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Food & Drink | The Bloody Mary - Cocktail Hour - Apéritif Time

Food & Drink | The Bloody Mary - Cocktail Hour - Apéritif Time

Bertie Wooster (L) and his valet Jeeves (R)

If a Martini feels like a peek into James Bond’s world, the Bloody Mary feels like a peek into the world of Bertie Wooster, the hapless 1920’s English toff in the novels of P.G.Wodehouse. It could almost be the miraculous pick-me-up Jeeves, his valet, would mix for Wooster after a big night out.

Bloody Mary is the odd one out at the cocktail party. She is worlds away from the gin-, rum-, whisky-based cocktails (and the rest of the classics) which are either more-or-less sweet or Campari-bitter - which is still liquorous and not very un-sweet. And then you have a Bloody Mary and it’s actually savoury ! You put salt & pepper in it for heaven’s sake, and Tabasco and Worcestershire sauce and then celery for a garnish - it's more like a stew! Some derivative recipes do even call for beef broth or marmite… So it’s like a meat course where most of the other cocktails are dessert.

Bloody Mary ingredients  

  • 2 parts Vodka, I’m using Ketel One from the Nolet Distillery in NL

  • 4 parts Tomato juice (preferably organic and preferably chilled)

  • ½ part fresh Lemon juice

  • 4-5 drops of Worcestershire sauce, e.g. Lea & Perrins

  • 4-5 drops of Tabasco sauce, by McIlhenny & Co.

  • Pinch of sea salt (preferably Fleur de Sel)

  • Pinch of black pepper

  • Ice

Pour the vodka, tomato juice and lemon juice over the ice; add the Worcester sauce, Tabasco and seasoning. Stir well and leave for a few minutes. Serve and garnish.

Garnishes: Stick of celery, wedge of lemon or lime.

Optional extras: Horseradish, celery salt, Sherry. A crispy slice of bacon for a garnish, or even a piece of pork crackling.

Ketel One vodka by the Nolet Distillery in Holland

Tips :

  • In the summer when tomatoes are plentiful and flavoursome it's easy to make your own delicious tomato juice: just chop them and blitz - adding a little water if the juice is too thick - and then sieve. Freeze any left over for later use. The vines/stalks of tomatoes contain a lot of flavour, so if you care to go full Heston: simmer the vines in water, then remove the vines and reduce the liquid, and once cooled use this stock to add flavour to your Bloody Marys. We're veering off in the direction of a Gazpacho here, so why not try adding Sherry vinegar, a little crushed garlic and garnishing with a slice of cucumber?

  • A Bloody Mary is two-thirds tomato juice and - since watery Bloody Marys are worse than no Bloody Marys at all - it's a good idea to start with chilled tomato juice. This way you don't need so much ice to chill the drink and the ice you do add doesn't melt too quickly and dilute it. A pre-chilled glass helps, too, if you don't mind looking a bit obsessive.

  • Don't skimp on the freshly squeezed lemon juice (or you can use lime) as it is a vital element in this cocktail. Its acidity brings a zing to the drink while cutting through the ‘weight’ of the tomato juice.

  • Let the cocktail rest. Unlike other cocktails that need to be freshly made, the Bloody Mary improves if kept in the fridge for a day or two before serving. This allows the flavours to blend more fulsomely - another way in which it's like a stew! Furthermore, when you serve it the ice won't melt quickly and dilute the drink. This, of course, isn't always possible, but if you're planning a brunch party it's part of the prep.

Claims to having invented it

One theory attributes the invention of the Bloody Mary to American comedian, songwriter and movie producer George Jessel who frequented the 21 Club in New York in the 1920’s and 30’s. He found it beneficial for overcoming his morning hangovers: “Tomato juice for the body; vodka for the spirit.” he would say.

French barman Fernand Petiot, however, later disputed this and claimed to have invented what we now know as a Bloody Mary in the 1920’s as a refinement of Jessel's drink, while he was working at The New York Bar in Paris. In the late teens and early 1920’s émigrés escaping the Russian Revolution began arriving in Paris, bringing with them vodka and caviar, so Fernand Petiot began experimenting with this new spirit. During the same period Americans - denied alcohol back home by Prohibition - were enjoying access to alcohol in Paris and they naturally gravitated to The New York Bar at 5 Rue Danou, later renamed Harry's New York Bar, near the Place Vendôme and the Ritz Hotel... It was they who introduced Petiot to American canned tomato juice and, because he found vodka bland, he experimented with combining it with tomato juice and spices like pepper and strong seasonings like Tabasco…

Fernand “Pete” Petiot, barman.

Harry’s New York Bar at “Sank Roo Doe Noo” in Paris, as it is today

The New York Bar in the “Roaring Twenties” became a frequent hangout for traveling Americans and regulars included Ernest Hemingway, boxer Jack Dempsey, actors Gary Cooper, Humphrey Bogart and Rita Hayworth, Coco Chanel and later even, occasionally, the exiled Duke of Windsor.

The Duke & Duchess of Windsor during their exile in Paris

Rita Hayworth outside the Ritz Hotel in Paris in 1950

Gary Cooper leaving a Paris restaurant in the 1920’s

Coco Chanel

When Fernand “Pete” Petiot spoke to The New Yorker magazine in July 1964 he said:

“I initiated the Bloody Mary of today. Jessel said he created it, but really it was nothing but vodka and tomato juice when I took it over. I cover the bottom of the shaker with four large dashes of salt, two dashes of black pepper, two dashes of cayenne pepper, and a layer of Worcestershire sauce; I then add a splash of lemon juice and some cracked ice, put in two ounces of vodka and two ounces of thick tomato juice; shake, strain, and pour. We serve a hundred to a hundred and fifty Bloody Marys a day here.”
— https://www.newyorker.com/

During the 1950s and ‘60s, this strong, savory cocktail had something of a cult following in the US. Journalists in New York and Los Angeles reported on its coast-to-coast popularity, and for screen stars like Richard Chamberlain, Joan Crawford and Malcolm McDowell it was the drink of choice - possibly because with its big measure of tomato juice it seemed different from and healthier than the standard liquorous cocktails of the mid-20th Century, and yet it's invisible shot of vodka still gave it an alcoholic kick. It fell out of fashion in the late 1970s, but experienced something of a comeback after the millennium. Rightly so, in our opinion.

A young Malcolm McDowell in the 1960’s

Joan Crawford in the 1960’s

Origin of the gory name

The name has been associated with Mary Tudor, Queen Mary I of England, who was nicknamed Bloody Mary in Foxe's Book of Martyrs (published 1563) for all the bloodshed resulting from her attempts to re-establish the Catholic Church in England. So the sobriquet Bloody Mary was commonly known in English-speaking countries, and when a red-coloured mixed drink made its first appearance in the early 20th Century one can see how the name could have been applied. But as mentioned above, a connection with Harry's New York Bar in Paris seems certain: according to it's then manager Alain Da Silva in a 2011 interview, one of the patrons for whom the cocktail was first mixed in 1920 or 1921 declared "It looks like my girlfriend who I met in a cabaret". The cabaret's name was the BUCKET OF BLOOD and the girlfriend's name was Mary, so the patrons and barman Fernand Petiot agreed to call it a "Bloody Mary".

Another theory for "Bloody Mary" again involves Fernand Petiot behind The New York Bar in Paris in the early 1920’s: it is suggested that it was simply a mispronunciation of the name “Vladimir". This is plausible because the customer for whom Petiot mixed the drink was a Russian émigré named Vladimir Smirnov, of the Smirnoff vodka family. Say it out loud: Vladdy-Mare… Possible?

Besides being an enthusiastic consumer of Bloody Marys Ernest Hemingway is also credited by some with having coined the name - but the timing doesn’t seem right. It's a good story though: while Hemingway was living in Paris in 1955-56 with his fourth wife Mary Welsh the excesses of his early years and injuries from two plane crashes in Africa began to catch up with him. His health was deteriorating. His doctors told him to stop drinking in the hope of reversing his liver damage, high blood pressure, and arteriosclerosis. Hemingway, needless to say, struggled to comply with this régime and took to drinking innocent-looking tomato juices at the bar of The Ritz Hotel, one of his favourite haunts and subsequently named after him, having instructed the barman to add a sneaky slug of vodka. But eventually his wife got wind of this ruse and put a stop to it, at which Hemingway exploded “Bloody Mary!” Appealing though this story is, the action takes place at least three decades after Monsieur Petiot was churning out 150 a day.

Wacky presentation of a Bloody Mary

Ernest Hemingway liked his cocktails

A word about garnishes: their role is surely not just to look decorative but usually also to be eaten. The olive or cocktail onion? Delicious when steeped in a martini. The slice of lemon or lime? Great to eat, adding piquancy to the appetite. Thus the stick of crunchy celery in a Bloody Mary serves not only to refresh your palate after the spiciness of the mix, and as decoration, but also as a functional stirrer and is a nutritional extra as well.

Maybe because it's been around for so long many variations on the basic recipe have had time to evolve - but that doesn’t necessarily mean good variations, ahem. Sometimes it's like the Bloody Mary has been kidnapped, tossed in the back of a Chevy Suburban and hijacked to the wilder shores of cocktail mixology - specifically Milwaukee, where there's a grill called Sobelmans’s offering a gargantuan 1.75 Litre Bloody Mary which comes with a garnish of not only skewers of sausage, cheese, vegetable chunks, olives, prawns, bacon-wrapped jalepeño cheese balls (that's a food crime right there!) and 2 mini-cheeseburgers, and also an entire fried chicken! I'm not even kidding. Forget a cherry on top; this drink comes with a 4 lb chicken on top! And to think I was hesitant about a stick of celery! On Tripadvisor, however, someone from Illinois with the vaguely troubling username of Mamawipe, complained that “The Fried Chicken Bloody Mary Beast was so disappointing. They left off several [sic!] of the garnishes and our bartender went to the kitchen to get them and never came back. Another bartender told us he left.” [Didn't you get the message Mamawipe? Even the staff thought it was criminal!] Mamawipe goes on: “...a 4 lb chicken was advertised. Our chicken was only about 2 pounds.” Seriously Mamawipe?? The problem with this apéritif was that the fried chicken on top of it was a kilo too small??

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They call it a Bloody Mary; we call it Sunday lunch for a family of six.

- DP

Crazy garnishes aside, there's a reason this iconic drink is a classic. The tomato juice has all the pulpy fruit-juice texture but without the sweetness of a fruit juice, while the lemon juice gives it a citrus bite and the vodka an alcohol kick. The Tabasco and Worcester sauces add muscular spiciness and the salt & pepper contribute further seasoning. Finally, the ice makes it refreshing. This zingy savouriness masking some clandestine vodka lead the Bloody Mary to be just about the only cocktail to be socially acceptable at breakfast and/or brunch - with the possible exception of a champagne cocktail, of course.

However you like your’s, one thing’s for sure: while it may be open to interpretation (Ok, and abuse), the Bloody Mary is a longstanding cocktail institution. In all its forms it’s a hell of a drink, whether you’re hungover or not.

Permutations :

Instead of using vodka, try gin - making the cocktail a Red Snapper - or Aquavit, making it a Bloody Birgit.

Or use tequila and add a few Tex-Mex spices to make an eye-popping Bloody Maria.

A Bullshot replaces the tomato juice with beef stock, making it still more meaty.

Next week : The classic clubby Manhattan, it's New York City neighbour the Brooklyn, and their venerable cousin the Old Fashioned. Join us for another drink.

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The Manhattan

Next Week on Chrystal

Disclaimer: This article is not for commercial ends and no gratuities were received from any products mentioned herein. Chrystal 2019

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