The Bloody Mary has been a favorite drink of mine for many years, but I have always been unhappy with the way it comes out when I order it in a restaurant or bar. That is the reason why I only drink my Bloody Mary’s, made in the privacy of my own home. It is not an easy task to find just the right balance of ingredients and texture that will please the palate and elicit statements like, “Now this is a great drink.” Alas, most of the Bloody Mary’s that I encounter are watery, tasteless, and insipid. A swampy morass of washed out tomato juice loaded up with ice cubes and a scrawny celery stalk dominating the landscape as a
so called garnish. A travesty as far as I am concerned.
I don’t know what famed bartender Fernand (Pete) Petiot had in mind when he created this drink at Harry’s Bar in Paris around 1920, but then again, I don’t really care. I know how I like my Bloody’s and I leave little room for compromise. Like most consumers, I did not realize that the Bloody Mary could aspire to even greater heights than those already scaled in the annals of cocktail history. I assumed that the watery and tasteless versions that I had experienced at private parties and in most restaurants was the way the drink was meant to be. That by definition and design, Bloody Mary’s were anemic. But then came Dan Bailey and an entirely new world opened its doors. He is the man who came up with the recipe that I use as my benchmark. He called it, immodestly, The Hair of The Dog: The Best Bloody Mary In The World. This is a man I had never met and whose name is not familiar to me. But our lives intersected one day in Los Angeles, as I rummaged through an antiquarian bookshop and came across this tiny, but beautifully printed three color pamphlet in pristine condition, privately published by Mr. Bailey for his friends. As I poured over the recipe, I salivated all the way home and as soon as I arrived in New York, I headed straight for the grocery store to pick up those ingredients I did not have in my kitchen and set about concocting what I hoped would be the quintessential Bloody Mary. Hope sprung eternal, but being the skeptic that I am and revering a carefully crafted Bloody Mary as much as I do, I went into my mixology session with an open mind and restrained expectation. There were two ingredients that stood out as intriguing, yet a bit disturbing to my sensibilities – ketchup and sweet/sour bar mix. The rest of the ingredients were classic. Please note that the following
recipe yields a generous half-gallon of mix:
2 - 24 oz. cans V-8 juice
1/2 Cup Worcestershire Sauce
1 Tsp. Seasoned Pepper
2 Tsp. Seasoned Salt
1 Cup catsup (ketchup)
3/4 Cup Sweet/Sour Bar Mix
1 Tsp. Tabasco Sauce
8 oz. Tomato Juice
Juice of two limes
In a 1/2 gallon plastic bottle, mix all the ingredients and shake vigorously.
The mix is greatly enhanced by aging in the refrigerator 24 hours before serving.
Fill 10 ounce bar glass with cracked ice, add vodka, fill with aged mix, stir and
place a half of a lime slice on the rim. Serve.
Despite the deliciousness of this recipe, there are two points that I would dispute in the preparation and service sections. First, a plastic or glass bottle would be just fine for preparing this mixture. I generally use a glass bottle. The second issue is much more important. Since the mix should be “aged” in the refrigerator for 24 hours, it is very well-chilled already and this is how I prefer to serve it. Chilled straight out of the refrigerator, NO ICE !! This version of a Bloody Mary is rich, delicious and complex and is best served unadulterated. As the reader already knows, my major complaint about the Bloody Mary is that it is too often served fully diluted by ice, rendering it tasteless and lacking in body. This point cannot be stressed enough. It is true that in most cocktails, dilution with ice is a key to success. However, there is something about Bloody Mary that makes her different. The Best Bloody Mary In The World is thick, rich, and full of flavor. Taste it and see. As far as the vodka is concerned, I have found that most premium and super premium bottlings will blend nicely. Another point of difference between my method and the above recipe, is that I will add the vodka to the entire mixture before I begin chilling it. The vodka infiltrates and marries well with the juice as it macerates in the refrigerator. Another deviation from the original recipe is that I prefer to create a 50-50 mixture of V-8 and tomato juice, giving the drink more of a tomato flavor with less vegetal character.
The origins of the “Bloody” are a bit confused. Stories have circulated in the United States for the past 70 years or so that the famous comedian, George Jessel was the creator of the drink. However, since Mr. Jessel was involved in an advertising campaign for a particular brand of vodka, his claim might be considered suspect, as he and the company had a vested interest in making it appear as though he was the genius behind the drink. According to recognized cocktail historians, the creation of the Bloody Mary in Paris coincided with the arrival of tomato juice in cans from the United States. This occurred right after World War I, around 1918. Frank Meier, barman at the Ritz Bar had been making what was known as a Tomato Juice Cocktail for years by crushing his own fresh tomatoes. His recipe was a tasty one, but it did not include vodka. At Harry’s Bar in Paris, Pete Petiot took Meier’s recipe for the “cocktail”and added vodka. The Bloody Mary was born. As the story goes, the name came from a frequent customer by the name of Mary who, on several occasions, waited at the bar with a tomato juice cocktail in hand, for a man who never came. She was likened to Mary Queen of Scots who was condemned to solitary confinement in The Tower of London. The name of the cocktail stuck, but the fame and fortune of the Bloody Mary came about only when Petiot moved to the United States to become head bartender at the St. Regis Hotel, owned by the Astor family. Interestingly, the Astors did not like the name (too gruesome for high society no doubt) and the first version of the cocktail served in the King Cole Room at The St. Regis was dubbed, The Red Snapper and was made with gin instead of vodka, as vodka was virtually non-existent in the United States market in 1934. As the story goes, it was Petiot’s idea to add Tabasco Sauce to the tomato juice mixture when he arrived at The St. Regis. The addition of the dreaded celery stalk as garnish occurred in the
1960’s and was the bright idea of a patron of the famed Pump Room in the Ambassador East Hotel in Chicago. That fellow will not win any awards from me, since my preference is to keep the garnish as simple and as classic as possible - a lemon or lime wedge is just fine, adding color and a touch of elegance to an already fabulous drink.