There are so many Bloody Marys to discuss, who knows where to begin? Queen Mary I of England first picked up the name during her reign from 1553 to 1558. Her prosecution of the Protestants was brutal, ranging from exile to execution. The rate at which she executed them was extreme, earning her the nickname of Bloody Mary. There is also a game you can play during Halloween (or any sufficiently dark sleepover) where you go into the bathroom and stare into the mirror, chanting the name “Bloody Mary” over and over again to either summon the ghost of the murderous Queen Mary, or a witch of the same name. Summoning the ghost in the mirror will not make her happy, and you have to turn the light on in the room you are playing before she breaks through the mirror and rips your soul to pieces. Or does something considerably worse. January 1, National Bloody Mary Day, on the dawn of a brand new year, does not seem to be the best time to celebrate either of the two previous ladies. The spicy, vodka based cocktail you sip at brunches is a better thing to focus on. It might be your first cocktail of 2013, working hard to cure your hangover.
The history of the Bloody Mary cocktail is as interesting and complex as the drink itself. It was invented in the early 1920’s by a man named Ferdinand “Pete” Petoit at Harry’s American Bar in Paris. He claims to have named it after a woman named Mary, who would spend hours at the bar sadly waiting for a less than stellar, or punctual, boyfriend. Initially, the drink was made with equal parts of vodka and tomato juice, making it a thick and rather bland drink. When Petoit moved the drink with him to America, he began to improve it, adding Worcestershire sauce, Tobasco, celery salt, salt, pepper, lemon juice, and anything else to spice up the tomato juice. The other thing that was changed in America was the liquor. We may think of vodka as a spirit that has always been around, but the United States did not get on the vodka bandwagon until the 1950’s with Smirnoff’s big, “Breathless” push. The base spirit in the 30’s and 40’s became the much easier to find gin, and the name of the cocktail switched over to a Red Snapper. Some theories abound that we delicate Americans could not handle the original name and it was switched for that reason. When the Smirnoff promotion fully hit the United States, the company used the Bloody Mary as one of the cocktails to promote the spirit, it was launched into the American bar scene.
The Bloody Mary is considered by most cocktail historians and scholars as a staple drink, and is included within the pages of every cocktail book published since it was invented. They are so iconic that in 1986 Absolut vodka introduced Absolut Peppar, the first commercially made flavored vodka, specifically for the Bloody Mary craze that was going on at the time. The Bloody Mary may be a cornerstone of many bars, but it is not universally liked. Many cocktails scholars, including David Embury and Gary Regan, are not fans of the drink. Embury went as far as to call it “strictly vile”. The thickness of the drink or the savory flavors tend to turn off as many people to the drink as it attracts. It is also not something popular to drink in the evening; it is too thick to drink many of them at one sitting. But having one at breakfast is very acceptable. In fact, the vitamins and minerals in the tomato juice, along with your eggs, toast, and bacon make a pretty handy hangover cure for everything you DID drink last night. A Virgin Mary, all of the nutrients, none of the alcohol, makes an even better cure.
The recipe…yeah, about that. There is an art to making a Bloody Mary. The main ingredients of vodka and tomato juice are not in question. The spices that go into the cocktail is where the lines get drawn. The inventor himself laid out the spicy ingredients as salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, Worcestershire sauce, and lemon. Over the years other spices have been introduced or experimented with, like horseradish, sriracha, dill, rice vinegar, mustard, and many others. Ultimately, the goal is to make sure you are balancing out the sweet tomato juice with the spices as not to make either overpowering. Garnishes for the Bloody Mary fall into the same category. Many people associate a celery stick as the garnish, but you can also use a lime wedge or olives to finish off the drink as well.
Bloody Mary (Classic version)
2 oz. vodka (pepper or bacon works well)
5 oz tomato juice
.5 oz lemon juice
4 dashes of hot sauce
2 dashes of Worcestershire sauce
A dash of salt
A dash of pepper
Celery salt (optional)
Pour all of the ingredients into a mixing glass with ice. Roll the ingredients back and forth between two separate glasses. Rolling a cocktail mixes all the ingredients gently, so the tomato juice does not get very thin and bubbly, as it would if it was shaken. You can add a dash of celery salt to the top of the cocktail, or rim the glass with the salt.
Tyrannical queens and creepy children’s games aside, the Blood Mary is rich in flavor and history. It is evolving as tastes change as other bartenders get their hands on it. You can get it very well made at most brunch places in the area, or you can make it at home with spices you have there. With the biggest party of the year being on December 31st, having a classic brunch cocktail/hangover cure celebrated on the first day of the year only makes sense.
Let us know where you are having your Bloody Mary today, and who makes the best ones in Dayton. Happy New Year everyone!