Local mixologists give their take on the classic Bloody Mary in four recipes
There’s something about a Bloody Mary.
Sweet and savory, with a pleasing balance of acid and heat, the patron cocktail of brunch and first-class flights just celebrated its 100th birthday last year, and it appears to have no plans to slow down.
Whether you sip it at the airport, on a restaurant patio or in your backyard, the cocktail provides everything you need to start your day, from ballast in your stomach to an exciting tingle in your mouth. It’s considered healthy because of its tomato base and has long been regarded as a hangover remedy.
We all have our favorite recipe, as did Ernest “Papa” Hemingway, who used to hang out at Harry’s New York Bar in Paris, where the cocktail reportedly was born. The famous bar published the first Bloody Mary recipe in 1921 in “Harry’s ABC of Cocktails.”
In a letter to Bernard Peyton written in 1947, Hemingway gave a “batch” Bloody Mary recipe for a large pitcher (anything smaller is “worthless,” he said): “1 chunk of ice (the biggest that will fit); 1 pint of vodka; 1 pint chilled tomato juice, 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce, 1 jigger fresh lime juice, pinch celery salt, pinch cayenne pepper, pinch black pepper and several drops of Tabasco.
“Keep on stirring and taste it to see how it is doing,” he wrote. “If you gets it too powerful, weaken with more tomato juice. If it lacks authority, add more vodka.”
It’s perfectly fine if you prefer the classic Bloody Mary Hemingway enjoyed, made to your own taste, of course. Like his writing, it’s lean and minimalist, and we could grow old yet never grow tired of its essential goodness.
But in the hands of a professional bartender, the Bloody Mary can be one of the most complex cocktails around. As the artisan cocktail movement continues to innovate, the simple template — tomato juice, vodka and seasonings — has taken all kinds of interesting twists and turns, drifting toward the equator with spicy Asian, Mexican and even Middle Eastern flavor profiles.
Now that bartenders are shaking up their own Bloody Mary bases, using house-pickled garnishes and dipping the rims into global spice rubs, the possibilities seem endless.
And if you’re from the Midwest, you know that the ongoing “garnish wars” have taken the humble Bloody Mary to new heights.
“It all started with a few pickled garnishes to support our neighbor, Bay View Packing, and the next thing I knew, I was putting entire fried chickens in my Bloody Marys,” said Dave Sobelman of Sobelman’s Pub and Grill in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. “A full-out garnish war in Milwaukee has ensued.”
Before long, Sobelman stuck a cheeseburger on a skewer in his cocktails. After that came bacon-wrapped jalapeño cheeseballs, also known as the Baconado.
“Am I going too far?” Sobelman wrote in a Facebook post.
But despite the absurdity, the gravity-defying garnishes have spread to other Midwestern bars, making the cocktail truly a meal in a glass. Just make sure you can fit a straw in there so you don’t end up with garnish all over your face.
Variations on a bloody theme
At Bird & The Bottle and Grossman’s in Santa Rosa, Stark Reality Restaurants owner Mark Stark and his mixology team have come up with some tasty variations on the bloody mary theme.
Bird & The Bottle has adopted a Korean flavor profile, giving the savory drink some heat with a blend of garlic chile paste, prepared horseradish, green Tabasco and kimchi juice, augmented by Korean chile flake salt on the rim of the glass.
Meanwhile, at Grossman’s Noshery & Bar in Railroad Square, the beloved brunch cocktail goes in a Jewish direction via Israel and Brooklyn with the Bloody Maury. The secret sauce here is an Israeli hot sauce known as Red Schug, made with hot and mild peppers, shawarma spices, tomato, fresh cilantro, lemon juice and olive oil. It’s the Tabasco sauce of Israel, found on every corner falafel stand.
“Our twist is that we put in our homemade red hot sauce,” said Grossman’s bartender Nate English. “The Red Schug is what makes our Bloody Mary unique.”
Since Grossman’s is known for its bagels, the rim of the Bloody Maury is garnished with ground Everything spice, for extra salt and flavor. At Grossman’s, they also infuse the vodka with prepared horseradish.
“We use a couple tablespoons per bottle and let it sit for a day or two,” English said. “In ours, you can taste the vodka.”
When drinking the cocktail, English suggests first licking the rim then sipping through a straw to avoid the awkward and messy nose-in-garnish move. For the Bloody Maury garnish, he adds an olive, a cocktail onion and some house-pickled cauliflower to a toothpick, then sinks a kosher dill and wedge of lemon or lime into the glass, for added acidity.