I’m not usually one for made-up holidays, but when I learned (via press release, of course) that January 1 is called National Bloody Mary Day, it sort of made sense. Once you finally wake up from the previous night’s bad behavior, a spicy Bloody Mary might be the only way to ease into the New Year.
I know, everyone claims that either they or someone close to them (wife, brother-in-law, aunt) makes The Very Best Bloody Mary Ever. But let’s be honest: This isn’t true. Most Bloody Marys are bloody awful. The Bloody Mary is a deceptively simple but vexing drink. In the wrong bartending hands, it quickly turns into a gloopy, tomato-gravy, overgrown-foliage disaster.
First of all, no version using one of those pre-fab Bloody Mary mixes can be considered “good” (Sorry, Mr. and Mrs. T). That means, yes, you’ll need to buy tomato juice and Worchestershire sauce to mix yourself. Use a little more vodka and a little less juice. And cayenne pepper and some other spices.
And don’t forget that a dash of lemon or lime juice helps keep things fresh and bright. And can we be totally honest about something? A huge celery-stalk-plus-olive-plus-pickle-plus-pepper-on-a-stick is a little ridiculous. A garnish should garnish. Not take over the glass. One of the very best garnishes for a Bloody Mary is a simple lemon peel twist.
One secret to a great Bloody Mary lies in the seasoning. One non-negotiable ingredient for me is celery bitters rather than celery salt. Look for celery bitters from The Bitter Truth, Bittermans, Scrappys or Fee Brothers.
Then there is the spice. I often keep it simple by using cayenne and black pepper. But there are deeper options. Bartender Jim Meehan, author of the classic PDT Cocktail Book, has an amazing line of spice blends specifically for Bloody Marys that he created with La Boîte. Each spice blend is created for a certain spirit — vodka, aquavit, gin, or tequila.
Hands down, the very best Bloody Marys are made with aquavit, the Scandinavian spirit distilled with carraway (sometimes called a Bloody Marion). Other people swear by gin (Bloody Marlene) or tequila (Bloody Maria), but for me aquavit’s herbal profile makes sense in savory cocktails. Look for brands like Linie and Aalborg.
Here is my favorite, oh-so-simple Bloody Mary variation. I’m going to claim, of course, that this is the Very Best Bloody Mary Ever. And you will, of course, disagree.
Happy Bloody Mary Day!
The Bloody Mary was invented in Paris during the 1920s, but after Prohibition, the drink migrated to New York, where it was served at the St. Regis Hotel. Concerned that more-conservative American patrons might be offended by the name, the St. Regis rechristened the drink the Red Snapper. With its equal parts vodka and tomato juice, as well as a squeeze of lemon juice, the Red Snapper is the superior expression of the cocktail, not like the goopy tomato-gravy crap you usually get. My “Nordic” rendition here calls for aquavit instead of vodka.
- 2 ounces aquavit
- 2 ounces tomato juice
- 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1/4 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 2 dashes celery bitters
- Pinch of fine sea salt
- Pinch of freshly ground black pepper
- Pinch of cayenne pepper
- Lemon peel twist, for garnish
Fill a cocktail shaker halfway with ice. Add the aquavit, tomato juice, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, celery bitters, salt, black pepper.and cayenne pepper. Shake well for at least 30 seconds, then strain into an ice-filled highball glass. Garnish with the twist of lemon peel.