There's something about customising a Bloody Mary to fit your special palate that is infinitely appealing, and nothing thrills a brunch guest more than a Bloody Mary bar. Here's everything you need to ensure your Bloody Bar is a transcendentally tasty experience, even if it's a bar for one. Photos by Susan Lucas Hoffman, Eli Duke and David Ashleydale.
Vary Your Spirits
Vodka is the classic Bloody Mary booze, but I like to mix it up and keep it interesting. If you want to really impress your guests with you Bloody Mary prowess, throw a few different spirits on the bar. As far as mixing, keep the ratio simple: for each Bloody, include 50mL of alcohol for 100mL of everything else, over lots of ice.
- Gin — Yes, gin is just juniper flavoured vodka, but that extra botanical oomph can add depth and complexity to your basic brunch Bloody. Boodles is a fantastic bargain dry gin, but the cucumber flavour in Hendrick's makes it a perfect partner for tomato juice.
- Tequila or Mezcal — Swapping out vodka for tequila to make a "Bloody Maria" is pretty common, but mezcal can add a smoky, funky, sweetness that you may enjoy.
- Savoury Flavoured Vodkas — Bloody Marys are a perfect vehicle for that novelty bottle or bacon or sriracha vodka you bought in a moment of liquor store weakness, so break those babies out. One important tip: If you do go this flavour-blasted route, don't swamp out all 50mL of your booze for the flavoured stuff. Fifteen millilitres, maybe 20, will be plenty without over powering all the other delicious flavours. Actually, there is an exception to this rule, and it is horseradish vodka, which is so good I'll just drink it on its own. You can make your own, or you can order the platonic ideal of it from New Deal Distillery.
- Supplemental Ethanol — Did you know that there are no rules and you are free to add more than one liquor to your Bloody Mary? Well you can, and there are a couple that really take your beverage to a classier, more refined and more alcoholic place. For starters, get yourself a bottle of Kummel, a caraway/cumin/fennel liqueur that will change your damn life, along with your bloody game. Green Chartreuse is another good option, with its intensely herbal, somewhat vegetal flavour profile, but it may take a little getting used to.
Though ethanol selection is a very important part of crafting your best Bloody, picking the right mix may be even more crucial, so let's devote some time to that.
Mix Up Your Mixers
Bloody Mary mixes can vary vastly, as four out of five flavours (sweet, salty, sour and umami) plus spiciness come into play. Some people like a bright, acidic Bloody, while others seek heat. When setting up a Bloody Bar, I like to provide a mix that is tasty, but fairly neutral, and provide other flavourful mix-ins for a truly customisable experience.
- Clam it Up — Unless you have a shellfish allergy, clam juice should be in your Bloody. Canadians have been doing this forever (they call it a "Bloody Caesar") and it is the best way to get the Ultimate Umami Experience. Clamato is the classic choice, and it is fantastic, with lots of clammy goodness (that sounds gross, sorry).
- If You Really Don't Wanna Work for It — If you just want to buy a good mix and call it a day (and I support this laziness), I recommend McClure's Spicy Bloody Mary Mix (intense, spicy, pungent and pickley) or Mr. & Mrs. T's Original Bloody Mary Mix (call me a basic bitch, but this classic mix has a nice balance of lemon, salt, pepper and straight up tomato goodness).
- DIY for Ultimate Freshness — Sometimes pre-made mixes can be a little thick and viscous for my liking, so I developed a super fresh, super easy recipe for the most refreshing Bloody Mary you've ever had.
To make it:
- Puree 1.1kgs chopped, fresh tomatoes with 450g of chopped, peeled cucumbers.
- Strain, and mix with 2 ½ cups of your favourite pickle juice, four teaspoons of Worcestershire sauce, four teaspoons of prepared horseradish and the juice of two lemons.
- Funnel into one of those glass IKEA bottles and shake, shake, shake. Enjoy within 24 hours with your spirit of choice, adding hot sauce if you're one of those spice hunters. If you want a thicker mix, swap out the pickle juice for pureed pickles.
Now that we've covered the basics of booze and mix, let's have some fun with skewered snacks.
Garnish the Heck Out of It
Before we discuss the wonderful world of Bloody Mary garnishes, a small rant: Garnishes are a very important part of the Bloody Mary, but some people and places use them as a crutch. I love candied bacon as much as the next sludge-blooded food writer, but I take umbrage with people hiding their mediocre Bloody Mary's behind ca-ray-zy garnishes, so make sure your mix is on lock before throwing a bunch of crap on a skewer and bragging about your Bloody game. That being said, I do love a drink that comes with snacks, and a good garnish selection can turn your Bloody Mary into a hair-of-the-dog-inspired breakfast buffet. There are a few categories you'll want to fill:
- Pickled Things — All the pickled things. Cucumber pickles, pickled asparagus, green beans, okra, carrots, hot peppers, banana peppers, pepperoncinis, artichoke hearts, hearts of palm, kimchi (YAS fermented goodness) and pickled onions all work well, but use your imagination here, and embrace the spirit of "we can pickle that!"
- Olives — All olives play well here, but my absolute favourites are Castelvetrano (which are super buttery) and blue cheese-stuffed (which are stuffed with blue cheese). But again, there is no olive that doesn't work in a Bloody.
- Fresh Vegetables — Celery is the classic beacon of freshness in a Bloody, but I freaking hate celery, so I need to get my crunch elsewhere. Bell pepper spears, carrot sticks, fresh cucumbers cut lengthwise and jicama will all provide the snap you need while doubling as stirring sticks.
- Proteins — This is where it gets really "American", so hold on to your pancreas. As mentioned above, bacon is a pretty standard garnish, but let me expand your meaty mind and suggest some other meats and animal byproducts. For a super snacky drink, try salami, prosciutto crisps, jerky of any kind, pepperoni sticks, cheese cubes (nutty, somewhat sweet Dubliner is my cheese of choice), cocktail sausages, shrimp, krab (don't be a snob) and hardboiled and/or pickled egg halves. If you want to get really ridiculous, consider freaking your guests out with mini quiches, mini corn dogs, dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets or any mini food that comes from the freezer section and can be stuck on a skewer.
- Citrus — Limes if you're using tequila or mezcal, lemons for everything else.
- Rimmers — A Bloody Mary just doesn't look complete without a little something along the edge of the glass. Good, coarse salt and freshly ground pepper, adhered with some lemon juice is never a bad way to go, but if you want to get fancy and flavourful consider the Jacobsen Salt Co. Their black garlic, ghost chilli, lemon zest and white truffle-infused options are all transcendent on the rim of a Bloody Mary. If you don't want to shell out the cash for fancy salt, make your own infused sodium chloride using our salty DIY guide. If you're garnishing with shrimp, get some Old Bay on there. If you really want to get trashy fabulous, consider using my secret shame: an instant noodles seasoning packet.
One garnish from each category should get the job done, but you can err heavy on the veggie/olive side. You may think we've covered all the Bloody basics, but you would be wrong. There is one very important element to your bar, and it is very saucy.
You Saucy Thing
Liquid add-ins are the true heroes of the Bloody Mary bar. Though they aren't as flashy as garnishes, and don't take up as much volume as either alcohol or mix, they are what allows the Bloody Mary artist to truly paint their masterpiece. When picking sauces, there are three main flavours you'll want to provide.
- Spicy — Obviously you're going to need some hot sauces, and I recommend getting a few of varying styles and potency. My personal favourites are sriracha, Crystal and Dave's Insanity (WARNING: Use very sparingly), but it's a good idea to throw in some Tabasco, because people get annoyed if it's not there. Though they're not really a hot sauce, you should also set out a jar of prepared horseradish, and maybe some wasabi powder.
- Pungent — Worcestershire is the go-to flavour booster on my Bloody Bar, and yours is not complete without it, but a little fish sauce provides a salty, funky flavour that other sauces can't touch. I also highly recommend kimchi paste and sambal oelek, which perform double flavour duty by providing heat and umami.
- Acidic — Lemon juice provides great brightness, but sometime you just need to brine about it. No need to buy any special brines here; just use the pickling liquid from whatever preserved vegetables and olives you've set out. Also, don't be afraid of using straight up vinegar; I like splashing in a bit of apple cider or balsamic for a sweet and sour treat.
Now you are ready. Go forth my friends, go forth and build the best Bloody Mary of your life. Even if your Bloody Bar is for a party of one, make it the best Bloody Bar you've ever seen. You deserve it. We all do.