The Bloody Mary

When it comes to drinking like a WASP, one cocktail stands high among the fray: The Bloody Mary.

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The Bloody Mary: WASP cocktail royalty and hangover cure extraordinaire.

The reason is simple.  Opinions regarding the best apéritif, wine, or liquor are diverse and the subject of constant debate.   But when it comes to drinking in the mid-to-late morning, particularly after a vigorous “debate” the evening prior, everyone agrees that the Bloody Mary is the only choice.

For such a ubiquitous drink, the history of the Bloody Mary is actually quite muddled.  There are several versions of when and how the cocktail came to be, but the most wildly accepted seems to credit a bartender by the name of Fernand Petiot, who was working at Harry’s New York Bar (naturally located in Paris, France) in the early 1920’s.  That’s where Petiot claims to have first mixed a basic version of the drink for the American expats who frequented the bar.  He immigrated to the United States in 1925 and by 1934 became the head bartender at the St. Regis Hotel in New York.  It was at the St. Regis where Petiot says he augmented his recipe with a defining touch of Tabasco sauce, thus creating the modern version of the Bloody Mary we all know and love today.

So there we have the origins of the cocktail itself, but what about that name?  If we stay true to Fernand, then we’re told that the name was coined by two men from Chicago for whom he first mixed the drink.  The men knew a bar in Chicago called Bucket of Blood and a waitress there everyone called Bloody Mary.  They told Petiot that his drink reminded them of Bloody Mary and the rest is history.  Another popular belief is that the cocktail is named in honor of Queen Mary I.  Mary earned the nickname “Bloody Mary” during her occasionally violent quest to return England to the Catholicism, which she felt that her father, Henry VIII, had wrongly rejected after the Pope’s refusal to allow his divorce her mother Catherine of Aragon.

I’m not sure which story is right, but I think I prefer the latter because of the more literal relation to the drink’s appearance and also the connection to English history, which naturally adds an enormous amount of WASP cred.

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The King Cole Bar at the St. Regis Hotel in New York City. This is the spot where Fernand Petiot claims to have perfected the modern Bloody Mary.

OK, by now you must be thinking, enough with history lessons, it’s time to drink!  And you’re in luck because in addition to being one of the WASP’iest cocktails out there, the Bloody Mary is also one of the easiest to make.   No strange ingredients, expensive liquors, or fancy bar equipment required.

According to the International Bartender Association, a traditional Bloody Mary consists of the following:

  • 4.5 cl (or 3 parts) Vodka
  • 9.0 cl (or 6 parts) Tomato sauce
  • 1.5 cl (or 1 part) Lemon juice

Add dashes of Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco, salt and pepper into a highball glass, then pour all ingredients into highball with ice cubes. Stir gently. Garnish with Celery Salt and lemon wedge (optional).

Now, that will certainly get the job done.  But one of the best parts about making Bloody Marys is that the recipe is highly amenable to personalization and experimentation.  In fact I’ve found that most WASP’y types prefer something a little above and beyond the standard interpretation.

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Brunch: A fixture of WASP lifestyle and native environment of the Bloody Mary.

A few years ago I was put in charge of making Bloody Marys for a family brunch during the holidays. Being a Bloody Mary virgin, I stuck to the traditional recipe and erred on the side of caution when it came to the more aggressive elements of the cocktail in the interests of not offending anyone.

The result?  People took one sip, looked upon the drink with disappointment, and immediately began dumping in copious amounts of pepper, worchestershire, tobasco, and alcohol to correct my rookie mistake.  It was an eye opening and humiliating setback in my own quest to master the WASP lifestyle and one that I vowed never to repeat.

This past Christmas I had an opportunity to redeem myself and this time I was determined to succeed.  As a result, I put together what I believe to be the perfect WASP Bloody Mary.  The recipe is provided below and should be made by the pitcher (why would you want less?).  Quantities are left purposefully vague and should be adjusted to one’s taste.

Ingredients:

  • Tomato Juice
  • Vodka – No need to go crazy and use a bottle of Grey Goose here.  A Bloody Mary is not the appropriate vehicle for showcasing a top shelf vodka.  Instead get the smoothest vodka you can find for the lowest price.  Personally I think Smirnoff No. 21 is the best compromise.
  • Horseradish Sauce – You can use straight prepared horseradish, but I find the sauce blends into the juice better and yields for a more uniform final product.
  • Worcestershire Sauce
  • Tabasco Sauce – Or any Louisiana style hot sauce.
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Celery Stalk – Leave the leafs intact on top for a better presentation.

Process:

  • Step  1:  Drop 1-2 spoonfuls of horseradish sauce into an empty pitcher and add about a cup of tomato juice.  Stir or whisk till the horseradish is smoothly blended into the juice.
  • Step 2:  Add tomato juice to the mixture until the pitcher is roughly half full.
  • Step 3: Add a couple hearty splashes of Worcestershire and Tabasco  sauces and stir into the tomato juice using a full celery stalk.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  • Step 4:  Slowly pour in Vodka while stirring the mixture until the pitcher is full.
  • Step 5:  Taste and add more Tabasco and/or seasoning as desired.  What you’re going for here is a proper balance of spicy and savory.  You’ll know that you have it right when the taste of your mix comes in three distinct phases.  First you should be hit with the smooth, warming sensation of the alcohol.  That should be followed by a smoky/savory tomato flavor.  And the drink should finish with a pleasant hint of heat from the Tabasco that lingers in the mouth until the next sip.  CAUTION:  Be judicious as you add Tabasco as it’s the one ingredient that can quickly cross the line and make your drink unpalatable.   Remember that it’s a lot easier to add a little more than to take some out…
  • Step 6:  Once you have the taste and balance perfected, give it one last stir and pour into individual glasses over ice.

Viola!  And there you have it, the perfect WASP Bloody Mary. Feel free to garnish as you like, again, it’s all about personal taste. From there all that’s left is to enjoy!   Fernand Petiot, eat your heart out…

Next Steps:

  • Alcohol, you’ll need alcohol…
  • Head to the grocery store, buy the rest of the ingredients, and start experimenting for yourself.
  • Invite some friends over for brunch next weekend so you’re not stuck drinking a full pitcher by yourself.
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