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.
“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.
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