There are plenty of reasons to seek out a Bloody Mary, and even more qualities in it to savor. For Braden Wages, Executive Chef of the Dallas restaurant Malai, the drink's contrasts are a highlight: "I like a good amount of spice to it. I think richness in general is important." Weaver, bartender at Husk Charleston, cited the appeal of "the reviver in it." And Erik Niel, chef of Chattanooga's Easy Bistro & Bar, noted, "I grew up in New Orleans, and have lots of respect for the Bloody and its place in the world." But just what that place is has begun to evolve.
In recent years, a host of bars and restaurants have tried their hand at reinterpreting the Bloody Mary. If you have brunch at Chicago's Longman & Eagle, your drink options can include the Bloody Lawrence, a riff on a Bloody Mary made with whiskey. Easy Bistro & Bar offers the "Shotgun Bloody," which takes many of the ingredients traditionally associated with the Bloody Mary and throws rye whiskey into the mix. And Kinston, NC's Boiler Room Oyster Bar features a number of cocktails that take the traditional Bloody Mary recipe and run with it. If your taste in drinks includes both Bloody Marys and whiskey, you’re living at a point in time when those interests have begun to converge.
For Colin Spoelman, Co-Founder and Master Distiller of Kings County Distillery, this is a natural progression. "I think in general, as people gravitate away from vodka, which tends to be pretty homogenous brand to brand, and become more interested in whiskey, where there is a lot more variety, it would only make sense that bartenders would start to take over traditional vodka drinks and use that variety to their advantage," he said via email. From Spoelman's perspective, certain whiskeys are more suited for making this drink than others. "For the Bloody Mary," he observed, "you want the intensity and the grain from the spirit, but not necessarily the woodiness that comes with age (or the sweetness that can come from a bourbon)."
One aspect of making a Bloody Mary that shouldn't be neglected are the ingredients — particularly the tomatoes. Erik Niel spoke glowingly about the Sun Gold tomatoes used in Easy Bistro & Bar’s variation on the Bloody Mary. "It was really driven by that pickled Sun Gold tomato juice that we have," he explained. "They’re super-sweet; we'll pickle them with a little bit of champagne vinegar, rice wine vinegar, water, and sugar, and can them. We’ll preserve them with a little bit of fresh thyme for the wintertime. The juice really takes on the sweet tomato-ness of the Sun-Golds." The drink is then blended with rye whiskey, with Niel pointing out the versatility of Bulleit's offering in this category. "It’s got such a great overall flavor, but it's not such a standout rye that it dominates everything,” Niel said. "I think the spice of the rye is mild enough to augment the sweetness of the pickled Sun Gold."
A different perspective comes from Husk's Weaver. He confessed to not having had much luck with adding bourbon or rye to the Bloody Mary variations he's worked on. Corn whiskey, on the other hand, has clicked far better for his tastes. From Weaver's perspective, the tomato works nicely with the corn flavor that you can find in a white whiskey. It's also essential to seek out the right tomato to use: "[t]he depth of flavor in an heirloom tomato is so much different" from something bought off the shelf at a grocery store, he notes.
Ben Knight, of Boiler Room Oyster Bar, detailed the process of coming up with multiple variations on Bloody Marys to serve along with the oysters that are at the heart of the restaurant's menu. From his perspective, whiskey turned out to be the easiest, relative to variations based around rum and tequila. "It’s more about the Bloody Mary mix," he said, "and the bitter notes with the sweet notes of the whiskey versus a grain alcohol like vodka."
If you're looking to experiment at home, you have plenty of options, including the recipe below. You could also seek out a good pre-made Bloody Mary mix and try mixing in rye or corn whiskey in lieu of vodka for a bracing morning drink. As Weaver notes, at the heart of the Bloody Mary is "a meal in a glass." Variations on the Bloody Mary can also be made using spirits such as tequila, and even beer. As Wages — whose restaurant makes use of beer brewed in-house on one such variation — pointed out, the Michelada is a close relative to the Bloody Mary. Variations on the Bloody Mary can be both a reminder of familiar tastes and a combination of old favorites in new ways.
Recipe: Easy Bistro & Bar's (Chattanooga, TN.) Shotgun Bloody
- 1½ oz Bulleit Rye
- 1 oz Tomato Juice
- ¾ oz Sun-gold pickled juice
- ¾ oz Worcestershire
- ½ oz lime
- Celery Salt, Black Pepper
- Bittermens Hellfire Bitters
Light shake, strain neat into glass