The key to this cocktail is balance


Special to WJW

A seemingly simple concoction of iced tomato juice, vodka, Worcestershire and usually also lemon juice and then something spicy like horseradish or Tabasco, a well-made Bloody Mary is refreshingly tangy, rich, and earthy. A badly made Bloody Mary is, well, deeply inadequate.

Try to get too fancy with additional vegetables, and you wind up with gazpacho. Too much Tabasco or horseradish throws it out of whack, resulting in an unpleasant spiciness. Too much tomato juice or too much ice, and you wind up with a limp and watery mess. Too much Worcestershire or lemon juice will likewise ruin it.

The key is to achieve balance with whatever ingredients you opt for. If, for whatever reason, you have to use canned tomato juice, obtain something quality like “Sacramento Tomato Juice” or some other reliable kosher certified brand — just taste before using, so that you can adjust accordingly to strike the right balance.

Bloody Mary

Into a mixing glass combine:
2 ounces of vodka
4 ounces of tomato juice (purée in a blender and then strain over a cheesecloth lined sieve; or, if you must, use quality canned juice),
½ ounce of freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 dashes of Tabasco
2 dashes of Worcestershire
A pinch of both salt and freshly ground pepper (careful with the salt if using canned juice).

Add ice and stir to mix.

Strain into an iced goblet or highball glass.

Oh and, if you like, garnish with a stick of celery. For a “Virgin Mary,” leave out the vodka —it’ll taste the same, but loses its “curative” powers, and so much of its charm.

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Was a Jewish comic the father of Bloody Mary?

George Jessel, 1926
Wikimedia Commons

The origins of the Bloody Mary are surprisingly subject to debate. “The good news is, the Bloody Mary was invented,” notes bartender-turned-author Brian Bartels in his recent book, “The Bloody Mary,” “The answer to the question of how it originated, however, is a murky one.”

I had always understood the drink to have been created by Fernand “Pete” Petiot in the 1920s while he was working at Harry’s New York Bar in Paris. Bartels argues that Petiot may have been responsible for “an early version of it” but he maintains there is plenty of reason to doubt Petiot created it first.

Apparently the cocktail might just as easily have been created by Jewish comedian George Jessel in 1927—though Bartels views this claim “with some skepticism.” Citing weakness in the credibility of the Jessel account, Bartels writes: “I just don’t feel like there is enough evidence to could give Jessel credit, even though Petiot kind of admits in the [July 1964 New Yorker] article ‘Jessel started it and I finished it’…In my opinion,

Petiot was the one who took the keys and drove the Cadillac out onto the highway, so to speak.”

Exactly how, when and where the Bloody Mary entered the cocktail scene, is ultimately not important — provided it is made correctly.

— Joshua E. London

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