Fans of the Bloody Mary swear by the restorative powers of this savoury vodka and tomato juice-based mix, which explains its popularity as a brunch cocktail. If you’re nursing a hangover you won’t care too much about the origins of the drink – which is probably just as well since its history takes some unpicking.
So if you’re in urgent need of a pick-me-up, skip to the vodka recommendations below. If you’re clear-headed, read on…
The Bloody Mary was invented in the 1920s. Or maybe the 1930s. It was created in Paris. Or maybe the US. And it was named after English Queen Mary I, Hollywood actress Mary Pickford, or a waitress called Mary who worked at Chicago bar, Bucket of Blood. Among others.
Cocktail historians and bartenders have researched these theories and now tend to agree that the Bloody Mary was an evolution of the Tomato Juice Cocktail, documented in the early 1900s and originally made without alcohol.
The addition of vodka is attributed to George Jessel, a Broadway performer who liked to party hard and, according to his autobiography, The world I lived in, created the Bloody Mary in 1927, in an attempt to sober up for a morning volleyball game. Jessel named the drink after socialite Mary Brown Warburton, who spilled a glass of it over her white evening gown.
French bartender Fernand Petiot then refined this basic mix of vodka and tomato juice, formalising a basic recipe that also included lemon juice, seasoning, Tabasco and Worcestershire sauce.
To make a Bloody Mary at home, use 60ml vodka, 120ml tomato juice, 15ml fresh lemon juice, 8 drops of Tabasco, 4 dashes of Worcestershire sauce, 2 grinds of black pepper and a pinch of celery salt. Put all of the ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice and stir to mix, then strain into an ice-filled highball glass.
But perhaps the greatest joy of the Bloody Mary is the evolution of the basic recipe into millions of special house serves and secret mixes, so that every Mary is as unique as the person drinking it.
Potential ingredients range from beef stock, clam juice and Thai fish sauce to Port, Sherry, Vermouth and Guinness via horseradish, sriracha and all manner of hot pepper sauces. Variants also include the Red Snapper (made with gin instead of vodka) and the Bloody Maria (with Tequila).
Eight vodkas for a Bloody Mary
Absolut Peppar Vodka, Sweden
14.79-£17.89/50cl, Drinks Direct, Drink Supermarket, Prestige Drinks
Peppar was the first flavoured vodka released by Absolut, back in 1986, and it was created purposely for use in Bloody Marys. Flavours of jalapeño chilli, capsicum and green pepper help to create an even spicier Bloody Mary. For a fresher take, try Absolut Citron instead, which dials up the lemon citrus in your Mary. Alc 40%
Belvedere Bloody Mary Vodka, Poland
£36.99-£48.90/70cl, Ginspiration, Soho Wine Supply, Urban Drinks
Another vodka created just for Bloody Marys (there’s a clue in the name…) Belvedere’s offering is made by distilling a range of savoury ingredients including tomato, chilli, black pepper, red pepper and horseradish. No surprises, this adds a savoury, umami kick to your Bloody Mary. Alc 40%
Chase Vodka, UK
£30-£37/70cl, Amazon, John Lewis, Master of Malt, Waitrose
Chase potato vodka is produced by the team behind Tyrells crisps, using the spuds that are too small to be made into crisps. Potato vodkas tend to be creamier than wheat vodkas, and Chase is no exception, balancing the acidic texture of the tomato and lemon juice, while adding a spicy peppercorn note to the flavour. Try Chase Smoked Vodka for an edgier take on a Bloody Mary. Alc 40%
Chopin Vodka, Poland
£32-£37/70cl, Amazon, Drinks & Co, Master of Malt
Named after the classical composer, Chopin is another creamy and smooth potato vodka. Its lightly spiced, nutty and earthy palate helps to round out the savoury flavours of a Bloody Mary, with a clean finish. One for the classicists who don’t like their Mary too hot and spicy. Alc 40%
Ketel One Vodka, Netherlands
£22.95-£25/70cl, Amazon, Master of Malt, The Bottle Club, Waitrose Cellar
The Nolet family has been in the distilling game since 1691. The zesty, honeyed citrus notes of their flagship Dutch wheat vodka add a sweet citrus tone to the savoury and spice flavours of a Bloody Mary. Try using Ketel One Citroen if you want an even fresher, lemony Mary. Alc 40%
Grey Goose Vodka, France
£37-£39/70cl, Amazon, Asda, Ocado, Tesco, The Whisky Exchange
From the Cognac region in France, Grey Goose was created by François Thibault, son of a wine-grower and a master Cognac blender. It’s a versatile, super-creamy wheat vodka that works well in a whole range of cocktails, adding texture and subtle citrus and peppery spice notes to a Bloody Mary.Alc 40%
Reyka Vodka, Iceland
£22-£27.25-£/70cl, Amazon, Distillers Direct, Master of Malt, Ocado, Sainsbury’s, Spirits Kiosk, Waitrose
This wheat and barley vodka is distilled in Iceland using glacial spring water and sustainable energy from geothermal heat. A bartender favourite thanks to its freshness and purity of flavour, Rekya lends a crisp bite to a Bloody Mary, with refreshing citrus and earthy peppery flavours. Alc 40%
Vestal Vodka, Poland
£21.95-£29.90/70cl, Amazon, Drinks & Co, Master of Malt, The Whisky Exchange
Like winemakers, the Vestal team focuses on both terroir and vintage for its potato vodkas, which are produced near Poland’s Baltic Coast. Vestal’s vintage vodkas are best for sipping or in a Martini, but their creamy blended vodka adds flavour and character to a Bloody Mary. Alc 40%