Hail Mary: Everything you ever wanted to know about Bloody Marys but were too afraid to ask

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From the lowliest boozer to the most stylish cocktail bar, this humble mix of tomato juice, spirit and spice continues to fascinate, inspire and divide bartenders and consumers alike. Bloody marvellous, say Jared Brown and Anistatia Miller


The Bloody Mary is not a simple drink. The average recipe contains at least seven ingredients. Yet even in local pubs where the landlord might baulk at making a Martini, Bloodys are a Sunday staple from Plymouth to Whitby.

Like nearly every popular classic, the Bloody Mary is also a contentious drink. Just look at the arguments that ensue over whether it should be iced or not. Horseradish or no horseradish? Lemon or lime? And what’s the pub solution for this microcosm of infinite individuality in a glass? Give the customers the raw materials, and turn them loose to add dashes of Worcestershire and Tabasco, and squeeze a bit more lemon juice.

So what is a Bloody Mary? It’s a tomato punch, according to Maxxium mixologist Wayne Collins. The standard ingredient list reads thus: vodka (or gin), tomato juice, lemon juice, Worcester sauce, Tabasco sauce, salt, and pepper. And as with most punches, the list of optional ingredients reads like the index of Nigella’s latest cookbook.

The Bloody Mary’s modern provenance has been the subject of continuous speculation and debate. A possible predecessor is mentioned in an 1892 issue of the American Medical Record, which reports that ‘at the Manhattan Club in New York a warm beverage, called an “oyster cocktail” is largely dispensed.’

MOLLUSCS IN THE MIX

The article continues: ‘For the benefit of those who may be possessed of suicidal intentions, I give the recipe. Seven small oysters are dropped into a tumbler, to which must be added a pinch of salt, three drops of fiery Tobasco [sic]sauce, three drops of Mexican Chili pepper sauce, and a spoonful of lemon juice. To this mixture add a little horseradish and green pepper sauce, African pepper ketchup, black pepper, and fill up with tomato juice. This should be stirred with a spoon, very slightly crushing the oysters, which are then lifted out and eaten, the liquid following as a cocktail.’

close brackets - right parenthesis

open brackets - left parenthesisThe recipe was slow to catch

on in Britain; they thought 

it said tobacco sauce and

gave it a wide berth

According to a gossip item in Milwaukee Journal published that same year, the recipe was slow to catch on in Britain due to a misunderstanding or misspelling of Tabasco, which was a new product. They thought it said tobacco sauce and gave it a wide berth.

But most historians tend to focus on the early 20th century and either Ferdinand ‘Pete’ Petiot or George Jessel as the Bloody Mary’s originator. (We’re not sure about the fervency of Jessel’s defenders, but on a visit to Paris we were once grabbed by the lapels in Harry’s New York Bar by someone demanding to know whether we agreed that Monsieur Petiot invented the Bloody Mary there. It’s that contentious…)

Born in Paris on 18 February 1900, Petiot was a bartender in the right place at a very auspicious time. Tomatoes had been used in cooking since the 1730s. Tomato juice was on French menus as early as 1914, as a temperance drink. When Smirnov’s vodka arrived in Paris, in 1920, Petiot had just landed a job at Tod Sloane’s New York Bar at Cinq Rue Daunou.

Petiot’s obituary, which appeared in a 1975 edition of the San Francisco Chronicle, states: ‘Petiot was said to have been experimenting with vodka after having been introduced to it in Paris in 1920. He settled on a mix of half vodka and half tomato…’

But what about the name Bloody Mary? In a January 1972 interview with The Cleveland Press, Petiot explained that the first two customers to try his creation ‘were from Chicago, and they said there is a bar there named the Bucket of Blood. And there is a waitress there everybody calls Bloody Mary. One of the boys said that the drink reminded him of Bloody Mary, and the name stuck.’

THE MARY MIGRATION

Two years after Harry MacElhone took ownership of the New York Bar, Petiot moved, in 1925, to the US in the midst of Prohibition. During a trip to Canton, Ohio, he met his future bride and was married. Some sources say that Petiot then headed to the Savoy in London. However, there is little credible evidence of this at present. What is known is that by 1934, the year after the repeal bells rang out, he was to be found in New York, heading up a staff of 17 barmen at the St Regis Hotel’s King Cole Bar.

Petiot’s tomato creation went on the bar menu as the Red Snapper. Somewhere between its invention and its emigration to the New York, Worcestershire sauce had been added to the mix. But the drink didn’t click with customers. So Petiot hyped up his original recipe with salt, lemon juice and Tabasco sauce, then reinstated the original Bloody Mary moniker. (It’s often said that the Red Snapper is a Bloody Mary made with gin, but there is in fact no credible evidence to support this – even today the St Regis Hotel makes its ‘Red Snapper (Bloody Mary)’ with vodka).

The result was a drink that was so loved by American celebrities that one even announced that he invented it. Performer George Jessel claimed in his 1975 memoir, The World I Lived In, that in 1927 he invented the Bloody Mary in Palm Beach, Florida. Never mind that Jessel was infamous for his far-flung reminiscences in his two previous memoirs. What’s important is that Bloody Mary got the attention she well deserved.


THE ANATOMY OF A BLOODY MARY

Tomato juice is thixotropic which means it becomes thicker as it rests, and thins when shaken, stirred, or otherwise agitated. This is why the best way to mix a Bloody Mary is by ‘rolling’ it a few times, pouring it back and forth between two mixing glasses held close together. This results in a thicker Bloody.

People who don’t like ice in their Bloodys are an outspoken bunch. Are they wrong? Certainly, ice will thin out a slowly sipped Bloody Mary far more than vigorous shaking ever could. However, some canny bartenders build their mix thicker to stand up to it. And especially in summer, people will be more apt to look for a quenching and cool drink. However, it doesn’t hurt to ask before you ice.

The classic garnishes are celery, lemon and lime. Some of the best alternatives are a slice of crisp streaky bacon, a pickled haricot vert, fresh lemon thyme sprigs, pickled peppers and cornichons. I’ve even seen a Bloody in New York served alongside a whole side plate of house-pickled vegetables for dipping in the drink.

The vodka or gin (personally, I prefer gin in mine) is best frozen. Unlike the ice, it adds chill to the drink without dilution. Better vodkas are ones that are not too neutral. A little less filtration leaves a bit more of the sharper flavors that round out a good Bloody. We’re big fans of traditional eastern European vodkas in ours.


You say tomato…Bloody Mary spread - Spread for bloody mary feature

It’s a key part of every Bloody Mary. So which tomato juice should you keep in your fridge?

In this tasting, the results were altogether positive – all made respectable Bloodys, although no shop-bought juice was a match for Nick Strangeway’s homemade juices, which included seasoned cherry tomatoes passed through a chinoise and roasted puréed tomatoes.

*Rated on a scale of 1 to 5 tomatoes

SCHWEPPES

The old standard is still worth its salt. Thick, acidic and balanced. It tasted like the people’s choice, the plain and simple Bloody. 57p/200ml

Tomato - TomatoTomato - TomatoTomato - TomatoTomato half - Tomato half picture for bloody mary piece

SAINSBURYS

Very thick but slightly steely and savoury, seemingly contains a lot of skins and perhaps northern tomatoes, a flavour not dissimilar to passata. A pinch of sugar balanced it. 86p/1l

Tomato - TomatoTomato - TomatoTomato - Tomato

ESSENTIAL WAITROSE

Very fresh taste, just a touch too thinly textured, but excellent for the price. Texture suffered against ice, but the flavour held up. 99p/1l

Tomato - TomatoTomato - TomatoTomato - TomatoTomato - Tomato

SUNPRIDE

Lighter and sweeter, but with a slight chemical edge. It had none of the steely heaviness common in others. Its freshness leapt out when we squeezed an orange wedge into it. 65p/1l

Tomato - TomatoTomato - TomatoTomato half - Tomato half picture for bloody mary piece

V8

After tasting a bunch of tomato juices, the celery leaps out, the onion is accounted for, the garlic and beetroot juice reveal themselves and work together beautifully in a Bloody Mary. But it is just not quite thick enough. £1.30/1l

Tomato - TomatoTomato - TomatoTomato - TomatoTomato - Tomato

SUNRAYSIA

Tasted like the tomatoes had light steam burns, steely, and rather disappointing. Sadly, it didn’t even liven up in a Bloody. £2.39/750ml

Tomato - Tomato

SAINSBURYS PASSATA

Like tomato paste compared to the others: it stood up in the glass, had a heavy tomato skin content adding to the acid levels, thickness, and colour density. In a Bloody it was laughably thick. But we enjoyed being able to stand a straw up in the middle of the drink and, unlike juices, it could handle being served on the rocks. We will be forever indebted to Brian Silva at Rules for the tip-off. £1.27/1l

Tomato - TomatoTomato - TomatoTomato half - Tomato half picture for bloody mary piece


Marys for the masses

Like all great cocktails, the Bloody has been tweaked, adapted, deconstructed and rebuilt time and time again. We’ve pulled out some of our favourites to inspire you

BUTCHER’S BLOODY MARY

by Paulo Brammer

Paulo Brammer - Paulo BrammerDesigned to pair with The Botanist’s Sunday roast leg of lamb, Paulo Brammer’s BBM is good on its own, but better with a slice of medium rare. The spice balance leans away from pure burn factor for a rounder, richer profile.

Bloody Mary glass 2 - Glass of bloody mary with sprig of rosemaryGlass: Rocks

Garnish: Rosemary sprig

Method: Combine the vodka, spicy tomato juice mix, jus and tomato chutney in an ice-filled shaker. Shake well. Strain into a rocks glass filled with ice and garnish.

  • 50ml Hangar One Chipotle Vodka
  • 100ml spicy tomato juice mix*
  • 3 barspoons red meat stock jus
  • 3 barspoons tomato chutney
  • 1 sprig rosemary

*ETM Spicy Mix: 

  • 1lb tomato juice
  • 3.5 barspoons horseradish
  • 150ml Worcestershire sauce
  • 15ml Tabasco sauce
  • 15 grinds pepper
  • 10 grinds celery salt
  • 50ml lemon juice

HIX WINTER MARY

by Nick Strangeway

Nick Strangeway 2 - Nick Strangeway, of HixNick Strangeway has teamed up with his old friend Mark Hix to create drinks menus to match Hix’s outstanding dishes. He produced two Marys, one rich and bloody for winter, and a summer Mary as light as a Pimm’s Cup, though a bit more insidious.

  • Recipe for Bloody Mary - Nick Strangeway's recipe for bloody mary50ml Winter Spiced Vodka*
  • 20ml tawny port
  • 15ml celery-lemon-sugar mix**
  • 4 dashes Hendersons Relish
  • 2 dashes Tabasco sauce
  • 20ml boullion
  • 130ml Winter Tomato Juice***

* Winter Spiced Vodka

  • 350ml vodka
  • 2 chipotles, diced
  • 1 inch fresh horseradish, grated
  • Gently heat all ingredients in a saucepan on a low heat setting
  • for 30 minutes.

**Celery-lemon-sugar Mix

  • 4 stalks of celery
  • 50ml lemon juice
  • 25ml sugar syrup

Combine in a blender and strain through a jelly bag

*** Winter Tomato Juice

Oven-roast the tomatoes with thyme and garlic. Cool the tomatoes and purée in a blender. Optional method is to purée tinned tomatoes in a blender with the same spices.


HIX SUMMER MARY

by Nick Strangeway

Strangeway nicknamed this his Stealth Mary, as the 55mls of spirit hide behind the other ingredients, and this drink goes down as smoothly as a glass of lemonade.

  • 40ml Beefeater GinPreparing a cocktail - Preparing ingredients for a cocktail
  • 15ml Spice Vodka*
  • 20ml celery-lemon-sugar mix**
  • 4 dashes Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 dash fresh lemon juice
  • 4 dashes Tabasco sauce
  • 180ml tomato water ***

* Spice VodkaHorseradish - Horseradish

  • 350ml vodka
  • 1 inch of fresh horseradish, grated
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 bird’s eye chillis, chopped fine

Gently heat all ingredients in a saucepan on a low heat setting
for 30 minutes

**Celery-lemon-sugar Mix

  • 4 stalks of celeryNick Strangeway - Nick Strangeway
  • 50ml lemon juice
  • 25ml sugar syrup

Combine in a blender and strain through a jelly bag

*** Tomato Water

  • 750g cherry tomatoes
  • 2tsp Malden sea salt
  • 1tsp sugar

Combine in a blender and strain through a jelly bag


THE BEEFSTEAK

by Jared Brown & Anistatia Miller

Jared Brown and Anistatia Miller - Jared Brown and Anistatia MillerOne of our personal creations is a cocktail-style Bloody formulated to replace the usual Martini before dinner and the glass of red wine accompanying a good steak. In ten years of testing, we’ve been hard-pressed to find a wine that muscles this libation away from the beef.

Glass: Coupe

Garnish: Blue cheese-stuffed oliveTomato - Tomato

Method: Shake and serve up

  • 2oz Plymouth Gin
  • 0.5oz dry vermouth
  • 1.5oz tomato water*
  • 2 dashes Tabasco sauce
  • 1 dash Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 squeeze of lemon

* We make our tomato water by chopping up beefsteak tomatoes and pressing them through a sieve or muslin.


BUBBLY MARY

by Audrey Saunders

Audrey Saunders2 - Audrey SaundersAudrey Saunders of Pegu Club in New York has an unusual take on the brunch classic. As she puts it: ‘It’s easy to make! Just make a batch of your favorite Bloody Mary mix as the base, and top with champagne. I don’t use any spirit in this one, but if you want to, sure, why not. The mix is chilled and kept in the fridge. When ready to prepare, do not dilute or chill the Mary mix over ice –use chilled mix directly from fridge as is. I love this one because it’s bubbly, yet savory.’

Glass: Flute

Method: Gently stir

  • 1/3 Bloody Mary mix (undiluted, but chilled)
  • 2/3 champagne (the drier and yeastier, the better)

CONNAUGHT BLOODY MARY

by Eric Lorenz & Ago Perrone

Erik Lorenz2 - Erik LorenzBloody Mary glass - Glass of bloody maryErik Lorenz and Ago Perrone of the Connaught Bar wanted to make a classic Bloody Mary, but the celery garnish got in the way and prevented them from serving it in a coupe. So, they created a mix with tomato juice, lemon, fresh coriander, salt, pepper, and a touch of the hottest chilli in the world: the naga jolokia from northern India. Then they set out to capture the essence of the celery without the stalk.

Ago Perrone2 - Ago PerroneBy running the celery through a juicer, then foaming it, they are able to get a full aroma of celery on their drinks. They offer customers a choice of vodka, gin, or tequila. Then they finish each one off by topping it with a light grating of fresh nutmeg.


RULES BLOODY MARY

by Brian Silva

Brian Silva2 - Brian SilvaBrian Silva, formerly of the Connaught and a few other top establishments, took his Bloody Mary fascination with him when he moved to Rules to open and preside over the new upstairs bar in London’s oldest restaurant. A staunch traditionalist at heart, Silva builds his creations purely on the classics, adding the sort of twists one can only invent after decades behind the bar. His Bloody is no exception.

Glass: Frozen Highball

Garnish: Celery stalk

Oysters and Bloody Mary - Platter of oysters and glass of bloody mary with ingredientsMethod: Squeeze lemon wedges into a chilled mixing glass. Add pepper and Tabasco sauce, grate horseradish directly into the mixing glass and add Worcestershire sauce. Fill the mixing glass with ice, add vodka and passata/V8 mixture. Peel the edges off a celery stalk and split the middle for garnish. Place a metal shaker cup over the mixing glass and shake very briefly (4-5 shakes). Strain into a frozen highball glass. Garnish with the celery stalk.

  • 50ml vodka
  • 2 small lemon wedges
  • V8 juice mixed with passata
  • 3-4 dashes green Tabasco sauce
  • 20-30ml Worcestershire sauce
  • 20-30ml fresh grated horseradish
  • Pinch of pepper

VEX’S BLOODY MARY

by Charles Vexenat

Charles Vexenat2 - Charles VexenatCharles Vexenat uses some ingredients in his signature Bloody Mary that an outsider might mistake for French traditions. Yes, they taste classic, but the combination is pure Vexenat.

  • 100ml tomato juice (thicker the better)
  • 50ml Russian or Polish vodka
  • 15-25ml spicy blend*
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • Juice of one orange wedge

Combine all of the ingredients in an ice-filled mixing glass. Roll the drink gently into an empty mixing glass and back again. Place a single long carved ice cube into a highball glass. Strain
the drink into the glass. Garnish with a celery stalk and a lemon wedge.

*Vexenat has a novel approach for his pre-mix, omitting the tomato juice for greater flexibility: ‘I like to blend a batch of fresh grated horseradish root, loads of Worcestershire sauce, a handful of black pepper, a pinch of celery salt, a few dashes of Tabasco and a healthy measure of dry sherry. This handy bottled mix is really easy to use. Because it’s full of natural preservatives it never goes off and depending on the customers’ preference it’s so simple to adjust to taste: 25ml spicy, 20ml medium, 15ml light spice.’


At Paradise by Way of Kensal Green in london, they’ve added a little extra fun to the Bloody Mary by challenging customers to make their own, either by adapting the house mix or starting from scratch with a package they call the ‘Bloody Mary Club’, writes Alice Lascelles. For £50, punters get a bottle of premium spirits – Russian Standard is the Bloody house pour – plus a jug of tomato juice, sea and celery salt, crushed black pepper, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco, lemon and lime wedges and celery sticks. A £25 version with 375ml of spirits is also available. After that, they’re left to their own devices. ‘It’s been really popular with our Sunday brunch crowd,’ says Paradise’s Caroline Etherton, adding that the communal aspect has also made it a popular feature with private parties. But what if I want soy sauce or clams in mine? ‘I’m sure that can be arranged too!’ she laughs.


Editorial feature from Imbibe Magazine – November / December 2009

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