Drinks writer Brian Bartels shares his take on what makes this classic cocktail great
The bloody mary is a drink that has stood the test of time. There are numerous stories around its history, but most scholars give Fernand “Pete” Petiot the credit for its creation in the 1940s. He was head bartender at the St. Regis Hotel’s King Cole Bar in New York. Now, everyone has their own version – it’s a very democratic drink – but in my opinion some bloody marys are more perfect than others, particularly those that truly respect the umami flavour of this classic pick-me-up.
1 Ice is the secret ingredient
A good bloody mary has a few essential ingredients: vodka, tomato juice, celery salt, pepper, lemon, Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco for heat. A truly great one is always served over plenty of ice. If you’re throwing a party, make sure that you’ve got half a pound of the stuff per guest.
2 Pick the right pepper
Whole peppercorns simply don’t have a substitute. If you’re using store-bought pre-ground black pepper… don’t. Whole peppercorns have a longer shelf life, so only grind what you intend to use in the near future. I use both black and white: black peppercorns offer higher heat and fearlessness, while the white ones are earthier and have a more rounded flavour. Both are great for digestion, healthy skin and breaking down fat cells.
3 Make the most of your lemons
Don’t just plonk them in the drink – lemons are great for garnishes and can take the shape of wheels, half-moons, tiger tails, arrows, hearts and so much more. If your bloody mary is coming across too spicy or sweet, add a little freshly squeezed lemon to restore balance.
4 Be prepared to batch
Imagine you’ve got a lot of bloody marys to make in one go. Great news: pre-batching the night before actually makes them better. Mix all the ingredients together (except the alcohol and ice) and store in the refrigerator for 24 hours. You’ll end up with stronger, more mature flavours.
5 Leave some room for manoeuvre
Strange as it sounds, the bloody mary is a cocktail that requires some elbow room. I’ve joked that a properly assembled bloody mary station has the same energy as a great dance floor, with people grabbing garnishes, scooping ice, pouring juice, squeezing citrus, dashing salt and pepper into the mix, then shaking or rolling the contents into the finely balanced end product. The process has a bit of art to it, a touch of flair and, yes, some amount of showing off.
Brian’s book, The Bloody Mary: The Lore and Legend of a Classic Cocktail with Recipes for Brunch and Beyond, is out March 28, published by Ten Speed Press