Something about the Bloody Mary, like barbecue sauce or oatmeal cookies, makes people competitive. It seems every bartender claims to make the best, with tweaks to their recipes and “secret ingredients,” and that’s just for the classic version of the cocktail. Now, with flavor explosions in both culinary and mixology circles, there’s a whole new level of inventiveness and flavor giving even more spice to the classic eye-opener.
The Bloody Mary has been called a meal in a glass, and like few other mixed drinks, its main ingredients – tomato juice, one or more vegetable garnishes – are foods, which rarely mix with other concoctions. It also has a culinary component, in that the flavors of a well-made version are complex. Star mixologist Dale DeGroff’s advice when developing a Bloody Mary cocktail? “Don’t destroy the heart of the drink, which is the sweetness of the tomato juice. Too much Worcestershire or hot sauce will make the drink muddy and too spicy. Lemon juice is a must with tomato juice, and so the Bloody Mary should always have a squeeze of lemon juice.” Do many bartenders heed his advice? With the mantra of “spicy is better” that many subscribe to, no doubt many Bloody Marys today are fiery enough to be a challenge for many to drink.
Challenges aside, interesting flavors are appearing in the Bloody Marys of the cocktail revolution. Ric Orlando, chef-owner of New World Home Cooking Company, Saugerties, NY, starts his off with two house-infused vodkas: house-made vodka infused with guajillo, cayenne and Mexican red peppers that turns a beautiful red color after sitting for a week; and lemongrass vodka made by adding crushed lemongrass to Skyy Citrus vodka.
“Bloody Marys have made a good comeback in the last three to four years,” Orlando says. “It quieted down during the Martini craze, but now we sell more than we ever have. I think the fact that we call it Kickass Bloody Mary, helps sell it.” The Kickass is, as he says, “a pint of stuff with vegetables.” In Orlando’s version is tomato juice, lemon, scallion, celery, horseradish, Pick-a-Peppa sauce, tamarind, Tabasco, black pepper and celery salt, served in a 16-oz. glass with a jumbo olive and lemon garnish for $6.
ASIA DE MARY
Along with the continuing American love affair with Asian cuisine, Asian-inspired cocktails have gained popularity, so it didn’t take long for an Asian Mary to show her face. At Ponzu in San Francisco, the restaurant’s Asian Mary is made with Hakusan dry saké, Ketel One Vodka and housemade wasabi Bloody Mary mix. It’s served in a 16-ounce tan-colored bamboo glass and garnished with edamame pods for $8.
Contests beg for cocktail creators to go in new directions, and that’s exactly what happens at the annual Bloody Mary Contest before the Kentucky Derby in Louisville, KY, sponsored by Finlandia Vodka and supplier Brown-Forman. Contestants submit their Bloody Marys to a blind taste test where judges grade on color, aroma, flavor, appearance (garnish and presentation) and spiciness. This year’s winner, Park Place on Main, Louisville, won for its spicy-sweet entry. The drink has just a hint of horseradish and the surprise addition of blue cheese crumbles.
“Instead of salt, we coat the rim of the glass with a combination of black pepper and sweet lime crystals,” says Sharon Butts, the restaurant’s manager. “Its spicy-sweet chili flavor has a heat that grows but doesn’t burn all the way down. It has a flavor heat, not a hot heat.” Served in a 16-oz. pint glass, the drink is garnished with a whole lime, hollowed out, scored on the outside and filled with pico de gallo.
SQUEEZE YOUR OWN TOMATO
For its Bloodys, Guastavino’s in New York City makes its own fresh tomato juice, as well as housemade Worcestershire sauce and hand-grated horseradish; all are mixed together for their signature Bloody Mary mix. At this restaurant, owned by British housewares magnate Sir Thomas Conran and housed in the anchorage of the Queensboro Bridge, the Bloody Marys are whipped up in the kitchen by the chef who also prepares the house drink, the Bloody Bowl.
New Orleans, with its French Creole history has been known for its Bloody Marys at Brennan’s, Pat O’Briens, Arnauds and the Columns Hotel, where patrons sip Bloody Marys on balconies overlooking St. Charles. The connection to nearby Avery Island is obvious, where McIlhenny Tabasco sauce, one of the ubiquitous ingredients in the classic Bloody, is made. Red Tabasco sauce is still the most popular of heat providers, but the company’s new Tabasco pepper sauces (chipotle, green jalapeno, garlic pepper and habanero) have been appearing with increasing frequency and can take a Bloody Mary into new flavor arenas. The company is also planning the release of a newly concocted Bloody Mary mix.
THE FIRST EYE-OPENER
The Bloody Mary started life, reports Dale DeGroff in his book, “The Craft of the Cocktail,” (Clarkson Potter, New York), in Paris with the arrival of the first tins of tomato juice from the U.S. right after World War I. Barman Ferdinand “Pete” Petiot added vodka to the canned beverage while working at Harry’s American Bar in Paris, and named it after a bar regular called Mary who, while waiting for her man, often nursed this cocktail. (Her long vigils were compared to the imprisonment of Mary, Queen of Scots; thus, the name.)
Petiot brought the drink to New York as head barkeep at the St. Regis Hotel, but made it with gin instead of vodka (vodka was not widely available in the U.S. at the time) and renamed it the Red Snapper.
It became the Bloody Mary again when vodka appeared and gained a reputation as the perfect morning-after drink. But from the beginning, the cocktail has been tinkered with and spawned new versions: the Bloody Bull (made with orange juice and beef broth), the Bloody Caesar (with clam juice added), and the Bloody Maria (sangrita instead replacing tomato juice, and tequila the vodka), to name a few. Today’s versions take more than a few liberties with the original recipe.
While many restaurants do want to make their mark with signature mixes and juices, Bloody Mary mixes made by Tabasco, Mr. and Mrs. T, Island Oasis, Major Peters, Mr. Tomato and others, can create flavorful Bloody Marys without the extra labor and ingredient expense.
With the base ingredients of these prepared mixes, it’s also easy to embellish the drink and make it a signature with the addition of a variety of ingredients. Last year, to establish the point, Mr. and Mrs. T’s went to great lengths – and heights – to establish a new World’s Record at the Hard Rock Café in New Orleans with the largest Bloody Mary ever served. Made with 2,400 gallons of Mr. and Mrs. T’s Premium Bloody Mary Mix and 600 gallons vodka, it was served in a 15-foot glass with a 10-foot celery stick.
INVENT YOUR OWN BARS
Bloody Mary bars are not new, but they are showing up in more venues today than ever before. Dale DeGroff probably offered one of the first Bloody Mary bars each Sunday at the
Rainbow Room, New York. He offered several choices of liquor including aquavit, vodka, tequila and gin; several choices of prepared juices in addition to his signature juice, Rainbow V-7 (a mix of tomato juice, celery juice, carrot juice, green pepper juice, red pepper juice, onion juice and fennel juice) and Green Gazpacho (cucumbers, red onions, jalapeno pepper, scallions, green bell peppers, celery, watercress, wheatgrass, gingerroot, lemon and lime juices, all pureed in a food processor), an array of crudites for garnish and a number of bottled hot sauces. He also offered clams, oysters and shrimp on crushed ice. “We’d float the shellfish in the drink when they were finished putting it together,” he says.
Ric Orlando’s Sunday brunch Bloody Mary Bar helps create a lively atmosphere. The bar is placed on a rolling raw bar decorated with carved wooden fish. Along with some signature infused vodkas, he also offers Skyy and Rain organic vodka. Other mix-ins include fresh horseradish, wasabi, Worcestershire, Busha Browne Pepper Sherry, Pick-A-Peppa sauce, seasoning mixes, hot sauces and a choice of garnishes including habanero-stuffed olives, jalape