The Bloody Mary Revival

While still popularly served at brunch, the Bloody Mary has garnered a broader audience and often is 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 Bloody Maryvegetables, 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.

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 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.

While 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 and dated on the outside of the container so those with the earliest dates are used first. This will ensure that old product past its prime is not served. Most mixes have a refrigerated shelf life of a week or less, after which they should be discarded. Bartenders should always taste-test the mix to ensure freshness at the beginning of each shift and discard those that are questionable.

If searching for the perfect scratch recipe sounds more involved than time 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.

Should you select a bottled product for your Mary, there’s no reason on Earth why you can’t make a few modifications 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.

Various Versions Spice Up a Drink Menu

• Vodka Marys. The Bloody Mary is one of the famed vodka drinks. While the particular brand of vodka won’t necessary be readily discernible in the tall, thick drink, it is a mistake to believe that any vodka will do. While it requires an extremely keen palate to distinguish between a Bloody Mary prepared with Absolut Vodka and one made with Stolichnaya, it is fairly easy to tell when a lesser brand is used.

The two most famous of these thematic variations on the vodka Bloody Mary is the Bloody Caesar, a classic drink 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 vodkas — such as Absolut Peppar — marry perfectly with the spicy, peppery mix. Citrus-infused vodkas are excellent options. 

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 sauce, horseradish, cocktail sauce, draft beer and a raw oyster. The famed Oyster Shooter at 72 Market Street in Venice, Calif., is made with tequila, tomato juice, diced avocado, cilantro, jalapeño peppers, green onions 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 most often are selected for the featured role. They are exuberant, flavorful and stand up beautifully in the mix. The aged styles of tequila — reposados and añejos — often are obscured in 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.

• Other spirit choices. 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 a Red Snapper. Substitute sake to make a Bloody Geisha, aquavit to make a Danish Mary or bourbon to make a Brown Mary. When Dry Sack Sherry is paired in equal parts with vodka, the drink becomes a 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 Stolichnaya Citros to convert the recipe into a Bloody Russian Bastard. Another beer-laced Mary is the Mexican classic Michelada. It’s a tall, iced drink created using tequila and equal parts of Mexican lager and Bloody Mary mix.

The Secret is in the Mix

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 naturally will 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 and nutritious and that it was prepared with a bevy of vitamin-enriched products. It is similar to stew: the thicker and heartier the soup, 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 tomato paste.

Modifiers such as Worcestershire sauce, prepared horseradish and Tabasco are considered a must. Other often relied-upon ingredients include A-1 steak sauce, Mexican hot sauce or pureed salsa, pickle juice, barbecue 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 dried red peppers, onion powder, garlic salt or powder, thyme, Chinese mustard, seasoned salt, chili powder, cardamom, Italian seasoning, ginger powder, Old Bay seasoning, black peppercorns and basil leaves round out the shopping list. 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.

Coup de Grace

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. Additionally, present the Mary in a glass with some aesthetic appeal.

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, then dip the glass into a saucer of kosher salt. A sage practice in this day and age is salting half the rim, affording 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 pepper 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 stir the drink and have a nosh. Use only the tender, interior pieces of the celery and not the fibrous, outer stalks.

However, there are several other options when it comes to edible swizzles, namely asparagus, beef or turkey jerky, jicima sticks, cucumber spears or something akin to a Slim Jim. Regardless of whether or not it’s edible, provide guests with an attractive means of stirring their Bloody Marys.

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, pepperocinis or small jalapeños peppers.

Hang-Over Free

The tremendous character of your Bloody Mary mix makes an ideal candidate for 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 Marys that contain alcohol. The Bloody Shame, as alcohol-free Bloody Marys are sometimes referred to, 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.

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