Finding Beauty in Your Bloody Mary

I’m spoiled.  As a Wisconsin native, I’ve come to expect a great deal from a bloody Mary. Oversized glasses rimmed with special seasonings and garnished with everything from sausage to celery are expected in our bloody Mary’s. Indeed I have actually felt something like pity for those who live elsewhere.  Stories of bloody Mary’s served warm, without chasers, without garnish…? Surely these were the creations of barbarians from outside the walls of my home state.

Wherever you go, there you are…

I learned a valuable lesson on a trip to the Greek island of Santorini. An ancient island paradise perched upon the caldera of an active volcano, Santorini has limitations in terms of what products can reasonably be made available to its residents and visitors. Its unique climate and geography of extremely arid soil and intense sun only allow certain crops to thrive.

Sitting in an open air restaurant late one morning, I craved my favorite daytime cocktail. The waiter had not heard of a bloody Mary.  I spent the next ten minutes coaching him on how to recreate the morning cocktail I enjoyed back home.  I ended up with a Frankenstein’s monster of ingredients that I couldn’t drink.  That evening, I struck up a conversation with the owner of a wonderful gourmet restaurant.  I told him about my experience earlier that day.  “I will make you a drink that you will love.” He said it with such pride that I simply said thank you.  He returned with a tall slender glass filled with bright red juice and no garnish or ice.  These were things not available on the island.  What was available was the Santorini cherry tomato, an intensely sweet variety found only on this Greek island. The owner crushed them fresh for my drink, adding only vodka to create the drink. It was amazing.santorini-bloody

On a recent trip to San Diego, California I ordered a bloody Mary at an open air bar on Pacific Beach. (research for this blog is grueling) What came back was a small glass garnished only with two olives and a lime. There was no beer chaser of course. My first thought was, “bummer.” Then the bartender told me about the drink. The secret ingredient was a “mud,” that the owner made at home and brought in each day. No one was allowed to know the ingredients. There’s that pride again. Bartenders added the mud, fresh lime juice, vodka, and tomato juice. It wasn’t like any bloody I’d had. I detected horseradish and possibly Key West spice, as well as a good bit of celery salt. The place became a daily stop as I made my way up and down the beach. As for the size, I simply ordered another.

Readers of this blog know that I hold bloody Mary’s to a high standard. Coining terms like, “garnauflage,” to mock poorly made cocktails hiding under elaborate garnish. I wrote another piece in which I termed the practice of using a pre-made mix, and then adding more ingredients, “shit-piling.” And as surprised as I am by the popularity of a local bar’s bloody Mary that contains too much of everything for my taste, (including oregano), I’ve come to a place of peace with these baroque manifestations.

If an amazing work of art adorns a bloody Mary, and the photograph is shared all over the country- If a guy has friends over every Sunday and blends a mix with his own touches, and his friends keep coming back- If a bar serves over-seasoned bloody’s with pride and joy any hour of business…Well, then I say go!

Do it with passion, do it with style, do it with pride, and you have my endorsement. But man, don’t put steak sauce in mine.

Cheers! -Greg Tooke