Chilli Maria cocktail
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Deep South Distillery

In Search of the Perfect Bloody Mary

As one of my favourite cocktails at any time of day, and after having tasted a really good Bloody Mary cocktail made with a peppery vodka during London cocktail week, I was determined to make a great vodka that would make a delicious spicy Bloody Mary without all the fussy trimmings. In Deep South Chilli Vodka I think we have done that: hot, spicy, authentic chilli, and just amazing when blended with sumptuous, rich tomato juice. Yum!

The conventional Bloody Mary cocktail is essentially vodka and canned tomato juice pepped up with the addition of spices and sauces (usually salt and black pepper, but also frequently Worcestershire Sauce and a hot pepper relish). Bartenders often garnish the drink with a stick of celery. Frequently though, the addition of all the ‘ice & spice’ and garnish seems to be an excuse to hide the taste of cheap vodka and thin watery tomato juice.

In our opinion, a really good Bloody Mary is a simple drink that is a balance of great vodka (of the kind that you would be happy to taste neat) and thick, slightly savoury tomato juice that is made from cooked tomatoes with a reduced water content. If these ingredients are great quality, you don’t need much more to make a great tasting, very satisfying cocktail showcasing the main two ingredients. And so sorry: liquidised fresh tomatoes just don’t make the grade, and nor do the premixed ‘tomato cocktails’ with premixed spices and sauces. If you are adding lots of sauce and spice to conceal the taste of the vodka, or to cover the acidic nature of the tomato, change the vodka or the tomato juice!

Personally, I do like a tiny bit of warming spice in my Bloody Mary. I had an epiphany during London Cocktail Week a few years ago when I really enjoyed a beetroot-based BM (called The Beet) made with an Arbikie chilli vodka. It was so delicious that I resolved there-and-then to (one day) develop my own chilli vodka designed specifically for the Bloody Mary. The subtle integrated flavours you get from imbibing a well-made chilli-infused vodka far outweigh the rather brute-force flavours you get by adding those sauces to your drink! And so finally after months of experimentation with different chillis, different drying, different macerating and infusing processes, and lots of Bloody Mary taste tests, our Deep South Chilli Vodka finally made the cut. Our original specification was ‘No tears! No sweat! Just authentic chilli flavours and a lasting warmth in the chest!’ – and our current recipe passes that test with flying colours.

And though I have enjoyed a Bloody Mary at any time of the day, and the cocktail has been the sidebar to many a great memory, whether sailing in the Indian Ocean, watching the sun go down, or simply as a morning ‘regmaker‘ after a night out, I have to say that my absolute favourite way of starting our every New Year’s Day is with a Bloody Mary (also called a Chilli Maria) made with our own Deep South Chilli Vodka paired with a freshly-made bacon, egg and cheese roll. I call it my ‘balanced meal’ – a glass in one hand and a roll in the other.

This wonderful cocktail has a long and rich history., but its origins are the stuff of myth and fable. At the date of writing this blog, however, this famous cocktail has just celebrated its 100th birthday!

Who made the first Bloody Mary?

The origins of the Bloody Mary cocktail are somewhat blurred by the passage of time and the imbibing of alcohol and are much disputed.

The first time vodka and tomato juice was first enjoyed seems to date to 1921 when a bartender named Fernand “Pete” Petiot invented the cocktail at Harry’s New York Bar in Paris, and apparently called it a ‘Bucket of Blood’. It rapidly became popular and the name changed to ‘Bloody Mary’ although it is unclear exactly when or why.

The tradition at Harrys New York Bar in Paris, according to manager Alain Da Silva in a 2011 interview, is that one of the patrons for whom the cocktail was first mixed in 1920 or 1921 declared, “It looks like my girlfriend who I met in a cabaret”; the cabaret’s name was the Bucket of Blood and the girlfriend’s name was Mary, so the patrons and bartender agreed to call it a “Bloody Mary” (Wikipedia).

Steve and Philippe at Harrys New York Bar - Paris 2022
Steve and Philippe at Harrys New York Bar – Paris 2022

Franz-Arthur MacElhone, great-grandson of Harry MacElhone – the namesake of Harry’s New York Bar recounts different stories about how the cocktail got its name.  Petiot, the bartender who first made a Bloody Mary in Paris, subsequently reinvented the drink in its modern style with Worcestershire Sauce and spices at the bar in the St Regis Hotel in New York, and apparently claimed it was named for his fondness for a dancer in Chicago named Mary who used to work in an establishment called the Bucket Of Blood. 

There have, of course, been several real-life Bloody Marys – most notably Queen Mary Tudor ( Queen Mary I of England) – who was nicknamed ‘Bloody Mary’ following a bloody reign in the 1500’s against the Protestants in England. But this merely seems to have been a coincidental use of a catchy name.

Ernest Hemingway, was frequent visitor to Harrys Bar, and MacElhone remembers a certain Hemingway story, which alleges that just before marrying his wife Mary, Hemingway wanted a drink but didn’t want alcohol on his breath, so he asked for something made with juice. The bartender added tomato juice, and while he drank it, Hemingway could allegedly be heard muttering “Bloody Mary”.

To add further to the confusion, the name Bloody Mary was seen as too indelicate for American ears, and was sold under different names in New York, including Red Snapper. But in the UK, the Red Snapper was actually a tomato cocktail made with Gin!

Our take on the Bloody Mary

Although the origins of the name are in question, there is no doubt that this enduring cocktail has stood the test of time. Harry’s New York Bar is still operating today, serving on average 12000 Bloody Marys a year!

So however you enjoy it, in whatever form, and whether as a hangover cure, a liquid lunch or as a delicious sundowner, make sure you use the best vodka and the best tomato juice you can find. Even though we didn’t invent the Bloody Mary, we are pretty sure that Deep South Chilli Vodka has perfected it!

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