Photo by John-Robert Ward II
Bloody Mary Morning
It's a Bloody Mary mornin',
Baby left me without warnin' sometime in the night.
So I'm flyin' down to Houston,
With forgetting her the nature of my flight.
— Willie Nelson, 1970 or thereabouts
What is the Bloody Mary? How did it carve so distinct a chink in the way we think about Sunday drink?
If you have ever pondered that question, you are lucky to be a reader of The Bitter Southerner, because we know people. We have been fortunate enough in our travels over the last couple of years to make friends with some folks who know an awful lot about cocktails and their history. In fact, we have even had the pleasure of striking up a friendship with the nation’s preeminent expert on the origins of American cocktails, David Wondrich.
Dave is the cocktails columnist for Esquire magazine and the author of what we believe are the two most authoritative books ever written about the history of American libations: “Imbibe!” and “Punch,” both of which we recommend without reservation. So, curious about the Bloody Mary’s origins, we called Dave. It turns out that even the world’s great cocktail authorities have no clear line on the original source of the Bloody Mary.
“The origin of the Bloody Mary is as murky as the drink,” Wondrich told us. Indeed, a bit of Googling reveals that several barkeeps from the early 20th century have claimed credit for the Bloody Mary’s invention.
While folks might argue about who invented the Bloody Mary, Wondrich said, “the larger picture is really actually clear. From about 1900 on, people began drinking — as a hangover cure — the juice out of cans of stewed tomatoes. And then somebody started canning tomato juice.”
Well, we all know what happens when somebody starts selling canned anything: The ad men get involved. During Prohibition, advertisers hawking tomato juice began pushing something called the “Tomato Juice Cocktail,” a mixture of tomato juice, lemon juice, Tabasco sauce, salt, pepper and Worcestershire sauce — basically a Bloody Mary without alcohol.
“It was just a super-sized hangover cure,” Wondrich said. Interestingly, if people with private stashes of booze were spiking their Tomato Juice Cocktails, they were probably doing it with gin instead of vodka.
“That’s all they had,” Wondrich said, because vodka didn’t become popular in the United States until the 1930s brought waves of Russian emigrants (with their vodka) to these shores.
Regardless of its uncertain origins, the Bloody Mary now fills a very specific place in drinking culture.
“I don’t like them as a recreational drink. I’m not going to drink one at 8 p.m.,” Wondrich said. “But I will definitely have my Bloody Mary if I’m hungover or on a plane. Or both.”
So, if your baby left you without warning sometime in the night, we offer you three variations on the Bloody Mary. The first two are the versions served at one of our favorite bars in the world, H. Harper Station in Atlanta, home of the original Bitter Southerner No. 1 cocktail, created by barkeep and owner Jerry Slater.
H. Harper Station’s Brunch Bloody Mary
This recipe is restaurant size, so, as Slater’s co-owner and wife Krista Slater said, “This requires a little math, or a party, for the home bartender. We garnish it with a lemon, olive and pickled okra, and always serve with a pony of beer, preferable a crisp pilsner.”
For The Base:
1 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup lime juice
1 cup worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup pickle brine
1/2 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup celery seed
1 cup fresh grated horseradish
8 cloves garlic
2-4 ounces hot sauce, really to taste based on your sauce
Lots of cracked black pepper
Krista says, “Blend the base together with two No. 10 cans (106 oz.) of San Marzano tomatoes and blend well (we typically have to do this as a slow process). Add a blender pitcher full of water to the mix. Adjust seasoning to taste. Add 2 ounces of your preferred vodka (we use Cathead out of Mississippi) to a Collins glass, fill with ice and bloody mix; roll two or three times from the glass to a cocktail tin and back, garnish and enjoy!”
The Bloody Mary From Harry’s Bar in Venice, Italy
Directly into a Collins glass add:
6 dashes of Worcestershire sauce
3 dashes of Tabasco
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
2 ounces vodka
Pinch of salt
Pinch of pepper
Fill with top-quality tomato juice. Roll or stir.
“And above all,” Krista said, “no celery salt."
And the final variation is a suggestion from Mr. Wondrich.
Just make a Bloody Mary, but substitute beef consomme for the tomato juice.
“It’s great,” Wondrich said, noting that unlike the original, the Bullshot’s origins are easier to trace. “It comes from the 1950s, the Caucus Club in Detroit.”
Click the image above to see Willie and the family performing Bloody Mary Morning at Austin City Limits, 1974.