The Backstory and Basics of the Bloody Mary

The Bloody Mary is the quintessential brunch drink, Bloody Mary ingredients are a mix of savory and spicy with a little bit sweetness to hit all the right spots. Find out more about the history of the classic cocktail, plus the many ways to enjoy it.
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The Bloody Mary is the quintessential brunch drink, Bloody Mary ingredients are a mix of savory and spicy with a little bit sweetness to hit all the right spots. Find out more about the history of the classic cocktail, plus the many ways to enjoy it.

The Bloody Mary was created almost a century ago, but the exact details of who, when and where are hotly debated. With all the different recipes and variations on this cocktail classic, there are numerous competing claims on both sides of the Atlantic, including Fernand Petiot, who claimed to have invented the drink in 1920s Paris at Harry's New York Bar, and New York's 21 Club, where both a bartender and a patron laid claim to the invention. The patron, legendary American entertainer George Jessel, was even once featured in display advertising for Smirnoff brand vodka with the slogan, "I, George Jessel, invented the Bloody Mary." The 1950s ad goes on to give a brief outline for a Bloody Mary, noting the juice as being "for the body" and the vodka "for the spirit." Maybe this is where we get the notion of the Bloody Mary as a hangover cure -- the Sunday morning ritual to reinvigorate and nurse us back to life.

Like a few other classic cocktails, the Bloody Mary has taken on a variety of monikers over the years -- Bucket of Blood, Red Hammer and even Red Snapper. The foundation for all these drinks, however, is the same: a vodka base is enhanced with good quality tomato juice. In the modern Bloody Mary, the spicy kick is brought by horseradish and/or Tabasco, with fresh lime or lemon juice adding that citrusy zing. An authentic Bloody Mary should have a dash of Worcestershire sauce -- a crucial component that brings umami, savory tones to the drink. For a colorful, edible garnish, a celery stalk often acts as a stirrer with the rim of the glass crusted in celery salt.

Here are a few more key tips about Bloody Marys that'll help you nail your next Sunday brunch:

Nowadays, there are all kinds of toppings and garnishes for your Bloody Mary. From meats to shrimp and pickles to artisanal sauces, there's something for everyone. In Washington DC., bartenders at The Pig shake up a "Pig Bloody," a bacon-infused take on the favorite weekend libation (which is nearly a meal itself).


Photo provided by The Pig in Washington D.C.

Unlike other cocktails, tinkering with the ratios of the ingredients in your Bloody is key to getting it just right. Start with two parts vodka to four parts tomato juice, adding more or less as needed. The same goes for the spicy and citrus elements, letting you make it as hot or tangy as you like. Stir, taste, and adjust until perfect.

Sometimes you're craving something a little different. Try swapping out the vodka for a good tequila blanco -- the rich agave flavor lends a different personality to your standard Bloody Mary. The resulting cocktail is the aptly named a Bloody Maria, and it's perfect for the morning after everything from Cinco de Mayo to girls' (or guys') night out. For an American take, Grange Hall Burger Bar delivers a Bloody Maryann, complete with bourbon, pickled veggies, sharp white cheddar and a bacon salt rim.


Photo provided by Grange Hall Burger Bar in Chicago.

Riffs on the standard Bloody Mary aren't just restricted to subbing in tequila or other liquors. Take the Canadian route and go for a Bloody Caesar (created and primarily consumed by our neighbors up north), made with Clamato -- a mix of tomato juice and briny clam broth -- instead of straight tomato juice. If you can't get your hands on that, vegetable juice blends spiked with olive brine make a good substitution.

The ingredients in your Bloody Mary are loaded with detoxifying properties. Horseradish is packed with glucosinolates, compounds which increase your liver's ability to break down carcinogens. You get a healthy dose of vitamin C from the citrus juice and an antioxidant and lycopene boost from the tomato juice. Add a fiber-and-electrolyte-packed stalk of celery, and your Sunday morning Bloody Mary is sure to hit all the right (and healthy) spots.


Photo provided by Locanda in San Francisco. Photo by Eric Wolfinger.

Contributed by Andrew Burt

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