The Bloody Mary is one of those decades-old drinks that seems to have earned itself as many die-hard haters as it has devoted fans. But love it or loathe it, this tangy, spicy, vodka and tomato juice-based cocktail's a classic. In honor of Breakfast Week here at The Kitchn, here's an up-close look at this savory brunch tipple/hangover cure.
According to legend, the Bloody Mary was created in the early 1920s by Ferdinand "Pete" Petiot, a bartender at Harry's American Bar in Paris, who mixed together a concoction of tomato juice, vodka, Worcestershire Sauce, and salt and pepper (Tabasco and lemon, by some accounts, were later additions). As for the drink's name, Mary Queen of Scots, the actress Mary Pickford, and a lovelorn young woman named Mary who used to nurse these tall, red cocktails at Harry's Bar, are are all ingredients in the story's apocryphal mix.
In 1934, a year after the end of Prohibition in the U.S., Petiot accepted a job offer from the King Cole Bar at the St. Regis Hotel in New York City. He brought his tomato juice cocktail recipe with him, but American sensibilities at the time were such that he needed to find a new handle for the drink. And so the Bloody Mary enjoyed a brief stint as the "Red Snapper." Because vodka wasn't yet widely available or popular in the U.S., the Snapper was made with gin - and, according to some stories, at this point acquired a shot of Tabasco as per a customer's request. Fast forward to the 1960s, and the Bloody Mary had become a vodka-based brunch menu mainstay, thanks to an aggressive marketing campaign by Smirnoff.
The Ingredients (Mix and Match)
Like any other drink that's been around for more than a few decades, variations abound. Some recipes spice things up with a spoonful of horseradish sauce; bring in extra savory depth with a measure of beef bouillon or a pinch of celery salt; enhance each sip with a spicy, salted rim; or go extra sour and salty with a healthy shot of pickle juice.
Many modern takes bring us right back to the summer garden, using freshly juiced tomatoes in place of the bottled stuff, and fire-roasted jalapeños in place of Tabasco. Others swap out the celery stick garnish/stirrer for blanched asparagus spears, pickled okra or green beans, cooked peeled shrimp, cherry tomatoes, olives, cocktail onions, etc. (Many more ideas here.)
Leave out the booze, and you have a "Virgin Mary." Or use Clamato (Mott's tomato-clam) juice in place of tomato, as was popular when I was growing up in Canada, and you have a "Bloody Caesar" or "Caesar."
But for now, let's just take things back to basics. Here's a simple recipe that can be enjoyed as is - or doctored, garnished, or otherwise enhanced just the way you like it:
makes one drink
1 1/2 ounces vodka about 6 ounces tomato juice 1/4 ounce lemon juice (or lime if you prefer) 2 dashes Worcestershire Sauce 3-4 dashes Tabasco freshly ground black pepper to taste
Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker and shake with cracked ice. Strain into a Collins glass, add a few cubes of ice. (Note: this drink may also be "built" by combining all ingredients in a Collins glass and stirring with ice.) Garnish with a celery stick and lemon wedge.
Are you a Bloody Mary lover or hater? Do you have any favorite recipe twists to share?
Nora Maynard is a longtime home mixologist and an occasional instructor at NYC's Astor Center. She is a contributor to The Business of Food: Encyclopedia of the Food and Drink Industries and is the recipient of the American Egg Board Fellowship in culinary writing at the Writers' Colony at Dairy Hollow. She previously covered food and drink in film at The Kitchn in her weekly column, The Celluloid Pantry.