The Bloody Mary Bible: SA’s finest mix masters spill their bloody secrets

Versatile Bloodies, like the Bloody Maria or La Sangrona featured at The Fruteria, mix up the booze options - Jessica Elizarraras
Jessica Elizarraras
Versatile Bloodies, like the Bloody Maria or La Sangrona featured at The Fruteria, mix up the booze options

“I’m the only asshole out there who shakes his Bloody Marys,” claims Arcade’s Christopher Ware. Ware may be anatomically accurate (we’re not saying), but alas: the New York Times’s Rosie Shapp has a recipe that also calls for agitation.

Shapp, however, doesn’t pre-make a mix that’s allowed to mature a tad, a step that gives Ware’s Mary further claims to Sunday sainthood. In a take that may well be revolutionary, he blends Clamato with cucumber, bell peppers, Worcestershire, celery salt and cayenne, lets the brew stew for four or five days, then puts it through a fine sieve to strain out the solids. When he gets an order, he adds either gin or vodka and lemon juice “to brighten it up” and shakes the bejeezus out of it. “I treat it more like a true cocktail,” says Ware, “not a hardcore breakfast drink.”

The Bloody has nevertheless been a brunch staple for generations, and if its precise origins are unknown, its early form was relatively catholic: “All it took was a good slug of Smirnoff, a can of tomato juice … a shake of Lea & Perrins … grated horseradish, a few shakes of black pepper … a lemon wedge for garnish, and that was that,” says Schapp, remembering her mother who “considered them a tonic for nearly any affliction.” The tonic excuse may in large part account for our willingness to down a few before noon. But Ware’s treat-it-like-a-cocktail approach may also be gaining traction—in which case any time of the day (or week) is fair game, though garnishes that include fennel fronds, skewered shrimp, whole serranos or wheels of pickled jalapeño, slabs of beef jerky or slices of bacon and, in one reported instance, even a cheeseburger slider, may need to be rethought. Ware confines himself to a pristine cucumber slice.

The Mountain Mary at Cured has been reimagined in some other ways, namely in the booze that fuels the mix. Cured’s manager Robert Rodriguez offered a taste of the South House Moonshine that the bar infuses with tomato, basil, jalapeño and garlic expressly for the Marys, and it’s a zinger that lurks in the background when added to a bloody mix by Zing Zang that the bar further adulterates with secret ingredients. Fully garnished with celery, pickled okra and a celery salt rim, it’s available at Cured’s Saturday brunch; nekkid (they only have the shrubbery on Saturday), you can have it any day.

Bloody Marias also abound hereabouts; yes, the drinks substitute tequila for the standard vodka and often add a hot sauce such as Cholula. (One recipe I found also garnishes with queso fresco, but please don’t.) If you order La Sangrona at Johnny Hernandez’s The Fruteria what you’ll get is Tres Generaciones blanco with tomato and lime juices and a “dash” of Worcestershire sauce. Variations on this theme include subbing a smoky mezcal for the tequila; even more humo can be had by mixing in a little chipotle adobo.

The base spirit can also be varied easily with flavored vodkas such as Absolut Peppar or Citron or Effen’s Cucumber. And then there’s going down the garden path of bottled mixes such as Cured’s Zing Zang. I tested Bloody Revolution, an Austin-made product whose line includes Original, Ribeye and Wasabi Ginger. Of the three, the Wasabi Ginger was the most personally appealing, but the formidable ingredient list was simply overwhelming; I stopped counting at 50 items. Makes one want to go back to Campbell’s canned tomato juice and that dash of Worcestershire and horseradish.

There is a sweet spot between pro-made cocktails and bare-bones booze with canned juice—the BYOBM bar. It’s said there’s a good one at Southtown’s Bite on Sunday; it’s now on my bloody bucket list. But I did make it to Tucker’s Sunday “gospel” brunch. The bloody here starts with vodka infused with chiles, onions and tomatoes ladled into a peppery house mix. You’re served the drink with a salt-and-chile rim, a stalk of celery and a wedge of lime. The build-it -yourself part comes with the array of add-ins, ranging from pickled okra to olives, insidiously hot chiles and Italianate orbs, cucumber wheels and strips of bell pepper … and several hot sauces, including a wasabi cream. Turns out I’m a garnish whore after all ’cause it’s all good. But I do draw the line at crinkle-cut pickles. There have to be some limits.

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