The Secret To a Great Bloody Mary

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Ring the bell, it's time for Last Call, where JK Grence, bartender at Shady's, serves up booze advice and recipes. Got a burning question for your bartender? Leave it in the comments and it might be answered in a future column.

I don't know what's been going on, but I've noticed a recent spike in Bloody Mary sales at Shady's. I'm proud of my recipe. I've seen plenty of Bloody Mary bars that have a cocktail party's worth of trimmings. (Bacon-wrapped shrimp, anyone?) So many of those towering concoctions suffer the same fate as Cheesecake Factory's cheesecakes: All of the elaborate accoutrements hide the simple fact that the base product sucks.

See Also: Great Drinks Take (More) Time: The Ramos Gin Fizz, for your brunching pleasure.

It's a shame that there are so many bad Bloody Marys out there, because making a good one is a piece of cake. The big secret:

Throw out your mix! Practically all of the seasonings are pantry staples, and everything is easy to adjust to individual tastes. Like it spicy? Add a few dashes more Tabasco, black pepper, and extra horseradish. Even if you prefer a mild one, put at least a little Tabasco and pepper in there; they help wake up a pretty heavy drink. I know a lot of people who use lime juice in their Bloody Mary; trust me, lemon pairs a lot better with tomato than lime. Vegetarians can leave out the Worcestershire, or substitute an animal-friendly umami source like Bragg's Liquid Aminos.

The most important part of mixing a Bloody Mary is chilling it. All those full-flavored ingredients need some melted ice to keep everything in check. Since there's juice involved, your first instinct may be to shake it. You don't want to go there. Thick tomato juice traps the air bubbles introduced by shaking; the finished product has a foamy, lightly fizzy texture that's unappealing to say the least. Your best bet is to roll the drink. Just pour the drink from its glass into a cocktail shaker, then back to the glass. Repeat a total of four or five times to chill properly.

To garnish the drink, the sky's the limit. A wedge of lemon and stalk of celery are traditional. Of course, you can go the Bloody Mary bar route and have all manner of bite-size cold appetizers available for your friends.

If you're going to have a whole bunch of people over, making drinks individually is a pain in the ass. Make your own custom Bloody Mary mix, it takes just moments. Go a little easy on the pepper, Tabasco, horseradish, and Worcestershire, then keep extra of each near the carafe of mix, along with any other spice and umami boosters you happen to have in your kitchen. Bloody Mary (JK's Way) Tinker with this your Bloody Mary until you get your perfect version; this recipe gets more "wow" than any other proportions I've tried behind the stick. ½ ounce lemon juice Dash black pepper Small dash celery salt 2 or 3 dashes Worcestershire sauce 2 or 3 dashes Tabasco sauce ½ teaspoon horseradish 2 ounces vodka 4 ounces tomato juice (or vegetable juice blend like V8)

Pour everything over ice in a pint glass. Roll from the glass to a cocktail shaker and back four or five times. Garnish with a lemon wedge, celery stalk, and bite-sized hors d'oeuvres as desired.

Custom Bloody Mary Mix Yields 76 ounces, enough for 16 drinks ½ teaspoon celery salt ¾ teaspoon black pepper 2 teaspoons Tabasco sauce ⅓ cup Worcestershire sauce 2 Tablespoons horseradish Mix together. Keep in a sealed container until ready to use. To make Bloody Mary mix, combine with 1 cup lemon juice and 2 quarts tomato juice.

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