I don’t know about you, but this year the span from Christmas to New Year had a lot of potential for hangovers. For once though I was prepared for the silly season as I had decided that my first update of 2013 would be on the subject of everyone’s favourite morning after cure. The Bloody Mary is one of those rare ubiquitous cocktails, found on menus the world over, and known to every bartender in one form or another. But why is it such a popular drink, and how has it come to be such a well-loved cocktail?
I personally see the Bloody Mary as the ‘last man standing’ in a very old tradition of morning drinks. I’ve written before about Corpse Revivers, and it’s well documented that many cocktails started as ‘bracers, eye openers, revivers or pick-me-ups’ and yet these days the Bloody Mary is really the last remaining drink that it’s socially acceptable to be seen drinking before noon. That alone is enough to give it a fond place in most people’s heart, that and the fact that it is seen as the drink that helps you on your way to recovering from your hangover.
The other reason why the Bloody Mary may have gained such widespread appeal is that there are almost no rules for this drink, and as such it is a cocktail that almost demands experimentation. Every bartender I know has their own unique take on the Bloody Mary, and most believe that their recipe is the best. I think Robert Hess described it perfectly when he said that the Bloody Mary is “the meatloaf of cocktails; not only does everybody have their own way of making this drink, but everybody should have their own way of making this drink”. To me this is one of the few drinks with so few rules it is an open door for creativity… basically as long as you’re combining tomato juice and booze as the base for the drink the rest is up to you!
There’s no definitive proof (that I have been able to find anyway) of the true origins of the Bloody Mary. In fact there are two popular claims as to who invented the drink and where it was born. The first is the claim that Fernand ‘Pete’ Petiot created the drink in 1921, while working at the New York Bar in Paris (which later became Harry’s New York Bar), the second claim(s) come from the 21 Club in New York in the 1930s after prohibition ended. Unfortunately neither claim can be substantiated, but looking at the dates it seems likely to me that it may have been born in Europe during prohibition, but popularised in the US once the sale of alcohol became legal again in 1933.
If we look at the possibility that the drink was first popularised in Paris in the 1920s, we see a reasonable timeline behind it. You see Tomato Juice was first served in 1917 in the US, and was slowly starting to become popular just as prohibition came along. It’s not unreasonable to assume that this ‘new’ ingredient would have caught the eye of bartenders in Europe, and that it wouldn’t have taken long for them to add some booze to the tomato juice in an attempt to come up with something original, after all that’s what bartenders have always done.
At about the same time in Europe, vodka was gaining popularity and was moving away from just being an Eastern European drink, and starting to move into the mainstream. It’s not at all hard to believe that a bartender in Paris might have tried adding a kick to tomato juice by combining it with vodka. It’s hard to say how successful this concoction might have been at the time, or even what name it was known by, but it does seem entirely plausible that this combination of ingredients was being served in Europe while America was waiting for prohibition to come to an end.
If you buy into the story that Fernand Petiot was the first to christen the combination of vodka and tomato juice as the Bloody Mary, then it’s also not too difficult to see how he might have helped shift it across the pond to the US too. You see during a brief stint working in the Savoy Hotel in London, Petiot came to the attention of Mary Duke Biddle, who owned the St Regis Hotel in Manhattan, but it wasn’t until 1934 that he finally found himself working there. Is it possible that he brought a tomato and vodka based drink recipe with him? Of course it is, and in fact it’s widely accepted that he was involved in two significant changes to the drink in his early days at the St Regis. The first is that for a time he had to use gin as his base spirit as vodka wasn’t widely available in the US at that time. The second was that he was pressured to change the name of his cocktail from the Bloody Mary to the Red Snapper as the former was considered ‘too vulgar’ a name for polite society. To this day a Red Snapper is often considered to be the gin-based version of the Bloody Mary.
This incredible twist on the Red Snapper was an award winning drink back in 2007, when ‘Shaky’ Pete Jeary took the concept of the drink as a brunch drink/morning after cure to another level. His beautifully balanced Red Snapper is ‘garnished’ with a bacon sandwich, completed with homemade brown sauce. To this day the Beefeater’s Brunch is one of my favourite morning after experience!
7 juniper berries
1 coriander root
1 inch green chili
5ml freshly squeezed lemon juice
10ml Worcestershire sauce
5ml Noilly Prat Ambre
100ml tomato juice
Pinch celery salt
Muddle the first three ingredients and then add all remaining ingredients and shake or Roll with cubed ice. Strain into a chilled rocks glass (no ice) and garnish with corriander and a half corriander salt rim.
For the homemade Brown Sauce you'll need: 1 teaspoon brown sugar, 15ml Beefeater, 5ml lemon juice, 10ml Worcestershire sauce, 25ml tomato purée, 2 dashes Tabasco sauce, Pinch salt, Pinch pepper, 5ml Pika Pepper Sauce (if available)
Method: Dissolve sugar in the gin and lemon juice. Add all other ingredients and stir until smooth.
No matter how well or poorly received the ‘Red Snapper’ may have been, it wasn’t long before vodka made its way over the pond to the US, and you guessed it, the classic Bloody Mary was back on the cards. It seems that the Bloody Mary as we know it was on the verge of being created, but up until this point it had been just tomato juice and vodka combined with no seasoning, but pretty soon US drinkers were asking for the drink to be made with a bit more of a kick to it, and once again Fernand was there (according to popular myth at least) to add seasoning, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco and the like, making the Bloody Mary into the drink we have to this day.
Of course there’s not a single definitive recipe, instead there’s a concept of what the Bloody Mary should be, a combination of tomato juice and vodka which is then seasoned to give it a kick of spice and seasoning to make it more palatable. Trust me, if you’ve ever tried the unseasoned version, you’ll be surprised it took so long for this innovation to happen!
10ml Del Maguey Vida
10ml hot sauce
6 grinds of black pepper
1 pinch of salt
2,3 sprigs of fresh coriander
Build in a highball glass with cubed ice and garnish with cherry tomato, pickled garlic and cornichon on a skewer, before finishing with ground pepper.
At The Barking Dog they use a homemade hot sauce, featuring four different types of chili, which isn’t surprising, as this is exactly the sort of experimentation that you’d expect for the Bloody Mary. As I said earlier, every bartender I know has his or her own unique take on this drink!
While the traditional Bloody Mary (as we would recognise it now anyway) may have caught on in the 1930s, it’s only really in recent years that it’s transformed into a fully-fledged family of drinks. The classic Vodka based version has of course stayed popular throughout the decades, but as you might expect bartenders haven’t been content with just leaving it at that. Over the past 15 years or so there have been more and more twist appearing on menus in cocktail bars around the world, mainly based on the idea of changing the base spirit, and then seasoning the drink with herbs or spices to compliment it. Undoubtedly one of my all time favourite versions is the Bloody Maria, which sees the Vodka replaced with Tequila.
Of course you can use almost any base spirit you like and with the right additions and balance it can be amazing, but Tequila seems to work exceptionally well.
50 ml Tequila Ocho blanco
15 ml Red wine (merlot or grenache)
1 pinch celery salt
1 pinch fresh grated pepper
10 ml Worcestershire sauce
10 ml Lemon juice
5-10 ml grenadine
Top with Thick tomato juice
Put all ingredients into a highball and add ice, gently stir, garnish with 2 straws and slice of Lemon and serve.
This twist on the classic may sound simple, but sometimes it’s the simplest drinks that work the best. The red wine and grenadine add a real depth to the drink, with the tequila adding peppery and earthy notes. This is now my go-to recipe for the Bloody Maria!
Our last offering is another twist based on Mexican spirits, but this time with Mezcal as the base, adding a hint of smokiness to compliment the savoury tomato. This one is pretty unusual in terms of added ingredients, and at first I was a little sceptical about the addition of avocado, but it really does work, adding a richness that is hard to describe but delicious to drink!
It’s almost certainly a myth that a Bloody Mary (or Red Snapper or Bloody Maria) is a hangover cure, but you can at least feel a little better about the fact that tomato juice is high in anti oxidants. Personally I never let the facts get in the way of a good drink, so just concentrate on the healthy properties of the tomato juice and ignore the fact that all the good is undone the moemtn you add spirits to the mix.
So the last drink I have fro you today is one you can definitely pretend is good for you as it not only has tomato juice, but also avocado, which I’m told, has all sorts of health benefits to it. If you need me to tell you that Mezcal is good for you too, I’m willing to help you out!
2 oz mescal blanco
Half an avocado
4 cherry tomatoes
1 piece of lemon peel
3/4 oz lemon juice
3 dashes tobacco
3 dashes Worcestershire sauce
4 oz tomato. Juice
Malbec red wine float
Place the first 8 ingredients into a large tin, muddle all and then shake. Fine strain into a tall bar glass rimmed with celery salt. Add cubed ice and top up with tomato juice and a South American Malbec float. Go big with the garnish, mint leaves, celery stick, avocado fan etc.
The Bloody Mary may have started out as a slightly bland combination of just Vodka and tomato juice, but it has definitely evolved into something more complex and satisfying. And whether it was first created in Paris or New York, it is a drink that has stood the test of time and become a whole family of drinks that are perfect for the morning after a big night out.
So when your New Year detox is over, and you’re ready to earn yourself a hangover again, be prepared and stock up on tomato juice and spices! Cheers.