The Back Story of
Paris in the 1920s was a hotbed for American expatriates, writers and artists. Soon word of the Bloody Mary made its way back to New York, where it became the drink of choice within high society. Its restorative properties became the rage and made it a fixture at Sunday brunch.
While still popularly served at brunch, the Bloody Mary has now garnered a broader audience and is often seen at Happy Hours as one of the ideal, pre-dinner cocktails. The drink’s appeal is timeless. Tall, savory and exuberant, the Bloody Mary is a substantial quaff chock full of garden fresh vegetables, herbs and spices. It’s more like a meal with an attitude than a thirst quencher.
The Bloody Mary is perhaps the most singular drink in the lexicon of mixology. It’s a drink every bartender makes, and yet no two bartenders make it the same. When made well, the Bloody Mary is an absolute work of art — robust, nutritious and loaded with taste.
Credit for inventing the Bloody Mary goes to Fernand Petiot, a bartender at Harry’s New York Bar in Paris in 1924. He dubbed his concoction the “Bucket of Blood.” While the drink caught on, the name didn’t. It soon became known as the Bloody Mary, likely in honor of Mary Tudor, the unfortunate daughter of King Henry VIII.
Petiot commented on his creation in an interview in The New Yorker (July 18, 1964) “I initiated the Bloody Mary of today,” he said. “I cover the bottom of the shaker with four large dashes of salt, two dashes of black pepper, two dashes of cayenne pepper, and a layer of Worcestershire Sauce, I then add a dash of lemon juice and some cracked ice, put in two ounces of vodka and two ounces of thick tomato juice, shake, strain, and pour.”
How to Make the Best Bloody Mary
The blueprints for constructing nearly all Bloody Marys are seemingly identical. They are comprised of a base spirit, a fill with the mix and a garnish. While a straightforward formula, there is an amazingly large amount of room for creativity.
There are practitioners who make their Bloody Marys from scratch, carefully adding each ingredient directly into the glass in which it is being served. Admittedly there is something satisfying about building a classic Bloody Mary from the ground up, skillfully adding a few dashes of this and a healthy pinch of that. Few drinks are as involved to make and engaging to watch being prepared.
But over the decades the practice of making the drink individually has fallen out of favor, particularly because of the difficulty in attaining consistency. The problem is that some bartenders may use more of one ingredient than another, while others may leave out integral items altogether. Add to this the inordinate amount of time it takes to build the drink from scratch and you have a persuasive case for making scratch Bloody Mary mix in batches.
While naturally there are exceptions, it’s advisable to not make more than a gallon of Bloody Mary mix at a time. It is a perishable product. Once a formula has been perfected, take care to write the recipe down. The mix should be kept refrigerated. Most mixes have a refrigerated shelf life of a week or less, after which they should be discarded. Always taste test the mix to ensure freshness and discard if questionable.
If searching for the perfect scratch recipe sounds more involved than the time at hand permits, opting for a bottled Bloody Mary mix offers a viable alternative. Possessing thick, rich bodies, great seasonings and well-balanced flavor, the new generation of fresh and sassy bottled Bloody Mary mixes rival the most delectable house recipes, and the field of entrants run from mild to scalding. Invariably these products originated as specialties of the house and were thought too good to be kept secret. In nearly every case, they were right.
Bottled Bloody Mary mixes are produced in a wide variety of styles to match nearly any needs. Most importantly, they are quality items loaded with great taste. Sure, the process may require sampling several different brands before making a selection, but the result may well be worth it.
Should you select a premixed product for your Mary, consider transferring the mix from its bottle into a reusable quart container. There’s no reason on earth why a few modifications can’t be made to a bottled mix to make it better suited to your particular tastes. Splash in some olive juice, add crushed roasted garlic, or lace the mix with a heaping tablespoon of fresh salsa. It’s your specialty, after all.
This begs the question, is there really a definitive Bloody Mary? Taste is so subjective and dependent on personal preferences, the likely answer is no. Yet all great Bloody Marys share similar attributes. For one thing, they have a thick, almost chewy consistency and appear hearty enough to almost pass as a meal. They also must have at least a slight kick. A world-class Bloody Mary needn’t scald the larynx, but it does need to stimulate the senses and impress recipients that they’re still alive.
For people looking for a style of drink with flair and substance, this is it.
- Vodka Marys — The Bloody Mary is one of the famed vodka drinks. While the particular brand of vodka won’t necessarily be readily discernible in the tall, thick drink, it is a mistake to believe that any vodka will do. It requires an extremely keen palate to distinguish between a Bloody Mary prepared with Absolut Vodka and one made with Stolichnaya. On the other hand, it is far easier to perceive the drink made with a lesser brand. When it comes to the vodka in a Bloody Mary, quality is always telling.
While a sublime pleasure, they do not represent the boundary of all that is possible. A few simple alterations to a recipe can transform the flavor of a Bloody Mary into an entirely new taste experience to revel in.
The two most famous of these thematic variations is the Bloody Caesar, a classic Mary made with a healthy dose of clam juice, or more likely Clamato Juice. The drink is almost an institution in Canada where its popularity far exceeds that of the conventional Bloody Mary. The other is the Bloody Bull, which is made with the addition of beef bouillon to the mix.
With the advent of flavored vodkas, the creative range of the Bloody Mary has greatly expanded. Peppered vodka, such as Absolut Peppar, marries perfectly with the spicy, peppery mix. Citrus-infused vodkas, such as Stoli Citros, Absolut Citron, or Smirnoff Citrus are excellent options.
Infused vodkas are also ideally showcased in Bloody Marys. For example, the Mango Bloody Mary features vodka infused with fresh mango, chili powder, ginger, black pepper, Tabasco, horseradish and V-8 juice. The flavorful spirit marries beautifully with the spices in the drink’s mix.
If preparing your own infusion doesn’t quite work for you, there are a number of infused spirits that are bottled and ready for your next Bloody Mary. A sterling example is Herb’s Aromatic Infused Vodka, a range of four, highly aromatic spirits made at Silver Creek Distillery in Rigby, Idaho. Crafted with mixologists and chefs in mind, Herb’s is distilled from select American grain, spring water and the essential oils of fresh herbs. The range of premium-infused vodkas include Rosemary, Dill, Fennel and Cilantro. The flavor of the namesake-infused herb lingers on the palate for an impressively long time, an attribute that makes them tailor-made for cooking, or use in signature drinks.
The Bloody Mary has also found its way into shooter form. The Bloody Nose is a fiery combination of Absolut Peppar, horseradish, a raw oyster, and Bloody Mary mix. A slight variation on the theme is the Oyster Shooter, a Louisiana specialty made with Tabasco, horseradish, cocktail sauce, draft beer, and a raw oyster.
- Tequila Marias — It’s almost as if tequila was created with the Bloody Mary in mind. The drink mix with its spices and heat is tailor-made to showcase the best qualities of tequila, namely its earthy, spicy and often peppery character.
Substituting tequila for vodka in the drink creates the Bloody Maria. No modifications to the mix are necessary. Silver tequilas are most often selected for the featured role. They are exuberant, flavorful and stand up beautifully in the mix. The aged styles of tequila — reposados and añejos — are often obscured in the Bloody Mary mix. One exception is using an añejo tequila in a hickory flavored mix. The woody character of the aged tequila is a marvelous combination with the hickory notes in the mix.
- Premium Spirits — Few recipes better illustrate the versatility of the drink than the Jäger Salsa Bloody Mary, which is made with Jägermeister, two teaspoons of medium-hot salsa and Bloody Mary Mix. If the vodka in a Bloody Mary is replaced with gin, the resulting drink is called the Red Snapper. Substitute sake for the vodka to make a Bloody Geisha, aquavit to make the Danish Mary, or bourbon for vodka to make the Brown Mary. When Dry Sack Sherry is paired in equal parts with vodka the drink becomes the Bloodhound.
- Brewed Marys — Beer is a marvelous ingredient in these cocktails. For example, the Bloody Bastard is a savory concoction made with Bass Ale, horseradish and Bloody Mary mix. Add Stoli Citros to convert the recipe into a Bloody Russian Bastard. Another beer laced Mary is the Mexican classic Michelata. It’s a tall, iced drink created using tequila and equal parts of Mexican lager and Bloody Mary mix.
- Scratch Mixes — What makes the Bloody Mary such a classic crowd pleaser lies primarily in the mix. Taste testing is integral to the process of creating a masterpiece. It is important though to always sample the mix over ice, a practice that will best simulate game-like conditions. In addition to cooling the mix, the ice will naturally dilute the drink’s consistency and spicy character, factors that must be taken into consideration. Anticipating the diluting effects of ice is crucial.
Where Mary is concerned, thin is not in. A Bloody Mary with a rich, thick consistency immediately conveys quality. It suggests that the drink is substantial, nutritious and that it was prepared with a bevy of vitamin enriched products. It is similar to stew, the thicker and heartier the base, the more life sustaining it is. Most start with a base of tomato juice, however, a great mix can be made using Clamato, or V-8 juice. To thicken things up add a bit of tomato paste to the mix.
Modifiers such as Worcestershire Sauce, prepared horseradish and Tabasco are considered a must. Other often relied upon ingredients include A.1. Sauce, Mexican hot sauce or pureed salsa, pickle juice, barbeque sauce, balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, olive juice, chopped cilantro, fresh lime or lemon juice, Angostura Bitters, and jalapeño pepper juice.
Some people want a Bloody Mary hot and spicy to the point of being nearly combustible. There are others who prefer to survive the experience fully intact. The concept of hot and spicy is a relative one, so caution needs to be exercised when adding heat, regardless of whether it’s in the form of spice or sauce. It is far easier to add more heat to a Bloody Mary than to calm one down.
The true creative artistry comes into play when adding the seasonings. Celery salt, salt, and ground black pepper are just the beginning. Cayenne pepper, fresh wasabi, cumin, paprika, crushed red pepper, onion powder, garlic salt or powder, thyme, Chinese mustard, seasoned salt, chili powder, cardamom, Italian seasoning, ginger powder, Old Bay Seasoning, whole black peppercorns and basil leaves round out the shopping list. And whether you use a pinch, a teaspoon, or a dash of any of the above is entirely up to you.
Other creative options include the Bloody Cajun, which gets its personality from onion powder, thyme, red pepper and paprika, and the Italian Maria, a tempting offering made with garlic powder, paprika and prepared Italian seasonings. The Tex-Mex Mary is fueled by chili powder and cumin.
- Presentation, Rims and Garnishing — First impressions matter. The Bloody Mary is a tall, iced drink and must therefore be served in a tall, great looking glass. The drink deserves a glass with a capacity of 12 to 16-ounces, anything less is an insufficient serving size. In addition, present the Mary in a glass with some aesthetic appeal to it.
Another trademark of a well-dressed Bloody Mary is a salted rim. To do so rub a lime wedge against the outside rim of the glass and then dip the glass into a saucer of kosher salt. A sage practice in this day and age is salting half the rim, affording your guests the option of moderating how much salt they consume. If given the time, salt glasses in advance, allowing the lime juice and salt combination to harden. Another creative maneuver is adding some black pepper, or crushed red peppers to the salt.
Why has a celery stalk accompanied nearly every Bloody Mary ever served? While opinions differ, one thing is undeniably true; celery is an edible and attractive swizzle. It allows the recipient to both stir the drink and have a nosh. The classic garnish is celery. Use only the tender, interior pieces of the celery and not the fibrous, outer stalks. Also, leave the leafy greens on as it gives the celery a fresh, attractive appearance.
In a democracy there is no law mandating that celery accompany the Bloody Mary. Indeed, there are several other options when it comes to edible swizzles, namely asparagus, beef or turkey jerky, jicama sticks, cucumber spears or something akin to a Slim Jim. Regardless of whether it’s edible or not, provide guests with an attractive means of stirring their Bloody Marys.
The final touch to any noteworthy Bloody Mary is the garnish. More than a mere embellishment, the garnish should be considered an ingredient in the drink. The embellishments sitting atop a Bloody Mary contribute to both the flavor of the drink and the enhancement of its overall visual appeal. It’s hard to overdo it when it comes to garnishes, so don’t be stingy, however, do consider how much volume the garnishes will take up in the drink. It’s a mistake to add so many finishing touches that the drink overflows its glass.
A fresh lime, or lemon wedge is the other standard garnish on a Bloody Mary. Each adds a delightful citrus tang to the drink. But no need to stop there, optional garnishes include cooked shrimp or prawns, pickled green beans, bleu-cheese stuffed olives, cherry tomatoes, chili pepper rods, sliced bell peppers, speared tomatoes, roasted garlic, cubed cheese, tortilla chips, pepperoncinis or small jalapeños peppers.
- Alcohol-Free — The tremendous character of your Bloody Mary mix makes an ideal candidate for promoting it as an alcohol-free specialty drink. Certainly the absence of the base spirit will alter the finished drink, but what’s left in the glass is still world-class served over ice. Embellish the alcohol-free version just as you would those Marys that do contain alcohol. The Bloody Shame, as alcohol-free Bloody Marys are sometimes referred to as, is a delicious, exuberant libation. Bloody Marys are as unique as your signature, and speak volumes about your degree of creativity. Have fun and make a masterpiece.
Bloody Marys Recipe Sampling
|Bucket glass, ice
|Pour into an iced mixing glass
|1 1/2 oz. Agave Loco Pepper Cured Tequila
1–2 dashes Worcestershire Sauce
1–2 dashes A–1 Sauce
1/4 tsp. celery salt
4 1/2 oz. Bloody Mary Mix
Shake and strain
Sliced Jalapeno and celery stalk garnish
|Bloodhound Bloody Mary
|Salt rimmed bucket glass, ice
|Build in glass
|1 1/2 oz. Vodka
1 oz. Dry Sack Sherry
Fill with Bloody Mary mix
Lime wedge and celery stalk garnish
|Bloody Bastard Bloody Mary
|Salt rimmed bucket glass, ice
|Build in glass
|1/2 fill Bass Ale
1/2 fill Bloody Mary mix
1/2 tbsp. prepared horseradish
Lime wedge and skewered shrimp garnish