If imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery, the classic Bloody Mary must be the most sincerely flattered cocktail ever created. What began as a mix of vodka in tomato juice has mutated into countless versions, from the essential to a bewildering array of bartender signature concoctions and slapdash thrown-together versions that can boggle the mind and stun the palate.
As with many of the classic cocktails, there are any number of creation claims and myths that surround the drink. Depending on which version you prefer, the drink was created originally as a vodka and tomato juice pick-me-up in either the Roaring Twenties or the Depression Era Thirties, by either performer Georgie Jessel, a then famous vaudevillian comic, or bartender Fernand Petiot in a New York bar.
The name is as shrouded in mystery as the creation, with Bloody Mary usually associated with either Mary, Queen of Scots, or Queen Mary, ill-handled Spanish wife of Henry the Eighth, but not excluding various legendary waitresses and celebrities. Truth is, no one knows.
To use the parlance of today: What-ever! What is most likely is the rather dull and simple vodka-tomato combination immediately got spiced up in the hands of a thoughtful drinkslinger, then morphed into a different version or variation every time a new bartender was asked to make one.
The Bloody Mary quickly became the stuff of legend and the mainstay of otherwise staid brunches across the land. It was touted as the nonpareil hangover cure (it isn’t; hangovers can only be preemptively cured by not over-indulging the night before) and gave succor and hope to numberless desperate souls, who profited at the very least from the ingestion of healthy, vitamin rich tomato juice in their diet. It also begat other drinks in biblical quantities, some compelling, some downright painful, and some just silly.
Today the more-or-less-agreed-upon base of a Bloody Mary is vodka, tomato juice, salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, lemon juice, and Worcestershire Sauce, all vigorously mixed with ice, and often garnished with greenery, a celery stalk being the most common accoutrement. The hundreds of variations on that base seem to focus either on replacing the spirit, the juice and corollary ingredients, or the garnish to create a new signature recipe.
Some spirit substitutions seem obvious and inevitable, such as gin (Bloody Murder) or tequila (Vampiro), or rum (Cubanito). Some not so immediately obvious but now beloved of many, such as Guinness Stout (Bloody Maureen) and any other beer (the much-consumed Michelada). Some just seem bizarre, such as Irish whiskey, Absinthe, Saki, Cabernet Sauvignon (Really? Why?), and Scotch (Bloody Scotsman, which seems to be a waste of perfectly good Scotch to most aficionados of the whisky). And of course, there had to be and so there was, a spirit-free version (unspirited? without spirit?), the Virgin Mary.
When the focus shifts to the other ingredients, again the sky’s the limit, with Worcestershire Sauce being traded out for Tabasco Sauce,A1 Steak Sauce, barbeque sauce, teriyaki sauce, horseradish, wasabi sauce, pain-inducing habanero sauce, and the popular variation (mysteriously so, to some) of Clamato, clam juice mixed with tomato sauce for what is usually referred to as the Bloody Caesar.
Those who like shortcuts, or are in a desperate hurry for the drink to arrive, use branded canned or bottled mixes, which abound nationally, regionally and locally.
There’s even one version of the drink which eradicates tomato juice entirely to substitute…pineapple juice, although cocktail purists have suggested finding the creator of that version and holding a tar and feather party, if not a well-deserved lynching. One would suppose those who consume this variation are also the ones who order something called ‘Hawaiian Pizza’, but little is known of those strange mutants.
The last frontier to be explored in the Bloody Mary was the garnish, with the ubiquitous celery being replaced or added to with dill pickle spears, garlic pickles, caperberries (inspired), bitter melon, olives, stuffed olives, roasted garlic cloves, cherry tomatoes, citrus fruits, radishes, parsley, and sprigs of whatever green thing was in season at the time of construction.
So whether you adhere to the ‘original formula’ or like the daring and adventurous, there’s a Bloody Mary for you out there. Go find it.