The Bloody Mary: an Argument and a User’s Guide

Bloody Marys are apparently underrated. I don’t know how or when this happened, but a recent straw poll of my close friends led me to discover that not everybody knows how awesome they are.

To those non-believers, I ask this: are we such children? Does our loathe for veggies dictate our diets like when we were eight? We are growing older and more decrepit; our bodies crave nutrients now more than ever before.

We eat right, we exercise, we keep our minds healthy with feverish mastery of sudoku. That’s all grand, but for a true holistic approach to staying well into our later years, we must pick our poisons more wisely. Mimosas, screwdrivers, greyhounds? Wonderful. But how many produce items does each fit?

To truly understand the greatness of this marriage between tomato and vodka, we must look at it- and this is where we leave the health spiel behind- as a burrito.

Bloody Marys, like my favorite Tex-Mexican delicacy, jump in quality with every ingredient you stuff inside (or on top). If you’ve been settling for tomato juice, vodka, and a sprig of celery, you’ve been doing it wrong, and it’s time you understood the building blocks of one of the greatest drinks your breakfast will ever be.

This is not a pretentious drink. Truly, anything will work. I’ve enjoyed mine in pint glasses, small plastic cups, large plastic cups, Collins glasses, and even a Stella-style “chalice”.

While there is no right or wrong “bloody mary glass”, I find that it’s best to stay away from anything short. An old-fashioned glass or a martini glass will hold the liquid fine, but once you start to build with solids (more on that shortly), things may get snug and prone to avalanche.

The backbone. The flourishes make the Bloody Mary great, but these bases make it a Bloody Mary in the first place.

Tomato Juice – This can be actual tomato juice, some sort of V8 “tomato juice”, or even- beloved by many, scoffed at by others- Zing Zang or a similar mix. Bloody Marys are all about the variations of course, and if you’re feeling adventurous, Wikipedia has a hoard of suggestions for substitutes.

Vodka – is vodka is vodka, so don’t get too hung up on this one. If you have an expensive taste, grab the good stuff. If not, reach for that bottom shelf. Feel a need to make your Bloody Mary different down to the most basic ingredient? Try an infused vodka. There’s the obvious tomato, but cucumber, bacon, and jalapeno vodkas exist as well and could add a desired spin. There are also just as many Bloody Mary variations as there are types of alcohol, so experiment with whatever can be distilled or brewed!

We’ve got the liquids, and food items go in last, but there are many other spices, salts, and sauces that require a dash here and there.

Ice – Very few ice variants I’m aware of.

Horseradish and Worcestershire Sauce- If anything turns people off to Bloody Marys more than the tomato, it’s these two. If they really kill it for you, try omitting and see what you think. Once you fall in love, you’ll be looking for a way to spice things up soon enough. (TWO NOTES: Also in this category, though less vital, is the addition of ginger. And, though I’ve never tried it, teriyaki sauce can be substituted for Worcestershire to create a Bloody Mariyaki).

Hot Sauce – Tabasco is the accepted standard, but you can try anything from Sriracha to wasabi.

Lemon and/or Lime – Squeeze juice from one lemon/lime half (or to taste) and garnish with either.

Salt and Pepper – These can be sprinkled and grinded into or applied to the rim like a margarita*. Many people opt for celery salt as an appropriately flavored salt alternative, and I’ve seen a few recipes that call for a prime rib seasoning substitute (PRIME F***ING RIB- HOW ARE YOU NOT OBSESSED YET?!). I believe there’s also a bacon salt out there that I’m sure would be delicious. ( *If you’ve never rimmed a glass before, it’s really easy. Before adding any contents, wet the top of the glass by padding onto a clean sponge. Then assemble the salt/pepper/whatever you’re using in a dish, and place the glass upside down on it. The moisture will cause the spices to stick.)

Roll out the red carpet; get your cameras. The stars of the Bloody Mary- The Garnishes- have arrived.

Fresh Vegetables – The celery stick is most obvious, but for a reason. It’s a great mixer and, if you take bites in between sips, the watery tartness will cut the spiciness of the drink. Green beans are also amazing and I’ve even seen habanero peppers dropped in by real Hot Heads.

Pickled Vegetables – If you don’t like pickles, please leave. If you do, then it’s time you plopped one in a drink. And right next to it? Plop a pickled okra, some pickled asparagus, pickled brussel sprouts, and for a repeat offender, pickled green beans.

Olives- I’m not just separating them out from the other produce because I’m unsure whether they’re vegetable or fruit; they truly deserve their own attention. Balanced on a toothpick or floating alongside the pickled goodies, olives are a vital part of any bloody bouquet (I like a good bleu cheese-stuffed olive. With the tomato and other flavors, it’s like drinking bruschetta.)

Meat – What?! No. YES! Celery is a great stirring stick, but there’s something about it that lacks a certain amount of… pig. Which is why I like a stick or two of bacon- crispy enough to hold up without flopping to the bottom of your drink, but not so much that you’re having to strain charred pork bits as you sip. If you’re a shrimp fan- I am not- the cockroach of the sea supposedly makes a lovely drink-side companion and, though I’ve not tried this yet, there are some regions that swear by a mini polish sausage wedged alongside toothpicked olives. Who am I to argue?

You’ve done it! Your Bloody Monster is created and, hopefully, drank and enjoyed. As always, I feel need to mention that the above is simply a guideline- a kick in the pants to convince you to get out there and try something new, or inspire a new spin on an old favorite.

But I also feel the need to leave you with one last variation, a regional kicker brought to us by Wisconsin: the Bloody Mary beer chaser. Again: who am I to argue?

~Don Julian








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