The Bloody Mary is a boring drink, and it’s all flavorless, lifeless vodka’s fault. In the 1920s, when Fernand “Pete” Petiot of New York’s King Cole Bar decided to make a savory cocktail with tomato juice and lemon, we imagine he got to the part where he needed to pick a base spirit to pair with those flavors, gave up, settled on vodka, and went to see a talkie or dance the Charleston or do whatever else 1920s folks did when they were disregarding their duties as bartenders.
Vodka is such a lazy, boring choice for such a full-flavored mixture. Sure, bars can perk up their house Bloody Marys by throwing in a ton of hot sauce or packing their glasses with unusual herbs and spices, but the underlying problem remains: Vodka just isn’t that interesting, no matter how many garnishes you can stack on top of the drink. An entire fried chicken skewered on top of a glass is not the sign of a good cocktail. It’s a cry for help.
We’d like to give ol’ Pete Petiot the benefit of the doubt—that if he had had access to tequila, he would have used it in his tomato cocktail, because it is undeniably better in every way. And that, essentially is a Bloody Maria. The Bloody Maria takes all of the features of the Bloody Mary and upgrades them with a shot of tequila in place of vodka. Tequila’s flavors of citrus, fresh fruit, black pepper and grass all intermingle with the tomato and lemon juices to create a whole bigger than its parts. Whereas vodka brings literally nothing but alcohol to the drink—legally it has to be flavorless—tequila creates a flavorful experience worth spending your morning on. The tequila also perks up the tomato juice, so going from the Bloody Mary to the Bloody Maria is like biting into a fresh tomato straight from the field after only eating freezer tomatoes in the middle of January all your life.
Even if you were to change nothing else about the Bloody Mary recipe—sticking to horseradish, Tabasco and Worcestershire—the tequila would bring much needed flavor to the drink. But the Bloody Maria—at least the way we like to make it—goes well beyond a simple swap of the base by incorporating jalapeños, Tapatío and Tajín. Spicy cocktail lovers will appreciate fresh, muddled jalapeños in the bottom of a shaker tin, adding a vibrant green flavor along with raw pepper heat. Tapatío in place of horseradish adds an irresistible sweet tang that’s lacking in the Bloody Mary. Unlike celery salt, which excited no one ever, Tajín around the rim incorporates chile and lime to set your lips alight with a subtle buzz after every sip.
If you still have any doubts, consider two situations: your best brunch ever sipping Bloody Marys and your best drinking session at a tequila bar slamming back shots over chips and salsa. If you’re anything like us and you were forced to choose between those two situations, you’d pick the tequila bar anyday. The Bloody Maria evokes that same pairing of spicy, vegetable-packed salsa with fiery, fiesta-starting tequila in a brunch-appropriate package. Plus, a Bloody Maria goes great with huevos rancheros, which trumps eggs benedict every time.