You know that moment when you finish mixing what you think will be a killer Bloody Mary and it tastes…just okay? We’ve all been there.
It seems easy to just throw together vodka, tomato juice and spices, but there’s so much more to a Bloody Mary. Proper chilling, the right balance of ingredients and even rethinking the main spirit can help correct your brunchtime bartending.
Here, four mixologists reveal nine of the most commonly made Bloody Mary mistakes and how to avoid them.
The Mistake: Using Low Quality Ingredients
Want to make a killer Bloody Mary? Don’t skimp on what goes in it. “Buy the best quality tomato juice you can find—organic is preferred,” says Joaquín Simó, co-owner of Pouring Ribbons in New York City. Steve Izzo, Beverage Director of Waterbar in San Francisco, has a roster of favorite products that he likes to use in his version of the classic brunch drink, including Beaver Extra Hot Horseradish, Lakewood Organic Super Tomato Juice and Lea & Perrins The Original Worcestershire Sauce—“a must for traditional-style Bloody Marys.”
The Mistake: Not Tasting as You Go
Rather than dumping a bunch of seasonings into the tomato juice at once, add a little of each ingredient at a time until you end up with a blend that you like (and don’t forget to write it down, so it’s easy to recreate).
“You can always add more if it's not to taste, but you can't take it back once you've added it,” says Nick Henry, Beverage Manager of EPIC Steak in San Francisco. “Find a balance between sweet, spicy, savory, acidity and herbaceous.”
The Mistake: Over Spicing
“The general rule is that too much horseradish heat won't often keep people from drinking, but hot sauce or chili heat will—especially Tabasco, which is an abomination,” says T.J. Lynch, co-owner of New York City’s Mother’s Ruin.
Simó agrees with Lynch, adding that it’s always a good idea to “keep some hot sauce options on hand for those brunch guests who like theirs on the spicy side.” He recommends adobo sauce—the liquid in cans of chipotle chiles—as it “adds a lovely smoky note with some fruity heat.”
The Mistake: Slacking on the Citrus
Want your friends to extol the wonders of your Bloody Marys for years to come? Don't forget the fresh lemon and lime juice. Lynch says the acidity “brightens some ingredients while cutting through the weight of the tomato juice.” Add more citrus if your tomato juice leans sweet.
The Mistake: Forgetting the Fifth Taste
Simó recommends adding a dash or two of “umami bombs” like Worcestershire sauce (the classic), Jugo Maggi and (if you can get your hands on them) British yeast extract spread Marmite or the slightly saltier Australian spread Vegemite (but go easy!). “They add tremendous depth of flavor,” he says.
The Mistake: Not Letting Your Mix Rest
Planning to host brunch at your place or simply anticipating a serious Sunday Bloody Mary craving? Make your mix a few days in advance. Lynch says it’s important to allow all of the flavors to become friendly with one another—a lot like a good stew. It’s “a ‘greater than the sum of its parts’ situation,” Lynch says. “Sometimes we find the mix is best three to five days after it's made.”
The Mistake: Using Warm Tomato Juice
Watery Bloody Marys are almost worse than no Bloody Marys at all, so be sure to chill your mix—or at least the tomato juice—before serving. Warm tomato juice can lead to over-dilution when you add ice, so Lynch says it’s best to make sure it’s pre-chilled.
“If the mix is chilled thoroughly, then once the alcohol is added it can all be shaken with ice without adding too much dilution to achieve the right temperature,” he says. “Chilled glassware helps, too, if you want to get crazy.”
The Mistake: Sticking to Vodka
Tomato juice isn’t necessarily in a monogamous relationship with vodka—it’s free to play the field and mix with other spirits. Simó suggests trying gin (for a Red Snapper), aquavit, tequila (for a Bloody Maria) or mezcal for “huge hits of savory and vegetal flavor.”
Editor’s tip: A blended Scotch like The Famous Grouse can also add a delightful smokiness to the Bloody Mary—but keep your single malts away from the tomato juice.
The Mistake: Going Garnish Gaga
Like pyrotechnics and liquid nitrogen, it’s best to leave over-the-top garnishing to the professionals. Skip the roast chicken and mini slider skewers and stick with classics.
“My favorite garnish is simply a cleanly salted rim—kosher salt is best—and a garden-fresh, crisp stalk of celery to refresh your palate from the spiciness of the mix,” says Izzo. “I’m not a proponent of adding garnishes that are pickled or soaked in vinegar, as these items will generally overpower the aromatic enjoyment of the drink.
There are, of course, exceptions to this rule and it’s all up to your personal tastes. Our favorite: a crunchy slice of bacon.