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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.

You betcha.

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.

Competition cranks up creativity

Earlier this month in Little River near the town of Mendocino, MendoParks held its second annual Bloody Mary Competition to benefit state parks in Mendocino County, as part of the MendoParks Whale Festival 2022.

Six teams of mixologists stirred up a range of Bloody Marys at the Little River Inn, which hosted the contest.

The panel of judges, including yours truly, were asked to judge the cocktails on the basis of “most creative,” “best use of heat” and “best bloody garnish.”

It didn’t hurt that mixologist Reilly Robson of the Noyo Harbor Inn, who won “most creative,” based her drink around a pork product, the sweet and spicy Millionaire Bacon served by the Sweet Maple restaurant in San Francisco.

To be honest, her Bloody Mary was so spicy at first that it made one of the judges cry. But once the ice had time to melt, the heat was tamed and the balanced base of tomato juice, pineapple juice, smoked maple syrup, lemon juice, black pepper, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce and Sriracha was able to shine.

“The pineapple juice works well with the spices, and we used pineapple-infused vodka,” Robson said. “We garnished it with fresh pineapple wedges and spicy bacon.”

Winning first place for “best use of heat” was, not surprisingly, the Mendocino Fire Department, who mixed up a satisfying Bloody Mary set afire by old-fashioned prepared horseradish and a sprinkle of Tajin and Old Bay seasonings.

“It’s really a traditional Bloody Mary,” said Assistant Chief John Pisias. “The tomato juice is half Knudsen and half Campbell’s.”

The winner of the “best garnish” award went to Mayan Fusion of Fort Bragg owned by Silver Canul. The cocktail and the garnish flavors were inspired by his home in the Yucatan, which is known for its gastronomy.

The base of the Mayan Mary was made with fire-roasted habañeros, lime, salt, achiote paste and a blend of Campbell’s tomato juice and Bloody Mary mix. The garnish was a sweet and savory blend of mango, pineapple, jicama and grilled scallop.

“I love the spice and the flavor,” said Melissa Shaw, bartender and general manager of Mayan Fusion. “The achiote makes it earthy, and the habañero makes your lips tingle.”

The following recipe is from Bird & The Bottle in Santa Rosa. The recipe for the Kimchi Bloody Mary Mix can be divided or multiplied.

Kimchi Bloody Mary

Serves 1

1 ½ ounces 360 Vodka

½ ounce lime juice

5 ounces Kimchi Bloody Mary Mix (see below)

For garnish:

1 pepperoncini

1 strip chicken (or regular) bacon

Chile salt (half Korean chile flakes (gochugaru), half kosher salt, dash of cayenne)

Lime or lemon wedge

Pour vodka and lime juice into a tall Collins glass. Add ice. Pour Kimchi Bloody Mary Mix over ice and stir well with a bar spoon. Garnish by skewering pepperoncini and bacon strip on a long toothpick. Place across the top of the glass. Sprinkle the garnish with the Korean chile salt and finish with a lemon or lime wedge on the side of the glass.

You can divide this recipe to make less or multiply it to make more. Garlic chile paste is available at Asian grocery stores or in the Asian section of larger supermarkets.

Bird & The Bottle Kimchi Bloody Mary Mix

Makes 2 liters (about 12 cocktails)

1 46-ounce can tomato juice

2 ounces garlic chile paste

2 ounces prepared horseradish

2 ounces green Tabasco

3 cups kimchi juice (drained from purchased or homemade kimchi)

Mix together all ingredients. Chill at least several hours before using, to allow flavors to meld. Keeps in refrigerator for up to a week.

The following recipe is from Grossman’s in Santa Rosa.

The Bloody Maury

Serves 1

For rim:

Citrus juice

Everything spice, ground

For cocktail:

2 ounces 360 vodka

5 ounces Grossman’s Bloody Mary Mix (see recipe below)

For garnish:

Pimiento-stuffed olive, cocktail onion and pickled cauliflower

Dill pickle slice

Lemon or lime wedge

Dip the rim of the glass in citrus juice, then roll it in the Everything seasoning.

Add the Bloody Mary Mix to the glass, then add ice.

On a toothpick, add a pimiento-stuffed olive, cocktail onion and pickled cauliflower and place on top of the glass. Slide the dill pickle into the glass.

This recipe calls for Red Schug, an Israeli hot sauce similar to Tabasco with the texture of chimichurri. If you don’t have time to make your own, substitute your favorite hot sauce, starting with 1 to 2 tablespoons of it, to taste.

Grossman’s Bloody Mary Mix

Makes 2 liters (enough for 12 cocktails)

3 tablespoons Red Schug (see recipe below)

3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

2 tablespoons prepared horseradish

3 tablespoons lemon juice

3 teaspoons ground black pepper

3 teaspoons celery salt

Mix together all ingredients. Chill at least several hours before using, to allow flavors to meld. Keeps in refrigerator for up to a week.

Shawarma spice blends are available online or at your favorite spice store. You can use the extra Red Schug with hummus and falafel plates, on sandwiches or in breakfast wraps. Find sambal chile paste (also known as sambal oelek) at Asian markets.

Red Schug

Makes about 2 quarts

¼ cup shawarma spice blend

1 bunch cilantro

1 quart roasted red peppers or piquillo peppers

2 whole preserved lemons

24 ounces sambal chile paste

½ cup lemon juice

1 6-ounce can tomato paste

1 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 cups ketchup

Grind the shawarma spice blend, cilantro, peppers and preserved lemons.

Combine the rest of the wet ingredients. Mix the wet and dry ingredients together.

Store schug covered in the refrigerator for up to 1 month or in freezer for 2 months.

Reilly Robson, bartender at the Noyo Harbor Inn in Fort Bragg, was inspired by the thick slices of “Millionaire’s Bacon” baked with brown sugar, cayenne and black pepper at San Francisco’s Sweet Maple restaurant when she made this Bloody Mary, which won the “most creative” award at the MendoParks Bloody Mary Competition.

Robson used Sugar Bob’s Finest Kind Smoked Maple Syrup, which she bought online. The Noyo Harbor Inn will be serving a limited run of the Millionaire Mary drink during brunch and dinner.

Millionaire Mary

Serves 1

2 ounces vodka (or spirit of your choice)

Lemon juice

Millionaire Seasoning (equal parts brown sugar, cayenne and ground black pepper)

For Millionaire Mary mix:

5 ounces tomato juice

2 ounces pineapple juice

2 ounces Worcestershire sauce

1 ounce Sriracha

½ ounce soy sauce

½ ounce Smoked Maple Syrup

½ fresh squeezed lemon juice

2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper

For garnish:

Maple Black Pepper Bacon (see instructions below)

Fresh pineapple wedge sprinkled with Millionaire Seasoning

Pineapple leaves (optional)

Dip the rim of your glass in lemon juice, then roll it in the Millionaire Seasoning.

Fill your glass with ice to the top. Add 2 ounces of vodka.

Blend the mix ingredients together and add to the glass. Briefly stir to combine.

Garnish with the bacon, pineapple wedge and pineapple leaves, if using.

For Millionaire Bacon: Heat oven to 350 degrees. Brush bacon with maple syrup and season heavily with black pepper. Put bacon on baking sheet and bake until crispy.

The following recipe is from Hanson of Sonoma, which sells their Bloody Mary kit, including a bottle of Hanson of Sonoma Vodka, Organic Sonoma Bloody Mary Mix and lemon juice for $50. To order, go to hansonsofsonoma.com.

Hanson of Sonoma’s Spicy Bloody Mary

Serves 1

2 ounces Hanson Organic Habañero Vodka

6 ounces Organic Sonoma Bloody Mary Mix

1 ounce fresh squeezed organic lemon juice

Garnish of choice

Combine all ingredients in a Collins glass with ice. Stir and garnish with olive, celery, pickle or crispy bacon.

Staff Writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 707-521-5287 or diane.peterson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @dianepete56

Diane Peterson

Features, The Press Democrat

I’m interested in the home kitchen, from sheet-pan suppers to the latest food trends. Food encompasses the world, its many cultures, languages and history. It is both essential and sensual. I also have my fingers on the pulse of classical music in Sonoma County, from student mariachi bands to jazz crossover and symphonic sounds. It’s all a rich gumbo, redolent of the many cultures that make up our country and the world.

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