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Bartenders, restaurateurs dish on the popular Bloody Mary cocktail

Bloody Mary, a combination of tomato-based juice with vodka, can sound like a simple enough combination. But the brunch staple can take on different incarnations based on locality and guest preferences.

Nation’s Restaurant News looked across the country for three examples of the countless Bloody Mary variations, recipes and service styles.

Traditional brunch beverage with a local twist

“Overall I think [the Bloody Mary is] the weirdest cocktail ever,” said Doug Crowell, owner of Buttermilk Channel in New York. “They’re delicious in small doses.”

Crowell recognized the appeal and necessity for having the cocktail on Buttermilk Channel’s brunch menu, and made sure to apply one important aspect from his experience working for B.R. Guest Restaurants: It has to be consistent.

The Bloody Mary mix is made ahead of time with ingredients such as tomato juice, freshly grated horseradish, salt, pepper, celery salt and Worcestershire sauce. The pre-preparation allows the ingredients and flavors time to mix. The only element added later is the lemon juice, which is squeezed and added fresh to each day’s mix.

While the base remains consistent, Buttermilk Channel offers several unique versions of the Bloody Mary drawing influences and ingredients from the Brooklyn neighborhood it calls home.

Star of the Sea mixes Buttermilk’s Bloody Mary mix with celery and peppercorn infused vodka and uses a freshly shucked East Coast oyster as garnish. The name isn’t just a nod to the briny garnish, but comes from a church located near the restaurant, St. Mary Star of the Sea.

“Funny trivia,” Crowell adds. “Al Capone was married at that church.”

The restaurant, whose name also pays homage to a small strait that connects Brooklyn and Governors Island, dots its Bloody Mary selection with other local tidbits.

The Court Street, named after a street in the neighborhood, uses a rosemary infused vodka and is garnished with antipasti from Caputo’s, a local grocery store. And The Otis, which uses Jameson whiskey for its alcohol base, is topped off with Six Point Otis Stout produced by Sixpoint Brewery based in the nearby Red Hook area of Brooklyn.

Not just for brunch anymore

At Russell House Tavern in Boston, Bloody Marys aren’t just for brunch.

Tyler Titherington, the general manager at Russell House Tavern, said, “One night I saw a young couple and the woman had a Bloody Mary at 11:30 at night. I think it’s moved to something where … it's not necessarily much of morning thing.”

Titherington said that Russell House Tavern’s Bloody Mary mix is on the spicier side. “A tad bit, but not overwhelming. It’s got a little zip…Generally guests do expect a Bloody Mary that has a little spice to it.”

Mixes are made daily at Russell House Tavern due to the drink’s presence on the menu at all dayparts, but the process has its own ebb and flow. Smaller batches are made Monday through Thursday, but mix production ramps up on Friday in anticipation of the weekend.

Russell House Tavern also serves up several different versions of the Bloody Mary using their “RHT Bloody Mix” as the base.

The Maria Basilico is made with basil infused vodka, Meletti Amaro and is garnished with a cucumber. The Mezcal Mary uses serrano pepper infused mescal and is garnished with a pineapple.

Russell House Tavern’s Red Sea is a simple combination of vodka and RHT Bloody Mix, but differs from the classic with its garnishes of lobster, crab claw, jumbo shrimp and celery salt.

“Our raw bar is such a huge part of what we do. We wanted to incorporate that into a Bloody Mary,” Titherington said. “I think they go hand in hand like shrimp and cocktail sauce.”

Titherington said the drinks are an important for business and sets Russell House Tavern apart, which is situated in Harvard Square, an area that has become somewhat of a dining destination.

Bloody Mary, as you like it

At Elixir, a bar in San Francisco, guests can build their own Bloody Mary
“I’ve always loved Bloody Marys and saw that formula as a base upon which you can build many flavors, so giving people the option to create their own was something I wanted to do for a long time,” said H. Joseph Ehrmann, owner of Elixir, which opened in 2003. “I sketched out the idea in my business plan and then executed it as part of our weekend programming. In college my friends and I called Bloodies ‘vodka salads’, so I named it the ‘Vodka Salad Bar.’”

Ehrmann says the key to the unique flavor of the house Bloody mix is “the combination of white pepper, dill and celery salt and the addition of a blend of pickling brines that we make from the pickled garnishes we put out.”

Guests pay $2 over any base spirit of choice. The bartender gives them their spirit of choice in a pint glass with ice, and from there they can move to the end of the bar where the self-service area is set up to build their own Bloody Mary or use Elixir’s recipe, which is mounted in a frame.

“Many times they will try their hand at creating one and then ask for our house Bloody Elixir,” Ehrmann said.

The Vodka Salad Bar is equipped with tomato, Clamato and V8 as juice choices. Guests can then customize from a full tray of 15 to 20 different hot sauces, 15 to 20 dried spices, horseradish, eight pickled garnishes from a rotating selection that includes dill pickle, pepperocini, asparagus and string beans. Customers can add finish off their drink with lemon, limes or three different rimming spice combinations.

“There’s also umami in the form of Worcestershire sauce and soy sauce, and sometimes ‘guest appearances’ like different broths, wasabi and whatever is seasonal at the market,” Ehrmann said.

While the sheer number of choices can be either delightful or daunting, the bartender is available to help out if customers have a hard time figuring things out or if they don’t want to go it alone.

“The bartender asks right away ‘Would you like to make your own or would you like me to make something for you?’” Ehrmann explained. “If they want it made for them, the bartender treats it like any drink order asking them their preferences to point him in a certain direction.”

Contact Sonya Moore at [email protected].

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