Read this cookbook: “The Bloody Mary: The Lore and Legend of a Cocktail Classic, with Recipes for Brunch and Beyond” by Brian Bartels (Ten Speed Press, $18.99)
By Wendell Brock
Brian Bartels claims he mastered the Bloody Mary out of necessity, as a cub bartender working the brunch shift at a brewpub in the thirsty college town of Madison, Wis.
Until he got behind the stick and had to turn out innumerable Bloodies every weekend, he was just a beer dude.
He quickly observed, though, that this legendary hangover cure, so “red and soupy, viscous and spicy,” can restart a cruddy day with just a few sips, spark conversation and merriment, and be custom-crafted to suit a range of tastes and sensibilities.
As Bartels writes in “The Bloody Mary,” his muse-drink is a blank canvas. It can be as austere as vodka and tomato juice. Tweaked with salt, pepper, Tabasco, Worcestershire, olives, pickles, lemons, limes, whatever. Or garnished with a virtual buffet of head-turning extravagance: lobster tails, filet mignon, sushi, hard-boiled eggs.
Bartels, who today is a managing partner and bar director for New York’s Happy Cooking restaurant group, knows the Bloody Mark is spiked with mystery, lore and history.
It’s a timeless drink that never goes out of fashion. Yet for whatever reason (the craft-cocktail movement, the popularity of brunch), it’s also enjoying a moment of creativity, showmanship and good humor.
If the Bloody Mary is the P.T. Barnum of the cocktail world, Bartels may be its most virtuosic performer.
After covering the basics – theories on the name and who invented the drink, tools and techniques, party tips – he offers a compendium of more than 50 classic, modern and crowd-size recipes.
Elvis had his peanut butter, banana and bacon sandwich. Bartels has his PB&J & Mary: made with peanut-infused vodka, strawberry jam and a garnish of spicy peanuts and a peanut-butter-dipped celery stalk. (Good googly moogly! Must try!)
He fashions Bloodies from every conceivable spirit (including rye, aquavit and mezcal) and juices them up with beets, tomatillos, pineapples, carrots, corn, papaya, cucumber and celery.
For my story on tomato-based cocktails in print today, I tested Bartels’ Mary on Holiday, an easy virgin concoction of tomato, pineapple, lemon, honey syrup, ginger beer and perky cayenne. Very nice.
If you love a good Bloody, and a good story, this fun little book is for you.
Read it. Get familiar with it. And you just might be a candidate for Bartels’ so-called MFB (Master of Fine Bloodies) Program.
Pass me the Tabasco and a little celery salt, would ya? I’ve got some studying to do.
Wendell Brock is an Atlanta food and culture writer, frequent AJC contributor and winner of a 2016 James Beard Foundation Award for journalism. Follow him on Twitter (@MrBrock) and Instagram (@WendellDavidBrock) .