The bloody mary has long since claimed brunch as its host, but that doesn’t mean that all bloody marys are created equal or, in another sense, that all bloody marys are even bloody marys.
A bloody mary, at its essence, is built of tomato juice and vodka. Add in some citrus or spices or garnishes, sure, but that’s the core of the drink. Yet, its variations may include just one of those two seemingly mandatory ingredients, or neither, and these drinks are often further embellished by all sorts of add-ons, twists and turns.
The ubiquitous brunch or hair of the dog concoction has spawned countless riffs, many of which have been indoctrinated as more or less official variants. Some feature slight divergences from the bloody mary, others seemingly took the idea and ran with the wind.
“One great thing about the bloody mary, in particular, is that the bartender can always claim that however he or she makes them is how the locals like it,” says spirits and cocktail writer Robert Haynes-Peterson. He jokes that it’s a “genius” way of excusing a poorly made variation — “you can just claim it’s a local favorite and move on.”
The same idea, though, also highlights one of the drink’s most intriguing components, or, truly, what is a category of drinks — that different regions and even cultures can create their own variations, marked by local influences and ingredients. In Maryland, a bloody mary with Old Bay seasoning is never far from hand’s reach. Visit New Mexico and no doubt hatch chilies will be incorporated.
Below, a guide to many of today’s bloody mary variations, from the officially indoctrinated to the more obscure. Is this every type of bloody mary ever dreamed up? Of course not! That's the beauty of it, there’s a limitless number of creations out there. Don’t be afraid to experiment with something new.
The Red Snapper
The red snapper is said to be the first-ever stateside bloody mary, created in 1934 by Fernand Petiot at the St. Regis New York’s King Cole Bar. The recipe served up by the St. Regis includes one ounce of vodka, 11 ounces of a house bloody mary mix, which includes lemon juice, tomato juice, Worcestershire, Tabasco, seasonings, and a lemon wedge garnish.
Like many original works of art, some believe that newer entrants have seemingly outdone the classic. “When I was in New York, some people would order the red snapper and would say that they have had a better bloody mary here or there,” says Dewayne Wright, former bar manager of the New York hotel. “But you know what, that’s the original.”
The Bloody Maria
The bloody maria, a riff on the mary, can be made with either tequila or mezcal in place of vodka. From there, the sky’s the limit, but those spirits certainly lend themselves to different types of flavors and influences.
At Masa y Agave in Manhattan, barman John McCarthy serves up a bloody maria made from a jalapeño- and-serrano-infused blanco tequila, and a house bloody mix, which incorporates olive brine, horseradish, and celery salt. He tops it with a slice of roasted corn, a charred jalapeño, and a habañero-pickled red onion.
The Bloody Caesar
The bloody caesar is an “official” bloody mary take, and its home is in Canada. The seafaring cocktail debuted in Calgary in 1969 thanks to bar manager Walter Chell, and it adds clam juice into the mix, or often Clamato, a mix of clam broth and tomato juice.
At Nopa Kitchen + Bar in Washington, D.C., the restaurant makes a bloody caesar starting with a house bloody mix that incorporates tomato juice, horseradish, chile flakes, seasonings, and Lea & Perrins Worcestershire. They build the drink with an even ratio of Tito's Vodka and clam broth, topping off the duo with ice and the bloody mix.
The michelada is the perfect drink for the bloody mary drinker who doesn’t really like bloody marys. At its heart, it switches out vodka for beer, but from there, it’s anybody’s game. The beer could stand alone, without tomato juice, and simply be spiced and seasoned. Or, it could be used as a half and half mix with tomato juice, in addition to lime and spices.
At Richard Sandoval’s El Centro D.F. restaurant, the bar takes the former approach. The house michelada incorporates a Tecate beer, with fresh lime juice, a shot of a house sangrita blend, and some serrano chile. A spicy, salty rum is a must.
The green mary incorporates green tomatoes, or tomatillos, as the base of a bloody mix in place of regular red tomatoes. It’s important to adjust the rest of the mix accordingly to accommodate the tartness of the tomatillo. Once you go green, there’s no looking back, so feel free to add in additional green twists such as cucumbers or cilantro.
Other tomato spinoffs can be put to work as well. For instance, at Tupelo Honey Cafe, a small Southern food chain with about a dozen locations, one will find the Queen Mary, made from a golden tomato bloody mary mix. Guests then choose up to a dozen garnishes, along with a choice of Dixie Black Pepper vodka or a jalapeño- and poblano-infused moonshine.
The bloodless mary is another go-to for bloody mary imbibers who don't even like the drink. In fact, this one can be much closer to a martini than a bloody mary.
It’s made with tomato water, rather than tomato juice, resulting in a thinner, mostly clear concoction. Tomato water is made by blending tomatoes and potentially spices and seasonings, and straining out all the pulp and solids. At Belcampo Meat Co. in Santa Monica, bartender Josh Goldman makes a version with clarified tomato water.
Bacon Bloody Mary
Bacon as a garnish to a bloody mary has become near-universal. But a true bacon bloody Mary goes a step farther by infusing its base spirit with bacony goodness.
Consider the Masa Bacon Bloody at Masa 14 in Washington D.C. It’s made with bacon-infused vodka, or bacon-infused rye whiskey and house bloody mix, and is garnished liberally with bacon straight in the glass.
The Shrimp Cocktail Mary
This makes the term “shrimp cocktail” quite literal. The St. Regis Washington, D.C., serves a “Capitol Mary” as its house bloody mary: It includes clam juice, Old Bay and horseradish, gin as opposed to vodka, and is garnished with a shrimp and served with oyster crackers.
The Absurdly Garnished Mary
Call this one a catch-all category. Excessively garnished bloody marys are nothing new. Some relish in these enormous concoctions, while other more fragile souls may be left aghast. Slide a bit of tomato juice and vodka underneath a hamburger, a pizza, a rack of ribs, or who knows what, and call it a bloody mary.
Some of these are certainly worth trying on their own merits though. Check out the Lox N' Loaded at Buffalo & Bergen in Washington, D.C.’s Union Market. The bloody itself is made with Ketel One vodka, and a spicy house-made mix, and is topped with a loaded everything bagel stuffed with cream cheese, lox, capers and red onion. Order your brunch drink and brunch cocktail all at once! #drinkswithsnacks
And even more bloody mary variations to try...
• Bloody bull: Use beef bouillon with tomato juice
• Bloody eight: Use V8 rather than a bloody mary mix
• Bloody mary oyster shooters: Add an oyster to a shot glass plus traditional bloody mary ingredients
• Bloody pirate: Use dark, spiced rum
• Bloody scotsman: Use Scotch
• Brown mary: Use whiskey
• Ruddy mary: Use gin
• Virgin mary: a.k.a, “bloody shame” — no booze