There's Something About Mary...

Tomato, spirit, spice, citrus: It’s a simple recipe, really, but something about that vibrant combination of ingredients is inexhaustibly inspiring. New takes on old Mary just keep coming. Bloody Mary spins may be rich red and fortifying tipples, crystal-clear veggie-steeped infusions served Martini-style, or so liberally garnished that they’re practically a meal in a glass.

Traditionally, the Bloody Mary includes vodka, canned tomato juice, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, a little Tabasco (originally, cayenne pepper), salt and pepper. Credit for the original recipe goes to Fernand “Pete” Petiot, bartender at Harry’s New York Bar in Paris in the ’20s and the St. Regis Hotel’s King Cole bar in the ’30s. Out of deference to the true classic Petoit created, some bartenders won’t call a cocktail a Bloody Mary unless it’s limited to those ingredients. We say “amen” to that.

But the need to codify classics hasn’t dampened enthusiasm for stirring up dozens of Bloody-Mary-inspired concoctions with catchy names that either substitute a different spirit for the vodka or add different mixers. “The Bloody Mary is tried, true and tested, but we as chefs and mixologists can’t help but tweak,” says Brandt Evans, chef/co-owner of the four-unit Blue Canyon Kitchen and Tavern, with locations in Montana, Texas and Ohio.
Over the years, there’s been the Bloody Pirate (with rum) the Bloody Molly (with Irish whiskey), the Bloody Bull (beef bouillon) and the Bloody LeRoy (barbecue sauce). Micheladas combine Mexican beer with tomato juice, Bloody Caesars use clam-spiked tomato juice and Ruddy Marys use gin. And guest interest in farm-fresh ingredients, combined with a more chef-like approach to what goes in the glass, has produced some Bloody Mary spins that— dare we say it? — rival the canned-juice-based original. Imagine, for example, using heirloom tomatoes at the peak of season to make your own tomato juice for a Bloody Mary, substituting fresh-made gazpacho for the juice or infusing vodka with herbs and spices.

Creative Marys
“That’s when the fun begins,” grins Anton Barich, director of food and beverage operations at Second Home Kitchen + Bar at the JW Marriott Cherry Creek in Denver, whose Veggie Madness is a signature cocktail featuring a double vodka infusion that takes several weeks to steep. First, Barich’s team infuses Van Gogh premium vodka with cherry tomatoes for 16 days, adding (and removing) garlic and herb sachets periodically. After resting for a week, the base is infused for 12 more days with peppers, radishes, jalapenos and red onions. The fragrantly flavorful result is either chilled and served up as a clear, Bloody-Mary-flavored Martini or splashed with tomato juice for those who want a more traditional look to the drink. “People like the clear Bloody Marys because they have such a fresh taste and fragrant nose,” says Barich.

At Blue Canyon locations, Evans makes red and yellow ice cubes out of heirloom tomatoes mixed with clam and lemon juice, garlic, Worcestershire sauce and a little horseradish. “We pour vodka over the top and as the ice cubes melt, tomato is infused into the drink,” Evans says.

Packing Bloody Marys with a big veggie wallop, executive chef Matt Christianson makes fresh gazpachos for the Bloody Mary bar at Urban Farmer at the Nines Hotel in Portland, Ore. “We have at least three offered at any given time,” from classic heirloom tomato to green grape and almond, melon and cucumber, Christianson explains, all of which work well in Bloody Marys.

For a meatier-Mary taste, Terry Berch McNally makes smoked-meat-infused vodkas, combining them with house-made mixers in varying levels of spiciness for Bloody Marys at the London Grill in Philadelphia. She infuses tequilas with chile peppers and kaffir lime for Bloody Marias and includes unusual vodkas such as Danish akvavit and local Penn rye vodka as options at the grill’s popular Make-Your-Own-Bloody-Mary weekend bar.

More ethnic-skewed Marys include the Sangre de Espana from mixologist David Boyle, at Meson Sabika and Tapas Valencia, both in the Chicago area. The cocktail combines Absolut Peppar with Tabasco sauce, horseradish, onion powder, Worcestershire sauce, pepper and fresh garlic and is garnished with a skewer of manchego cheese, manzanilla olive, garlic clover, cured meat and a cornichon. At Foreign Cinema in San Francisco, the Persian Bloody Mary includes balsamic vinegar in place of Worcestershire sauce and is pungent with harissa and curry. And providing regional American flair, barbecue legend Mike Mills’ 17th Street Bar & Grill, with four locations in Illinois, spikes his with house-made dry-rub spices, pickle juice and barbecue sauce.

Many operators keep house Bloody Mary mix recipes a closely guarded secret. Bartender Ian Porter of blue on blue at the Avalon Hotel of Beverly Hills is so hush-hush about his recipe that he actually mixes batches at 2 a.m. What he will say is that he uses 27 ingredients to make a roux that gets added to gazpacho-infused vodka and tomato juice for the drink that guests like to enjoy poolside.

Pretty Marys
The eye-catching appeal of Bloody Mary and all her cousins adds to the fun. At Bin Wine Cafe in Chicago, Bloody Mary flights — four, three-ounce glasses — are filled with flavor. The Bucktown Mary is horseradish and lemon seasoned. The Italian Mary gets a splash of aged balsamico. The Asian Mary includes pickled ginger, wasabi and soy sauce. And the Consuela Mary has roasted chipotle pepper in the mix. All are presented on a “Flight Map” explaining each mini cocktail and served during the restaurant’s weekend brunch and again during “Nosh,” from 2 to 5 p.m. ”When an order goes out, we almost always get follow-up orders from other people in the room,” says partner Joanne Chessie.

Best-of Bloody Mary garnishes run the gamut from the lovage (celery-flavored herb with a hollow stem) straws that guests sip Tomato Water Cocktails through at The Herbfarm Restaurant in Woodinville, Wash., to the house-made charcuterie/salumi skewers at The Bristol in Chicago. Chef Walter Pisano at Tulio restaurant at the Hotel Vintage Park in Seattle says the meal-in-a-glass feel of the Bloody Mary inspired him to create a full menu of Food Cocktails, starting with his Caprese: basil-infused vodka and tomato juice rimmed with basil salt and served with skewers of fresh mozzarella boccoccini, baby tomatoes and basil. “These work especially well in the summer,” says Pisano.

As a finish to the glass, salt and spice rims add color and flavor. At Second Home in Denver, executive chef Jason Rogers makes a spice blend for the Veggie Madness Martini’s rim that includes cherries, ancho chiles, brown sugar, garlic, burgundy wine powder, salt and spices. At Urban Farmer, Christianson has four different house-made salts for rims: jalapeno, celery, smoked and dill. At Blue Canyon, Evans rims Blood Marys with a mix of fennel, oregano, peppercorns, Himalayan sea salt and paprika.

Whether classic or creatively re-worked, Bloody Marys have to measure up. Barich of Second Home challenges: “Every bar has a Bloody Mary, but is it a good one? Take ownership of it and have passion and belief in putting out a great product — that’s what translates to a loyal following from your guests.” NCB

Big Batch Marys

Operators agree that creativity is helpful in selling more Bloody Marys, but not at the expense of consistent execution. “Creativity may sell one drink but maybe not two,” says Beth Gruitch, general manager and owner of Rioja in Denver. “A lot of people make their Bloody Marys to order, which is great, but you can get a lot of inconsistencies.”

Batching Bloody Marys helps, especially when serving a crowd. Rioja prebatches its mix, which involves tomato and vegetable juices, bitters, Dijon mustard and A-1 sauce. So does Josh Rutherford, owner of six concepts in Chicago, including Smoke Daddy’s, Dunlay’s on the Square and D.O.C. Wine Bar. His Division Street Bloody Mary mix includes tomato and lime juice, Smoke Daddy BBQ sauce, horseradish, onion and garlic, and it has developed a loyal following.

Build-Your-Own-Bloody-Mary bars are another big-number solution — and driver. Jeshua Madden, head bartender at the Sazerac in Kimpton’s Hotel Monaco in Seattle says theirs launched a year ago to generate more weekend traffic. It’s worked. Vodka still is the favored Bloody Mary spirit, followed by tequila and gin, “and we’ve got tons of different hot sauces and pickled vegetables people like to add in.”

At London Grill, co-owner Terry Berch McNally estimates 80 percent of brunch guests visit the Bloody Mary bar, attracted by house-infused spirits, house-pickled produce and spice mixes. Matt Christianson of Urban Farmer in Portland, Ore., says the Bloody Mary bar also is a great place to showcase his house-made pickled produce: carrots, peppers, saffron pickled onions and more.

But some operators say they prefer to have more control over what goes in the glass, even when serving large groups. “We tried doing a Bloody Mary cart, but people were throwing the whole kitchen sink in there, which was kind of gross, so we stopped,” says Brandt Evans of Blue Canyon Kitchen and Tavern, with locations in Ohio, Montana and Texas. Likewise, instead of doing a Bloody Mary bar, general manager Tony Bisciglia and bartenders at Jake Melnick’s Corner Tap in Chicago build a full menu of Marys with their house-made spicy mix. The Angry Mango combines habanero-infused Absolut Mango, Clamato juice, salt and pepper, while the Cucumber Mary marries Hendrick’s Gin, cucumber puree and house Bloody Mary mix. And one of the biggest sellers is the Smoked Mary, with Ketel One Citron, house-made smoky chipotle mix, celery salt and a pickle spear. 

Ed Hackett, general manager at Pub & Kitchen in Philadelphia, offers the Simple Mary — vodka, tomato juice, black pepper, horseradish and lemon — along with the Bloody Maria, made with blanco tequila instead of vodka, and the Wrangler, featuring hot peppers and hot sauce. “We do a special Bloody Mary every Sunday,” adds Hacket. Among the specials have been the Bloody Bobby, with Tanqueray Rangpur gin, lime, cucumber and tomato juice; the Black & Red, a Bloody Mary with Guinness; and El Capitan, with Ketel One Citron, Bloody Mary mix, fresh oyster liquor and an Old Bay/kosher salt rim with fresh-shucked oyster garnish.

Hot Stuff

Most Bloody Marys rely on hot sauce for some of their zip. “Some people make the mistake of trying to add heat with horseradish and end up making a drink taste like shrimp cocktail,” says Bryan Ranere, bartender at Foreign Cinema in San Francisco, “but the heat should really come from hot sauce.”

Although some operators make their own hot sauce, because Bloody Mary originator Petiot switched from cayenne pepper to Tabasco sauce in the standard recipe, Tabasco has figured in most Bloody Marys ever since.

Modern Mixologist Tony Abou-Ganim likes the variety of chile flavors now available from Tabasco that can give different nuance to Bloody Marys. His “Blond Mary” combines fresh-made yellow tomato juice with chile- and pepper-infused Finlandia vodka, lemon juice, spices and Tabasco Green Jalapeno pepper sauce.

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