The way I see it, the Bloody Mary is about three things: good vodka, really good garnishes, and a great mix. Herewith, a few tips for creating the perfect Bloody Mary bar.
To up the ante and really impress people, try infusing your vodka. Lemons and limes add a citrus-y kick while fresh jalapenos lend heat. In general, most infusions take less than a week for the flavors to develop, although more creative blends (I’ve been seeing a lot of bacon-infused vodka lately) will take more time. (Note: Infused spirits also make great homemade holiday gifts.)
Now, on to the garneshing, or “garden-ishing,” as I call this part. Bloody Mary purists would probably scoff at my anything-goes approach, but I think add-in’s are important, and I like a lot of salad bar blast in my glass.
Lemons, limes, and celery are a given, then I add in a three-deep toothpick of olives (stuffed with cheese or pimentos, or simply pitted, depending on my mood) and a pickle spear (something I learned in Minneapolis). In New Orleans, pickled beans and okra rule the day, and in Maryland, no Bloody is complete without a rim of Old Bay on the glass.
I’ve seen every vegetable under the sun added to a Bloody Mary–from beets to pearl onions to a muffaletta-style carrots-cauliflower-pepperoncini salad–so it’s always best to include a large but carefully curated selection of garnishes to suit any palate. For the final flourishes, think dashables like hot sauce (Tabasco, Texas Pete, Cholula, and Frank’s Red Hot are natural choices), Worcestershire, and even BBQ and steak sauces. Spices like celery salt and seasoned salts, garlic powder, and lots of black pepper add a finishing touch. And, if you really want to get crazy, include some protein in the mix. Boiled shrimp, steamed oysters, strips or crumbles of bacon, beef jerkey, and pepperoni sticks all have a place on an eclectic Bloody Mary bar.
And finally, some thoughts on the mix.
When it comes to a party, the one in your glass should be assembled like the one in your event space, home, or tailgate: with thoughtful consideration to the right mix of ingredients. The right blend makes all the difference. Zing Zang and Mrs. T’s are beloved classics, as are V-8, Clamato, Stirrings, and straight-up tomato juice. But with so many boutique Bloody Mary mixes coming out of the South these days, it’s fun to test out some newcomers. Childhood friends and sometime band mates Joe Good and John Glenn (no, not that John Glenn) launched Charleston, SC–based Fat & Juicy in January. It’s bold and smoky and available at select regional Piggly Wiggly grocery stores and online. North Carolina native Brandon Herndon bases his secret blend, Bloody Brando, on a generations-old family recipe. The red stuff is currently available at Chapel Hill and Carrboro area bars like the Cave, the Fuse, and the Station, but look out for traveling tastings, wider distribution, and a fully operational web site in the coming months.
To make things easy, here’s a handy list to use as a guide when you shop. But first, tell me: How do you take your Bloody Mary?
Bloody Mary Shopping List
Tito’s Handmade Vodka
13th Colony Vodka
Fat & Juicy
Pickled Green Beans (we like this recipe for Dilly Beans) and Assorted Vegetables (okra, carrots, cauliflower, etc)
Olives, a variety of stuffed and pitted
Seasoned Salt (bacon salt is always a hit)
Steak Sauce (A-1)
Hot Sauce (3-4 classic choices)
Bacon, strips or crumbles