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bloody mary cocktails

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Enjoy a Dash of History Plus Some New Twists on the Classic Hangover Helper

Peruse the brunch menu at any self-respecting restaurant and the Bloody Mary cocktail should feature prominently on the morning cocktail list.

You might see the savory sip pimped with cucumber vodka and garnished with a veritable salad at a cafe in Hot Springs, Arkansas, or be tempted to try its tangy tomato base cut with red pepper juice and served with a snit (beer chaser) at a supper club in Madison, Wisconsin. But no matter the liberties bartenders take with ingredients, most places worth their celery salt make their mix in-house, like Sauce’d in Wilmington, N.C.

bloody mary

As any good bartender will tell you, the key, as with any cocktail, is balance.

“A good Bloody Mary has to have a little bit of bite to it,” says Courtney Osgood, managing partner and bartender at Sauce’d. “It shouldn’t be too hot. It should have a little more pickle brine than olive brine. And it should be a good blend of herbs. You should be able to taste everything in the mix.”

Located on the Cape Fear River, this hip cocktail bar channels the buzz of New York City with the Art Deco vibes of Miami Beach, with a bloody good Bloody to match. The olive and pickle juice give it structure, fresh lemon brightens it up, Worcestershire adds umami and the Gamefish vodka from nearby Cape Fear Distillery shakes in the pick-me-up that’s so crucial on a weekend morning. One sip and the previous night’s transgressions fade away. It’s Osgood’s go-to drink no matter the time of day or night.

“In my mind, Bloody Mary’s stand the test of time,” says Osgood. “You’re always guaranteed to get that savory sip.”

The Backstory Of Bloody Mary Cocktails

It wasn’t always so. Travel back in time a century and the early Bloody Mary, made with equal parts vodka and tomato juice, was more hair of the dog than heavenly omelet accompaniment. 

harry's new york bar

Some credit Harry’s New York Bar in Paris for inventing the drink in 1921. Others thank vaudeville actor George Jessel for first mixing tomato juice with vodka to ward off a hangover in Palm Beach in 1927. In this origin story version, Jessel’s friend Mary Brown Warburton spilled some of the rudimentary cocktail down her white dress and exclaimed, “Now you can call me Bloody Mary!”

But most cocktail historians agree the tipple didn’t come into its own until 1934, when Fernand ‘Pete’ Petiot (formerly of Harry’s Bar) took a job across the pond at The St. Regis Hotel in New York. Now at the helm of the hotel’s popular King Cole Bar, Petiot gave Jessel’s unimaginative vodka-tomato combo pizazz by adding lemon juice, spices and herbs.

“I do believe that Petiot was the one who completed the circle, if you will, and made it what we now identify as a modern Bloody Mary,” says Brian Bartels, author of The Bloody Mary Book. “The seven components that you would associate with a Bloody Mary today is a result of what Petiot adopted from probably a lot of other people.”

In case you’re a real novice Bloody partaker, besides vodka and tomato juice, the other key ingredients are usually Worcestershire, lemon juice, celery salt, salt and pepper, and Tabasco or other hot sauce.

What really cemented the Bloody Mary as a cocktail darling, though, was brunch. This weekend breakfast-meets-lunch feast became popular post-WWII, and it coincided with the era’s tomato juice health craze (evidently, tomato juice was the green juice of the 1950s and 60s). Combine a hangover with a greasy-spoon, morning-after meal, and a Bloody Mary is the obvious drink pairing.

“People felt there was this restorative quality to it,” explains Bartels, who also owns Settle Down Tavern in Madison, Wisconsin.

Bloody Mary Cocktails on Social Media

The Bloody Mary cocktail is now a brunch mainstay. And thanks to social media—and especially Instagram—its ever-more-outlandish garnish game has turned some Bloody Marys into not only photo ops but meals unto themselves. It’s not at all uncommon to see a bloody garnished with a slider and onion rings, kebab skewers, deviled eggs, or even mini pancakes and bacon strips. 

In Milwaukee, Bartels was once served a Bloody Mary pitcher topped with a three-pound fried chicken and skewered accompaniments, which he found off-putting.

bloody mary
Homemade Bacon Spicy Vodka Bloody Mary with tomatoes, olive and celery

“Once you get the drink, you want to cancel your brunch because it’s too much,” he says.

Experts agree what matters most is what’s in the glass—not on top of it. The beauty of the Bloody Mary is that beyond vodka and tomato juice, those exact contents are ever-changing and open to interpretation. In fact, most home bartenders have their own family recipe, and many restaurants set the Bloody Mary as their benchmark cocktail.

Some mixologists are experimenting with tomato water for a thinner Bloody Mary, while others are shaking in veggie juices like carrot to cut the acidity, or opting for smoky spices such as barbecue sauce, for example.

“It’s constantly evolving,” says Bartels. “We haven’t seen an end to the possibilities.”

What’s one thing he would like to see an end to? The Bloody Mary is pigeonholed as a morning cocktail. Everyone should be like Osgood and order one beyond brunch.

“There’s no sun or moon that should affect its popularity,” Bartels says. 

Bloody well right! 

Two Bloody Good Bloody Mary Recipes

Settle Down Bloody Mary

Combine 1.5 oz (option) of vodka, gin, mezcal or tequila (Brian Bartels recommends gin) with 4 oz of the Settle Down Bloody Mary mix (see mix ingredients, below)  with ice in a Collins glass; stir and garnish with a straw, fresh veggie medley and 7-oz beer snit of your favorite lager.

settle down bloody mary


(Serves 8)

• 29 oz tomato juice

• 1.5 oz Worcestershire

• 3/4 tbsp Chipotle Tabasco

• 3/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper

• ½ tsp celery salt

• ½ tsp Kosher salt

• ¼ tsp coriander

• ¼ tsp smoked paprika

— Courtesy Brian Bartels, Settle Down Tavern 

Sauce’d Bloody Mary

To create the perfect bloody, add 1.5 oz vodka (Gamefish preferred), 4 oz of the Sauce’d Bloody Mary mix (see mix ingredients, below), and shake with ice. Pour drinks and dirty ice into a 10 oz rocks glass rimmed with tajin (chili lime salt). Garnish with celery, shrimp, skewered mini pickles, or bacon (or everything listed). For a spicy bloody, muddle 2-3 fresh jalapeño slices in the shaker prior to adding the other ingredients.

sauce'd bloody mary


(Serves 4)

• 16 oz tomato juice

• 2 oz lemon (freshly squeezed)

• 2 tsp salt

• 1 tsp black pepper

• 1 tbsp pickle brine

• 1 tbsp olive juice

• ½ tsp smoked paprika

• 2-3 dashes Worcestershire

• 6-8 dashes of hot sauce

• 3 tbsp horseradish

— Courtesy Courtney Osgood, Sauce’d 

courtney osgood sauce'd

Vodka Drink Recipes that Rock

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