This month has been a whirlwind, of sorts—as I suppose it is for everyone.
Friends and family in town … work … the disappearing and reappearing illnesses—December is tough. Since it’s not going to get any easier as it winds up, I figured I would focus on the much-loved and oft-maligned corner of cocktail culture: the breakfast tipple!
Now, anyone who knows me knows that I don’t care for Bloody Marys. This wasn’t always the case, but somewhere along the line, I started finding them to be too aggressively savory for morning consumption. Most of them are so shoddily constructed that they aren’t fit for consumption at all; a glass of congealed horseradish and tomato soup just isn’t what I want when I have a hangover. And don’t get me started on most of the commercial mixes out there!
But when friendship calls, I answer, and I had a very hungover houseguest the other day who happens to love Bloody Marys. So we jumped in my car and headed out to Sloan’s in Indio, the home of the “Frankenmary.”
As the bartender put her gloves on and proceeded to assemble the veritable appetizer sampler precariously sitting on top of 32 ounces of my nemesis—the entire bar watching and glancing occasionally at the two gluttons in the corner who ordered it—I started second-guessing the whole idea. Then the two monsters arrived at the table in the hands of the smiling and proud bartender. Imagine me, local cocktail snob and curmudgeon, faced with this tower of excess.
The beverage itself was too much, a giant flagon of breakfast booze. Sticking out at all angles was a collection of various bar favorites: chicken wings, cocktail shrimp, mozzarella sticks, bacon, a slider, various cocktail-tray garnishes … and a piece of asparagus. You gotta eat your veggies!
So, I hate this, with every atom of my being, right? Actually … I thought it was fun. Sometimes you have to put your inner critic aside and embrace your inner Guy Fieri.
Why is all the food hanging off the drink? Isn’t this just the same as getting three Bloodys and an appetizer sampler on a plate, like a (somewhat) normal person? Answers: I have no idea, and basically, yes. But there was something so classically Americana about the whole thing. It doesn’t make any sense, but we create something like this because we can, dammit! If a screaming eagle had driven by in a monster truck painted red, white and blue, I wouldn’t have been surprised. It felt silly, and excessive, and just plain fun. Any time you can bring an element of fun to fixing a hangover, or just to our current milieu in general, I am all for it.
Do you prefer a little less drama with your restoratives? Well, there are plenty of other options out there, but you might have to make them at home, as I haven’t seen many on local menus. So … let’s start with the Red Snapper.
Originally from the Hotel Regis in New York in the 1930s, the Red Snapper was more or less a plain old Bloody Mary with a different name; it seemed some of the guests found the name more palatable. These days, if you order a Red Snapper, you’re going to get a Bloody Mary with gin instead of vodka … or you’ll get a strange look. This might be a time when you get to educate your bartender (gently, please), as I have found this baby to be a little obscure.
Less obscure is our Canadian neighbors’ contribution to the field, the Bloody Caesar. The drink, widely considered the national drink of Canada, it is generally considered to have been created in 1969 in Calgary, Alberta, by Walter Chell, for the opening of an Italian restaurant. Having tended bar in two places incredibly popular with Canadian tourists—Palm Springs and Boston—I have seen the general confusion caused by the similarities and differences in the drinks.
The Caesar, although there are many variations, is defined by the Clamato and vodka that make up its base. Worcestershire sauce and hot sauce are also included—but leave out the horseradish, please! Canadians enjoy drinking this one anytime and anywhere—morning, night, at the beach, whenever. We in the States consider ordering a Bloody after 3 p.m. a faux pas, leading to a lot of dirty looks from bartenders when a savory tomato-juice drink is ordered in a busy nightclub. Canadians tend to think the Caesar is a superior drink, and they just might be right—but if you are going to drink one at night, it might be best to do it at home. Your bartender (and the rest of the bar) will judge, and hard.
Another fun variation on the Bloody is the Bull Shot. If tomato juice isn’t savory enough for you, the Bull Shot replaces the tomato juice with beef broth! This one became the celebrity brunch drink of the ’60s and ’70s, only to fall off the map in the ’80s. Years ago, I came across an original menu from a restaurant in Boston where I was working, from when it was a ’70s local celebrity hangout. I was intrigued to see they had not only a Bull Shot prominently on the menu, but also a chicken-broth variation, and a mix of the two! I would love to see this one come back, with the bone-broth trend still chugging along. If any bartenders working at a daytime spot get cracking on it, I will come check it out! Basically, it has the same recipe as a traditional Bloody: Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, celery salt, black pepper and a little lemon perhaps; just substitute the broth for the tomato juice. It’s not advisable for those with hypertension.
The Bloody Bull is mostly forgotten, but is perhaps the king of this family of drinks. It traces its origins to New Orleans, as do so many cocktails, and specifically to Brennan’s. As with most cocktails, the history is murky, but not as murky as this beauty actually is. Basically, take a traditional Bloody Mary, and a substitute a little of the tomato juice for a slug of good, rich beef broth. It’s all in the proportions, but an ounce or so should do it. This is a drink that should make everyone but the vegetarians happy, featuring the nose-opening pungent-ness for the Bloody fans, and the extra-savory brothiness for the Caesar adherents.
Now, about those garnishes! While I don’t suggest using a whole appetizer plate on skewers, pickled vegetables are always nice; I prefer green beans or asparagus. The traditional celery adds a nice aromatic as you crunch; olives are OK, too, but celery, in my opinion, adds more to the drink. If you are using bacon (or a hot wing!), make sure you skewer it over the drink; nobody wants wet bacon or greasy cocktails. My companion on the Frankenmary expedition was famous for adding a freshly shucked cherrystone clam to make an ersatz Caesar that we derided as “The Yucky Jeff,” but it sold like crazy, so it seems the sky’s the limit with garnishes. I am also fond of the fizzy beer sidecar popular in Wisconsin; a little beer sip here and there does wonders to break up the spice and salt.
New Year’s Day is nearly upon us … so however you decide to recover, garnish with abandon.
Kevin Carlow is a bartender at Truss and Twine, and can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.