Not the same old Bloody Mary: Atlanta drinks tomatoes with a twist

If you think the tomato-cocktail repertoire is limited to the classic Bloody Mary, check out Atlanta restaurateur Ford Fry’s Attack of the Killer Tomato Festival sometime.

At the July celebration of this favorite summer fruit, the city’s mixologists got a little crazy.

Better Half mixed tomato marmalade with lemon and Old Forester Bourbon — rather simple in comparison to Atlas’ tiki drink that used tomatoes in seven forms: tomato foam, tomato dust, tomato candy, tomato water, tomato juice, tomato bitters and a tomato twizzler straw.

But the cocktail that sent judges over the moon and won the competition was Bellina Alimentari beverage director Cole Younger Just’s Capri Sun, a riff on the classic Caprese salad of tomatoes, mozzarella and basil.

After the fest, Just, whose Bee’s Sneeze cocktail was featured in my recent article on lavender, told me via email: “I wanted to capture that ‘perfect bite’ when all ingredients of the Caprese — in perfect proportion — harmonize and transform your palate into a symphony of flavors that say, ‘Hello, sunshine, it must be summer!’ “

For the tomato element, he made tomato water from local Sun Golds. For the mozzarella, he washed Atlanta-made Old Fourth Distillery gin with milk. For the basil, he procured fresh herbs from Tucker Farms in Rome, blended it with extra-virgin olive oil, and ran it through a centrifuge to extract the solids from the oil. He added mozzarella brine for a touch of salinity and white balsamic to complete the “salad” dressing.

Full disclosure: I was on the panel of six judges that blind-tasted all 69 dishes and cocktails at the festival. When Just’s drink was passed around, we judges had that “Hello, sunshine” moment for sure.

We were also smitten with a cool contender that cut a sleek, elegant figure and quickened our weary taste buds. That would be the Green Ghost, a super-sophisticated, multilayered cocktail that derives its bright green aura from mixture of green tomato, cucumber and celery juices.

It’s the handiwork of one Clarke Anderson, a beverage manager for three Ford Fry restaurants, including King + Duke, where he did a test run of the drink.

“I went full-on green,” Anderson says. “I didn’t mess with the red tomatoes.”

The cocktail, which Anderson later showed me how to make, calls for gin, lemon and lime juice, salted simple syrup, and a splash of white absinthe, which gives it that sexy, platinum-blonde edge. (The name Green Ghost, he says, is a play on a pulp-fiction title and a comic-book character.)

Of course the tomato festival is not the only place where you can drink tomatoes in liquid form.

Restaurant Eugene sommelier George Lobjanidze makes delicious cocktail shrubs from summer peaches, blackberries, melons and tomatoes, and when he told me about his Tomato-Basil Shrub Cocktail, I knew I had to try it.

Historically, shrubs were used to preserve fruit-infused syrups by mixing in a little vinegar. It takes a couple of days to make the shrub, but the process is simple. (See recipe.)

Then you just mix up a cocktail with your booze of choice. (I like Rhum J.M; Lobjanidze chose Neisson. Both are rhum agricoles from Martinique.)

Add lemon and splash of soda water, and you have an excellent sparkling summer libation.

While both the Green Ghost and the Tomato-Basil Shrub Cocktail do require fresh tomatoes and a little effort, you can still make a wonderful tomato cocktail from store-bought juice.

“It’s beneficial when one has limited prep time, can often be consistent when working with age-old recipes, and, let’s face it, fresh tomatoes are the best, but unfortunately they’re only available for a limited season in most places,” says Brian Bartels, author of the delightful new volume “The Bloody Mary: The Lore and Legend of a Cocktail Classic, with Recipes for Brunch and Beyond” (Ten Speed Press, $18.99).

There are numerous recipes in Bartels’ book that I want to try, but one that caught my eye immediately was his Mary on Holiday, a virgin concoction made from tomato, pineapple, lime, honey syrup and ginger beer. A sprinkle of cayenne adds a little spice.

If you are looking for an approachable, non-alcoholic beverage or can’t deal with making your own juices and shrubs, take a vacation from the vodka and try the Mary on Holiday. It’s just further proof that the classic Bloody Mary is not the only thing going when it comes to a tomato cocktail.

Tomatoes in liquid form 

Here are three recipes for tomato-based beverages. One of them is nonalcoholic, super-tasty and easy to assemble from store-bought ingredients.

The Green Ghost

Clarke Anderson, a beverage director for Atlanta restaurateur Ford Fry, made this gin, absinthe, and green-tomato drink for the Attack of the Killer Tomato Festival in July. If you are having a party, you can make a batch and pour over glasses of ice when ready to serve, perhaps topping with a bit of soda water (since you aren’t diluting the drink by shaking it with ice). Blanching and shocking the celery before you make the juice will turn it a vivid green; however, you can skip this step and it won’t make much difference in flavor. Any leftover green juice is wonderful mixed with tomato juice and a squirt of lemon or lime.

Restaurant Eugene’s Tomato-Basil Shrub Cocktail

Restaurant Eugene sommelier George Lobjanidze created this refreshing cocktail using fresh summer heirlooms and herbs. The shrub is easy is make but requires about two days to macerate. You may mix the libation with vodka, gin, white rum, tequila or mezcal. Lobjanidze chose Neisson Rhum Agricole Blanc from Martinique. He garnishes his drink with dehydrated tomato slices and a sprig of basil; see other suggestions below.

Mary on Holiday 

This refreshing, sweet-savory, slightly spicy virgin Mary, from Brian Bartels’ new book “The Bloody Mary,” is easy to put together from store-bought pineapple and tomato juice. If you want to turn it into an adult beverage, Bartels suggests pepper vodka. I think it would be delicious with tequila or mezcal.

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