In 2011 a New Jersey-based flavour scientist, Dr Neil Da Costa, declared the Bloody Mary the world’s most complex cocktail. After extensive research, Da Costa reasoned that a well-made Bloody Mary offered the perfect balance of sweet, salty, sour and savoury. Da Costa gave one caveat to his proclamation. It was also the hardest to perfect, due to the endless variations – and errors – that could be made when mixing the great morning-after drink.
Back in present-day Sydney, bartenders are using a seemingly limitless list of ingredients to perfect their version of the Bloody Mary. Here are some of the more unusual ones to try this weekend.
“Who the fuck wants celery when they’re hungover?” laughs Kenny Graham, co-owner of Mary’s. “No-one … that’s who. People want bacon.” At Newtown’s raucous burger bar, your Bloody Mary is not only garnished with a rasher of “trash-can bacon” (that’s house-cured bacon, smoked in a trash can), but is sealed with a slice of melted cheese, too. The house Bloody Mary mix is also not for the faint hearted. Bacon, tomato juice, tomato passata, Mary’s house hot sauce, a gamut of spices and maple syrup are all cooked off together. Bar manager Louise Dowling adds that the mix is then left in the fridge overnight for the flavours to develop, “like left-over lasagna.” A seriously delicious drink, it probably has more in common with the burger on the grill than it does with the 1930s original from the New York Bar in Paris.
“A good Bloody Mary should taste like really good gazpacho, but with booze in it,” says Kingston Public co-owner Laura Twomey. A minute later and Twomey is checking the recipe for what goes into its house Bloody Mary mix. We’ll forgive her – she has already rattled off about 15 ingredients. Among others, the mix includes smoked paprika, guindilla pepper brine, lemon juice, fresh garlic and fresh red chilli. All of which makes total sense because the drink has a clearly Spanish flavour. Twomey garnishes with guindilla pepper, green olive, grape tomato, cornichon and celery salt. With all the spice, salty goodness and a good whack of vodka, the Kingston Public Bloody Mary is the archetypical hangover cure.
At the other end of King Street, the Bloodwood Mary is less of a heart starter and more of an aperitif. Bloodwood manager Eric Morris, the good-looking, well-dressed and moustached man formerly of The Baxter Inn and MoVida Sydney, is a bit of a guru and takes his drinks very seriously. Morris infuses the vodka for three days with peppercorns, bayleaf, horseradish, green olives and garlic, which gives the drink a decent spice note. Added to this is a classic mix of tomato juice, Worcestershire sauce, a generous lashing of Tabasco, lemon juice and fino sherry. The Bloodwood Mary is finished with lemon, green olive, pink salt and cracked black pepper. With less spice, and more depth, the Bloodwood Mary gets your appetite going, and, as Morris says, “Puts the context in your lunch.”
The Oxford Tavern
The Bloody Porto is The Oxford Tavern’s homage to Petersham’s history as a stronghold of Portuguese culture. “We use cachaca instead of vodka, which is Brazilian, but it’s the same as the national spirit of Portugal, aguardente,” says owner Steven Forbes. “You need a fair bit of spice to balance the sweetness of the spirit so we use both house Bloody Mary mix and also Peri Peri sauce.” The fresh, crunchy garnish of grape tomato, gherkin and cucumber provides a good antidote to the spice. The Bloody Porto is served with your own 15-mililitre bottle of Tabasco on the side, too. If you’re undecided about whether to add more spice, the bar staff offer encouragement, “C’mon! Me? I like to sweat when I drink a Bloody Mary,” says Forbes.
The Wild Rover
“Everything here is about balance”, says bartender Mitch Oldfield at Surry Hills drinking den The Wild Rover. Rather than reaching for the vodka bottle, Oldfield makes a Red Snapper, the gin-based version of the Bloody Mary. Although the drink has plenty of flavour and spice, including cayenne pepper and paprika, it’s not too overpowering. Oldfield says the most important ingredient is good tomato juice, “because you don’t want to shadow the aromatics and flavour of the gin with too much spice.” He’s right, with less spice the drink is well balanced by the gin. Intriguing, smooth and surprisingly robust the Red Snapper is a great variation on the classic.