Building a Better Bloody Mary

You can tell a lot about a person from his or her choice in a Bloody Mary. Some people try a little too hard to butch up the drink with seven kinds of hot sauce. Others are all about flair, bedazzling the drink with enough garnish to decorate Carmen Miranda’s hat. And a certain segment of the population just likes drinking at breakfast.

I suppose my style of Bloody Mary reveals both trust and control issues. I don’t trust the bartender to make the drink for me most places; I’d prefer to control the process at the make-your-own Bloody Mary bar. I want the drink to have a perfect combination of savory flavors, with a dash of olive brine and the tiniest pinch of celery salt. I don’t like the saltiness of a Dirty Martini or even olives in the drink (“Can I get those on the side?” I’ll ask,) but when you add savory tomato juice to the situation then all my issues are going to come out.

These days savory cocktails are all the rage in experimental bars. I’ve consumed drinks with carrot juice, cucumbers, yogurt, and even mustard—but those weren’t Bloody Marys. Savory additions to that drink mostly involve mixing meat into it, with beef bullion and clam juice inside the cocktail and bacon and shrimp on top as garnish. Some bartenders are infusing vodka with bacon, though that often leads to gloppy vodka.

But that’s all recent history. The Bloody Mary’s history goes back to 1920 or 1939 (or some other date) depending on whose story you believe. Like most of the famous cocktails of today, its origin is in dispute. It may have been created in France; maybe New York. It may have originally been made with vodka, or maybe with gin.

Today some call the gin version a Red Snapper; the tequila version a Bloody Maria; sake in the Bloody Geisha, and so on. No matter what you call it, there are plenty of ways to adjust the recipe to your personal taste. Within the vodka family, flavored or infused vodkas go great in this drink—citrus flavors like lemon and even lime can work, and you can sometimes find special edition chipotle flavored vodka, or the more readily available pepper (Peppar) flavor.

Speaking of spicy, I love wasabi paste, horseradish, and muddled jalapeno and red bell peppers in the drink. You can also infuse them in vodka overnight—I’ve tried them all, and they were each differently delicious. Ethnic hot sauces for Asian and Latin cuisine are great in the drink, as are savory soy, Worcestershire, and steak sauces. Outside the glass, I say the more the merrier—more olives, pickled green beans, celery stalks, lemon wedges, cucumbers, tomolives, etc. I even like salt and pepper and more celery salt around the rim. Bring it on.

Now that I see my Bloody Mary drink preferences all written down—hot and savory and a whole salad as garnish—it’s clear I don’t have control issues at all. I think I’m just a big old glutton.

Camper English is a cocktails and spirits writer and publisher of

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