The Bloody Mary cocktail is made for day drinking. Don't drink it at night. That's just weird. (Although we do like weird.) This official drink of brunching champs who find mimosas cloying is also a sunshiny, spicy, outdoorsy kinda drink whose accessories can get pretty wild.
For advice on designing your own killer Bloody Mary bar, Diane Mina is your woman. Mina has mixed, created, and consumed Bloody Marys for over 20 years, since she started tailgating at San Francisco 49ers football games with her husband, James Beard Award-winning chef Michael Mina — whose Mina Group runs over 25 award-winning restaurants nationwide and in Dubai. She's concocted her own unique blend, Diane's Bloody Mary mix, expected to hit retail stores by spring 2017.
The last couple seasons, Mina's been busy mixing about 400 glasses of her signature cocktail from behind Diane's Bloody Bar at every 49ers home game at Levy's stadium while her husband handles the food for their club-level-like private enterprise called Michael Mina Tailgate. But she also hosts Bloody Mary brunches for her girlfriends at home just for the joy of the shared experience.
"I love making Bloody Mary bars at home. It's so easy to do. You can put everything in there or keep it clean and simple," Mina says. "It's not rocket science, but it sure is fun."
Thinking beyond the usual garnishes of celery and olives is the first way to get creative. But people go too far, she says. Sometimes it's like a crazy meal pierced by toothpicks hovering over a lake of fiery tomato juice, threatening to topple over.
Don't make it a meal, Mina says. It's still a drink.
So … is this too much? It's a three-meals-in-one-drink at At Chef Point Café outside Dallas called the "Bloody Best" Bloody Mary. This heavy duty glass the size of a 7-Eleven Big Gulp is filled with a double order of a spicy Bloody Mary mix, your choice of 16-ounce beer, the café's "Better than Sex" fried chicken, a burger slider, waffle fries, shrimp, bacon, and a garden of vegetables for $25.
Yeah, a bit.
"It should be a clean cocktail," Mina says. "Ultimately, I like the complexity of the tomatoes and all the other layers of flavors you can bring in: earthiness, tartness, brightness, sweetness."
So let's breakdown how you'd set up your Bloody Mary bar for a party or brunch. Create three stations at your bar, which could be an actual bar, a table, or a counter. Label each station and designate the containers for your ingredients, using whatever you've got on hand. "I'm a big believer that if it's in your house, use it: tea cups, flower pots, jars, pails, your grandmother's beautiful whatever. My bar is very eclectic," Mina says.
Once you've established your categories and containers, it's time to prep your ingredients.
Station 1: Prep It
First, pre-cut everything you use in Stations 2 and 3 the day before the party. On the day of, set the place for Station 1's ice and cups. Mina likes using stemmed glasses, even if they're just water goblets, to add instant elegance, "but not too prissy," she says. Set out your vodka, and if you want to do it like Mina does, several other spirits too, such as whiskey, tequila, and mescal. Lay out your rim salt and maybe Old Bay Seasoning. Create a cute pitcher of freshly squeezed lemon juice with a sign that says 'Add Me,' she says. Lemon juice and salt both nudge a Bloody Mary to life by awakening all the other flavors.
Station 2: Flavor It
Then, there's the most famous ingredient, tomato juice. Mina makes her own from homegrown tomatoes, and you can also make your own cold-pressed tomato juice (which retains nutrition and yields a beautiful color and taste) with a mix of the juiciest tomatoes, like Roma, beefsteak, vine, and hot house tomatoes. A day or two before the party, blend them, strain them, and let it sit in a large 1/2-gallon or gallon glass container in the refrigerator overnight. Foam and separation is 100-percent normal. Then strain it again for a beautiful, cold-pressed juice that's ready to go. Or you can always buy Campbell's tomato juice, which is actually pretty good and low in sodium, or R.W. Knudsen organic tomato juice. Some people love Clamato juice, which is reconstituted tomato juice concentrate, clam broth, and spices. It usually has a long list of unpronounceable ingredients in it and a lot of sodium, so for people who want that extra sea-umami flavor, Mina will provide bonito flakes, those dried, fermented flakes of skipjack tuna.
This is where you also sprinkle in spices such as freshly grated horseradish, sometimes celery seeds, jalapeño purée, and sauces that provide depth: hot sauces like Tabasco or Sriracha; Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce; citrus juices; the brine from garnishes like pickled carrots, cucumbers, peppadews; or the Italian marinades found in jarred artichokes or other preserved vegetables.
Whew! Basically, it's just:
- tomato juice
- hot sauce
- Worcestershire sauce
Station 3: Top It Off
Now for the crowning glory: garnishes. Slice pickled carrots or cucumbers into sticks long enough to protrude way above the top of the glass. You could use asparagus too. Measure it. And sure, use celery here if you want to stay traditional. Next, with special cocktail toothpicks, spear other, smaller, tantalizing and eye-catching garnish combinations before your guests arrive. Ideas? Try peppadew, radish, cauliflower, okra, shrimp, cubed pepperjack cheese, cubed Gouda cheese, bacon-wrapped figs, sliced jalapeno, and yes, olives — but just two of these, three tops. Mina also loves sticking in a twig of jerky or candied bacon on occasion. (But no burgers or fried chicken!) Provide some citrus wheels and a couple final seasonings like flavored salts and black pepper. Don't forget to include biodegradable, candy-cane-striped straws.
And there's your Bloody Mary bar. When guests arrive, make the first Bloody Mary for each of them. Once they've watched you do it, sipped their cocktails, and relaxed into the party, then let your guests come behind the bar and make their own Bloody Marys. They'll be able to tweak it to their individual tastes, and they'll feel more engaged in the festivities.
Shop For It
Using top quality, artisanal condiments, garnishes, and spices takes your Bloody Mary bar to top-shelf level. Try some of these ideas:
McClure's Garlic Pickles (Buy It Here)
These are well-known as the ultimate pickles for true pickle lovers. Still handmade according to Great Grandma McClure's original spicy pickle recipe, they're layered with whole garlic cloves and dill for tangy, all-natural, old-fashioned flavor. And do they ever crunch! Buy it.
Migos Pajarero Figs (Buy It Here)
Introduced into Spanish cuisine by Arabs way back when, Pajarero figs are integral to the country's food these days. Pajarero figs are smaller and sweeter than their Turkish cousins. The thin, delicate skin allows the flavor of the fig to really shine. These dried figs pair well with cheese (and bacon!). Buy it.
Smokehouse Sampler (Buy It Here)
Bacon! Always a good idea. Enjoy a smoky and savory taste of Southern tradition with three selections from Virginia's S. Wallace Edwards & Sons. This sampler includes old fashioned, hickory-smoked Virginia Sausage Links; sliced, hickory smoked Virginia Bacon; and pre-sliced, country style Virginia Ham. It's shipped frozen. Buy it.
Fire-Roasted Jalapeños (Buy It Here)
These jalapeños are roasted by hand over an open fire to draw out the earthy notes of the pepper. They are then marinated in a succulent blend of soy sauce, lime juice, and a secret mix of spices to seduce your palate. They add a depth of flavor to your cocktail. Buy it.
Dean & DeLuca Grilled Antipasti (Buy It Here)
This is a blend of Italian peppers, zucchini, and eggplant with simple seasonings of extra virgin olive oil, white wine vinegar, parsley, basil, and sea salt — a lovely accompaniment to a cocktail garnish of cheese or charcuterie. Buy it.
Taste of Italy (Buy It Here)
This is a basket of the boot-shaped country's best that Dean & DeLuca has to offer: Parmigiano Reggiano, grilled antipasto, rustic artichokes, and truffle grissini; tartufo salami, casalingo salami, Sottocenere cheese with truffles, Taralli Mediterraneo and Taralli Extra Virgin olive oils, and green Cerignola olives. Try laying that out on your Bloody Mary bar. Buy it.
This chili salt is a nuanced seasoning that adds heat to your drink while highlighting the distinct flavors of your ingredients. You can cook with it or use as a finishing salt in your Bloody Mary to intensify its flavors plus add one of its own: red berry smoke. It's great with beef and game meats for medium heat. Buy it.
Now that you've got the instructions for setting up your bar, the best ingredients and garnishes, try these 11 ways to use your newfound tools.
1. Basic Bloody Mary Mix
Here's a recipe for a crowd of eight, but we'd recommend doubling it, because really, you can't count on your guests stopping after one! Definitely make this mix the night before. Feel free to riff on this classic once you've got it down. Think of it as a foundation and build from there. Get our Basic Bloody Mary Mix recipe.
2. Smoky Bloody Mary
A few tweaks and your Bloody Mary gets smokin' with barbecue sauce and chipotles in adobo sauce. Most supermarkets have little cans of chipotles in adobo sauce (dried peppers in a spicy red sauce) in the Latin section, but if you can't find it, try a different smoked pepper or look for smoky barbecue sauce. Get our Smoky Bloody Mary recipe.
3. Ginger Bloody Mary
Now here’s a head-clearing daytime cocktail with a double dose of ginger. You'll make ginger-infused vodka, add the usual Bloody Mary ingredients, and then — get this — another bout of fresh ginger. Shake, pour over ice, and await the blast. Get our Ginger Bloody Mary recipe.
4. Bloody Marys for a Crowd
This recipe makes 12 large glasses, so it's aptly named. To serve these glamorously, use a large pitcher. If you’re serving more than a dozen people, make this recipe in two batches rather than doubling it, to spare you a little mess. Get the recipe.
5. Extra-Spicy Bloody Maria
You can totally have a Bloody Mary using a spirit other than vodka. Think of this one as Mary's cousin from down south. We’ve switched it up with tequila blanco, whole pickled jalapeños, and an awakening amount of cayenne pepper. There's also celery seed, horseradish, and the other usual suspects. Get our Extra-Spicy Bloody Maria recipe.
6. Bloody Caesar
Created back in 1969 by Walter Chell of the Owl’s Nest Bar in Calgary, Alberta, this Canadian version of a classic hangover cure uses Clamato juice. You can use pretty much any garnish you want, the same as you would for a Bloody Mary. This recipe opts for a pickled green bean garnish. Get our Bloody Caesar recipe.
7. Spicy Beet Bloody Mary
It's red(dish) and full of natural sugars like tomatoes, so why not swap beets for the usual fruit? Beets contribute a distinctive earthy quality to the classic brunch drink. This is a recipe for four servings, so if you're hosting a brunch, you'll want to double or triple it. Get the recipe.
8. Blood Orange Bloody Mary
People often squeeze some citrus into this cocktail, so using the citrus that's already halfway there in name is an almost too obvious idea. It adds quite a layer of sweetness you don't normally get, but not too much. Get the recipe.
9. Bourbon Bloody Mary with Bacon and Peppers
First, you make a large 6-cup batch of Bloody Mary mix and then you get going on the rest. Say next time to your vodka, and introduce Bourbon to Bloody Mary. This version has meat, spice, Japanese togarashi pepper, and Korean gochujang red pepper paste. Get the recipe.
10. Green Tomato Bloody Mary
Your brunch cocktail can be like a vodka-spiked vegetable juice that you get at a healthy juice bar. Really. This version is much more than green tomatoes: green bell pepper, cucumber, cilantro, jalapeño, parsley also have their say. It makes about 5 cups, give or take, of completed Bloody Marys, including the vodka, minus the garnishes. Get the recipe.
11. Bloody Bull
For those cowpoke types who thirst for something meaty all the time, this is a way to beef up the classic without adding a meat garnish. This is pretty much a regular Bloody Mary, but with beef bouillon. What, you say? Read on. Get our Bloody Bull recipe.
— Head Photo: Kevin J McCullough for Diane's Bloody Mary
Amy Sowder is a New York City-based food and fitness writer who's also on Chowhound's editorial staff. She loves cheesy things, especially toasties and puns. Ice cream is a strong motivation for her running habit. Follow her on Instagram, Twitter, and her blog, What Do I Eat Now. Learn more at AmySowder.com.