There’s no better way to start a day then with alcohol, and the Bloody Mary has, for years, been the preferred method of doing just that. But how do you make it? There are so many different variations on this venerable, juicy cocktail, that Man Cave needed to know the ultimate version. Nothing less than the best would satisfy our readers. So they contacted Luke McKinney to figure out what that recipe was. But Luke was off on his bi-annual bloodsport at the time, so I guess my research on Mojitos made me the second-best choice.
If you remember last time, I started by contacting some professionals. Our friend Ricardo, who introduced us to the Hemingway Mojito, was willing to lend some more of his wisdom. “The secret to a good Bloody Mary is achieving the perfect balance between salty, spicy, sour, and the flavor called umame,” Ortiz told me. “Because it is not sweet at all, it represents some interesting challenges. My personal secret? A little bit of A1 steak sauce in the mix. It helps round out all the flavors. Also, fresh ingredients are a must.”
Off to a good start so far, but I have my work cut out for me. If you remember last time, you’ll know that I have a few cocktail guides lying around my apartment. Let’s consult them and see what they have to say.
The Everything Bartender’s Book, 3rd Edition (Cheryl Charming’s 1,000+ recipe book is a good place to start for the amateur mixologist. It’s a relatively modern text, so its sections on vodka drinks and shots are extensive. Occasionally though, they like to cut corners…)
- 2 oz Vodka
- Bloody Mary Mix to fill
- Celery stick and lime wedge for garnish
Combine vodka with Bloody Mary mix; stir with ice. Combine in a tall glass. Garnish with celery stick and lime wedge along with anything your heart desires.
Analysis: Well that’s just frustrating, isn’t it? I’m reading a cocktail book, not the back of a package of Bisquick. I’m not interested in leaving my hangover cure to some pre-mixed concoction! If I didn’t want to make drinks from scratch, I’d be drinking Mike’s Hard with the rest of the frat boys. I will say this for the Bloody Mary mix: you don’t get a lot of weird bits like you do with the other recipes. No weird pieces of pepper and lime and god knows what else. If you’re looking to ease into Bloody Marys, this is probably the route to take.
Cocktails Classiques (Pilfered from the bar of the Fairmont Hotel in Quebec, this bilingual drink menu has the recipes for a bare handful of drinks—but every one of them is, like the title says, a classic, from the Manhattan to the Brandy Alexander, to, yes, the Bloody Mary.)
- 1 ¾ oz vodka
- 8 oz tomato juice
- 3 drops Tabasco sauce
- 2 drops Worcestershire sauce
- Lime juice (to taste)
- Fresh horseradish (to taste)
- Balsamic vinegar (to taste)
- Salt, pepper, and spices (to taste)
- Lemon wedge and celery stick for garnish
- Rim glass with celery salt
Analysis: This is more like it. I’m not sure how much I like the “to taste,” and “spices” might as well just say “whatever, we don’t care what the hell you put in here.” But the addition of celery salt is an inspired choice, and I’m intrigued by the use of the lemon wedge instead of the lime. It’s more of a style over substance thing, I’m afraid: the lemon wedge doesn’t cut the bitterness of the beverage like the fresh juice does. And be warned that “to taste” is going to be a whole helluva lot when it comes to the horseradish. It takes a lot to get any flavor, even something that strong, noticed above everything else going on.
Cocktail: The Drinks Bible for the 21st Century (A fascinating find I picked up for a dollar at a used book sale, this early 90s book contains editorials and histories of some of the more famous cocktails. Surprisingly enough, the Bloody Mary gets the short stick in this otherwise comprehensive cocktail manual. Snubbed in favor of its fishier cousin, the Bloody Caesar, the Bloody Mary merits only a footnote in the appendix. All the same:)
- 1 ½ oz Vodka
- 3 oz tomato juice
- ½ oz lemon juice
- 7 drops Worcestershire sauce
- 3 drops Tabasco sauce
- Several shakes of freshly ground pepper
- 1 dash celery salt
- Freshly grated horseradish
- Pickled asparagus sprig or celery stalk garnish
Analysis: Coming out of left field, this recipe rejects the until-now normal 8 ounces of tomato juice for a startlingly light 3 ounces, and chooses to add lemon juice, which is a good choice on its own. I am curious where the hell I’m supposed to find a pickled asparagus sprig at this time of night, though. The 1:2 ratio of vodka and tomato juice is an excellent choice though, and good for Old Fashioned glasses.
How-To Archer: The Ultimate Guide to Espionage and Style and Women and Also Cocktails Ever Written (While ostensibly a companion to the hilarious FX spy comedy, this in-universe book written by the show’s main character (a hopelessly dense James Bond analogue) has a legitimate (and substantial) cocktail section. I use it more than the Everything Bartender’s Book, honestly.)
- 3 oz vodka
- 6 oz tomato juice
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground horseradish
- Dash of Worcestershire sauce
- Dash of hot sauce
- Dash of salt and pepper
- Celery, three olives, three capers as garnish
Analysis: The Archer guide has the highest alcohol content of all contenders. While this is in keeping with the show’s premise of having the main character be a cripplingly alcoholic womanizer, I’m not sure I can take so much vodka with my tomato juice. However, on a second look, it matches the 1:2 ratio established in the previous book.
Now that I’ve got the basics out of the way, there are some questions. Is horseradish necessary? How much Worcestershire? How much salt? I’ve synthesized all of the knowledge before me, and now I’m ready to create…
The Official Cave Bloody Mary
Most of the recipes here have a 2:1 ratio in favor of tomato juice, with the exception being Cocktail Classiques, who chose to go with a typically European 1.75:8 (which I guess we can round up to 1:4). I wanted to know what would happen if we kicked those numbers around a bit, so I decided to start with a ratio of 1:1. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing with an equal amount of vodka and mixer (or, as we at the Man Cave like to say, a good morning). I designed this recipe around a six-ounce Old Fashioned glass, because I like the way they look and I don’t have any other clean glassware. For a more traditional Collins glass, simply increase your proportions (by two, I should think).
Let me make it clear: The man who decided to mix tomato juice and vodka was a war criminal. But that doesn’t mean we can’t make it as palatable as possible. I’m starting with two ounces of vodka to two ounces of the red stuff. I’ll be adding additional ingredients one at a time, so as to determine their relative worth. After adding the vodka, tomato juice, and ice in a shaker tin N (and shaking the ever-loving snot out of it), I poured the concoction into my glass. The result: it tastes like a hate crime. Like weak, watery, cold tomato sauce.
Forging ahead, I added five shakes apiece of salt and pepper and repeated the shaking. Now it’s a salty hate crime.
Getting discouraged, I add four dashes Worcestershire, making it a salty, bitter hate crime. I think it’s actually getting worse.
After four or five dashes of hot sauce, something strange happens. It’s still something I wouldn’t give to my dog, but I can actually swallow it without my body trying to eject it through every pore in my face.
Three dashes balsamic vinegar. I don’t know what it is. The saltiness and bitterness are meeting the spiciness, and the two are colliding, like a column of ice and flame, and mixing into something…almost refreshing. I’m excited to see where this goes.
Excited, I add in the A1 (tangy!) and the lemon juice (a noticeable increase in mellowness—the acidity of the lemons does not like the acidity of the tomatoes). But then I add the sriracha, and it’s complete. The sriracha is the wild card, I think. Without it, the Bloody Mary is much more acidic, with the tomato juice holding powerful sway. All the other ingredients counteract each other, leaving the tomato flavor mostly untouched. It isn’t until the sriracha—and the hot sauce—that the spicy comes in. It’s very, very easy to overdo, however. I would recommend no more than a few dashes of hot sauce (three or four for an Old Fashioned glass, six or seven for a Collins glass), and no more than one or two dashes of sriracha, no matter what size glass you use.
The lemon and lime are not to be left out. More than anything, those go hand in hand to mellow out the spiciness. Being honest, I don’t think the vinegar is entirely necessary—the tomato juice has plenty of body on its own, at least for me. I would say EITHER Worcestershire or vinegar—not both. I would keep the A1 in reserve in case you go too far on the sour or the spicy.
But with the lemon juice and the lime wedge softening the sriracha, the natural flavors of the tomato are allowed to bleed through, and you get a drink that hangovers around the world have already learned to appreciate. It’s surprisingly well-rounded, with flavors that take turns appearing during the entire drinking process.
The Official Man Cave Bloody Mary
- 2 oz Vodka
- 2 oz tomato juice
- 5 shakes salt
- 5 shakes pepper
- 5 dashes hot sauce
- 3 dashes Worcestershire
- 3 dashes sriracha
- ½ oz lemon juice
Combine in a shaker tin with ice. Shake vigorously. Pour into Old Fashioned glass. Garnish with lime wedge and celery stalk.
Analysis: Definitely has some punch. Not particularly offensive one way or another. The addition of the lemon juice made it much “brighter,” if that makes sense. A little less bitter and more sour. The lemon is vital to counteract the acidity of the tomato juice. I’d recommend about half an ounce. And leave out the horseradish, no one has the time to grate that stuff. So try it with a little A1, the lemon juice, no horseradish, and then try it with sriracha (“Rooster sauce”).