together in the glass without the assistance of a shaker. Start with ice, your vodka, then the tomato juice and liquid additions. Stir as you go using a long spoon. Add your seasoning and spices and taste throughout. An alternative method if making Bloody Marys for a crowd is to blend your tomato mix in a jug before pouring it onto freshly prepared vodkas on ice. As for glassware, you can’t go wrong with a classic tumbler, although the more fashion-conscious bartender may choose to serve theirs in a modish jam jar. If you’re throwing a party, reverse the trend of serving bloody Marys the morning after with our canapé-friendly Bloody Mary shots. Beats a grotty tequila any day.
Try something new
Ben Pryor from London restaurant Poco recommends adding harissa to Bloody Mary. The peppery Middle Eastern paste adds smoky sweetness. Ben says sweetness is actually really important in a Bloody Mary as tomatoes rapidly lose their natural saccharine element once juiced. Adding a touch of agave syrup can bring the tomatoes back to life.
We’re dying to try Ben’s beetroot Bloody Mary. The purple juice gives an earthy, savoury note similar to tomato juice, but it has a smoother, thinner texture – perhaps more drinkable, which could be dangerous. A sunny Mary uses yellow tomato juice instead of the usual red, but we’ve only ever found this online, so you’d need to plan ahead!
Try making our classic Bloody Mary recipe.
How do you serve your Bloody Mary? We’d love to hear your ideas. For more on cocktails, visit our drinks section.
A Bloody Mary is a love-it or hate-it kind of cocktail, which makes sense. You generally drink it at brunch, setting yourself up for a totally wired (or very sleepy) afternoon. It is a meal itself, whereas a Mimosa is just kinda…juice with bubbles. Its base is tomato juice, which grown adults have been known to run from in horror. It is pungent as hellfire and sulfuric brimstone, if you make it with plenty of horseradish, Worcestershire, hot sauce, citrus, and other flavorful odds and ends—which is to say, if you make it the right way. And making a Bloody Mary the right way is why we’re here today.
Now, follow along: This recipe above makes one serving of Bloody Mary (two ounces of vodka, about six ounces of mix). Do you want to make only one Bloody Mary? Probably not, but maybe you’re a solo bruncher. However, you can go for the batch by doing some simple arithmetic; in the videos below, for example, we doubled the recipe. Then, garnish wherever your salt- and citrus-craving soul takes you: lemon wedges, pepperoncinis, cherry peppers with feta, shrimp, pickled green beans, garlic dill pickle spears, caperberries, and of course, the classic celery stalk. Experiment with gusto.
A Little Background
The Bloody Mary has been called a thing or two over the years. Supposedly, it originated in Paris in the 1920s, when Russians fleeing their civil war brought vodka to the rest of Europe and a bartender mixed it with tomato juice to tempt American expats. It made its way to the States in the next decade, where it was spiced up with new ingredients and dubbed the Red Snapper. Another early name for it was supposedly the Bucket of Blood (spookier, and grosser). Eventually, it became ubiquitous as the Bloody Mary—whether for Queen Mary Tudor who ordered the bloodshed of Protestants in England, or for a woman named Mary who spilled tomato cocktail on her dress, or for a waiter named Mary who worked at the Bucket of Blood saloon in Chicago, we don’t know. What we do know is that back in the day, they weren’t topping Bloody Marys with fried chicken carcasses and steak skewers. But hey, things evolve.
If You Like This, Try These
The Bloody Mary is a classic brunch cocktail, and if you’re looking to put on a whole brunch spread, you can add a Mimosa or a Bellini. They’re lighter, but some folks prefer that. The Michelada is also sometimes considered a brunch drink; it’s made with beer, Clamato tomato cocktail, and spices, and is a tangier (but less potent) tomato-based drink than the Bloody Mary. A Bloody Maria is a Bloody Mary made with tequila instead of vodka. And finally, there’s the Bullshot: a downright weird mix of vodka and Campbell’s beef broth. Savory is savory.
What You Need
Here’s what you need to do a Bloody Mary justice, beyond what you might be able to dig out of the fridge or cupboard.
Vodka drizly.com Buy Tomato Juice amazon.com $10.99 Buy Worcestershire amazon.com $3.98 Buy Hot Sauce amazon.com $7.99 Buy Salt + Pepper amazon.com $8.35 Buy Celery Seed amazon.com $4.04 Buy Blender amazon.com $92.70 Buy Glasses amazon.com $36.00 Buy
Food styling by Sean Dooley
Prop styling by Emily Hirsch
Photographed by Jeffrey Westbrook
The Drunken Vegan’s Guide to Bloody Marys: Animal-Free Versions in STL and At Home
Gut Check is proud to introduce the Drunken Vegan, a.k.a. Patrick J. Hurley, a full-time barman at the Civil Life Brewing Company and cocktail enthusiast about town. He’s an unapologetic drunkard, a vegan and a bon vivant, and, no, he doesn’t think those last two terms contradict each other.
A drunkard needs a bloody mary in the morning (or whenever the drunkard decides to rise). Not everyone may realize this, but typical bloody-mary mix contains anchovies — specifically, it contains Worcestershire sauce which is made from anchovies. What’s an ethical sot to do? One can look the other way, with a kind of culinary “don’t ask don’t tell” policy. The Drunken Vegan has done this and been criticized for it: “You won’t eat cheese or eggs but you drink bloody marys? You’re a hypocrite.” Well, as Walt Whitman said, “Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself. (I am large, I contain multitudes.)”
There are, luckily, a number of work-arounds for this thorny issue both at home and at the bar.
Firstly, there is such a thing as vegan Worcestershire sauce (find it at Whole Foods or Local Harvest). David Bailey, proprietor of Small Batch (3001 Locust Street; 314-380-2040), says his mix uses a vegan Worcestershire sauce. Tree House (3177 South Grand Boulevard; 314-696-2100) uses soy sauce instead and also serves a lovely green variation called a “Santa Maria,” which mixes tequila with tomatillo, cucumber, jalapeño, cilantro and lime. The Drunken Vegan also sampled its new kimchi bloody mary, which uses soju as a base with kimchi brine and simple syrup. It was sweet and sour with a nicely funky note from the kimchi. It may be a hair too sweet for the bloody-mary traditionalist, however. There are endless variations on the classic bloody mary, and they all get the job done.
If you are not in one of Saint Louis’ fine vegetarian restaurants, beware Zing Zang mix, which seems to be the most widely used kind. It is not vegetarian. If you see that green label, you’re out of luck. You can always ask if they have tomato juice: Mixed with a pepper-infused vodka, it will do in a pinch. And most bars have Sriracha or Tabasco sauce.
If the Drunken Vegan can’t drag himself out of the house, there are creative ways to do a vegan bloody mary at home as well. The fact is that the International Bartenders Association specifies only three required ingredients for a bloody mary: vodka, tomato juice and lemon juice. Worcestershire gives the cocktail salt and a nice umami tone. Besides anchovy, tamarind is a main component of most Worcestershire, and one could easily combine tamarind paste with a bit of soy sauce as a base. Also check out the vegetarian “fish” sauces at Asian markets — these are soy-based. It’s also easy to make a rough substitute for fish sauce at home using just good quality soy sauce mixed with a bit of sugar and fresh lime juice. A dash of concentrated mushroom stock would hit that umami note quite handily. Basically, there are lots of options for replacing Worcestershire, which is merely one flavor note in this rich and complex cocktail.
Here’s the home recipe that the Drunken Vegan used and drank for breakfast this morning (after downing an Underberg):
- Cracked pepper
- Vegan Worcestershire sauce
- Lemon juice
- Crushed garlic
- Cucumber vodka
This bloody mary was served with a beer float (use whatever you have on hand) and garnished with a celery stalk, olive, cocktail onion, pickled Brussels sprout and a dill pickle spear (yes it is possible to assemble a nourishing and interesting spear of garnishes without quail eggs, Volpi salami, Slim Jims or bacon).
Now drink up; it’s time to get started on the next hangover.
Gut Check is always hungry for tips. E-mail us!