Sorting through the bloody mess of Bloody Marys

A great Bloody Mary begins with a good mix. Add-ins can include olives, celery and bacon.
(Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times)
Los Angeles Times

Molotov had his cocktail; I have mine — a fiery Bloody Mary, three parts tomato juice, 1 part vodka. Crumble in bits of crispy bacon, add a splash or two of horseradish and hot sauce for extra tingle. There’s more to this classic drink, but that’s the basic plotline, the can’t-miss equation. Stick with me a moment and you’ll know more about Bloody Marys than you do your own mom.

True, mothers are hard to know — so saintly, so selfless, I don’t even try anymore. By comparison, Bloodys are easy to understand.

Named for Mary I of England, or Mary Pickford, or a barmaid named Mary in Chicago — your choice — the Bloody Mary might be the greatest American cocktail, certainly the best with which to toast a bowl game or parade.


Purists, and puréeists, may make their tomato mix from scratch, but that time-consuming process isn’t necessary, thanks to some inspired new mixes.

Here’s how to pick one: Hold it to a harsh light, X-ray it if you will. Are there flecks of pepper in the mix? Rule of thumb, the bigger the flecks, the better the mix. A good mix almost has its own melanin, the darker the better, an almost Irish-cheeked ruddiness.

If light passes through, it is probably too thin, like the crummy fluid many bars now serve, tepid stuff with the consistency of Kool-Aid. Blah-humbug.

“There’s lots of premium vodkas out there,” says K.C. Cranfill, one of the founders of a new über-mix called Hoosier Momma. “We thought, why not have a premium Bloody Mary mix?”

In fact, I can’t think of any substance in American life with the range — from bad to good — as Bloody Mary mix. Lately, bar and restaurant Bloodys are not so much bloody as barely bleeding. They’ll use good vodka, then skimp on the tomato-y stuff, when it should be the other way around.

I’ve embraced many important causes over the years, but if I can get bartenders to replace that thin swill with something substantial, my life will be complete and I can go off to the forest and chase wood nymphs with a little net — my end game, my dream.


Lately, I’ve also taken to studying vodka, with hopes of one day creating the ultimate Bloody Mary. One day, I hope to add an extra molecule of vodka to the vodka, creating a super vodka. It’s like oxygen becoming ozone. One extra molecule can make all the difference. Just for kicks, I might split it.

I am merely one MacArthur “genius” grant away from making this all happen.

Till then, the best Bloodys happen at home. Order some of this Hoosier Momma mix through the mail, the best in my 40 years of research. Thick as paint, this stuff — a mitzvah, a miracle of spiced tomatoes. For just the right bounce, I blend the spicy version 50-50 with the regular (the spicy version alone is too hot for even me).

Or, head down to the supermarket for a bottle of Zing Zang, another worthy mix.

These premium mixes are pre-spiced and need little help. With simple tomato juice or the blander mixes such as Smirnoff, you’ll need to goose it a little, with horseradish, Tabasco, Worcestershire, cracked pepper.

In either case, a good Bloody can be a brunch in itself. I start with a highball glass, rim it with salt. Add ice, vodka, your mix, a teaspoon or two of the crumbled bacon I mentioned before, maybe a chilled jumbo shrimp.

Don’t forget a slice of lime, a stab of celery and blue-cheese-stuffed olives the size of a baby’s fist. I am not above adding anchovies or — for cheeseheads — a wedge of smoky Wisconsin cheddar. Even a splash of very black coffee on the toughest mornings.

Then raise a glass to the winter light and toast the person who made it all happen: You.

Slurp. Sigh. Repeat.