How to navigate a Bloody Mary bar

A master bartender from the Aviary tackles brunch’s most popular cocktail.

Photograph: Nicole Radja
Ingredients for Bloody Mary

Facing a Bloody Mary bar with dozens—sometimes hundreds—of ingredients can be a challenge for the sober, let alone the hungover. Certainly you could just dump the closest mix at hand into your vodka-on-the-rocks and chug, but we’d like to assume you’re setting higher standards. And who has higher standards than Craig Schoettler [fig. 1], executive chef of the Aviary’s cocktail kitchen? We send the mixology pro to the 200-item Bloody bar at Fireside, where he whittles down the overwhelming options to a few key tips.

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➊ If fresh tomato juice is unavailable, start with a mix, like Zing Zang, rather than unseasoned canned juice, but taste it on its own to know your foundation—is it sweet? spicy?—and taste again after you add vodka.

➋ Choose a direction rather than create discord. For example, if you want to use soy sauce and wasabi, stick with Asian flavors throughout. Ditto for Cajun, Mexican, etc.

➌ For heat, use pure chili pastes or powders if they’re available; hot sauces and blends add other flavors that could throw things off. Schoettler’s picks: cayenne and horseradish.

➍ If you want to use a spice blend, sprinkle a little in your hand first to taste its strength rather than dumping it in blindly. Also, choose fine powders (Old Bay, celery salt) over coarse rubs for better blending.

➎ Adding spice mixes and bottled sauces will increase the salt content, but even if your drink tastes salty enough, a pinch of straight-up salt can bring out the flavors just as in cooking.

➏ Most Bloody mixes contain corn syrup, but if you want to increase the sweetness, reach for a sauce such as A.1., which also adds umami. (Another umami addition: Worcestershire.)

➐ Get your acid from fresh lemon or lime, and be sure to squeeze the fruit to release the peel oils before dropping it into the drink. Citrus oils have a distinct flavor from citrus juice, so this adds complexity.

Schoettler’s classic Bloody Zing Zang, vodka, fresh lemon and lime, A.1., Worcestershire, cayenne, horseradish, Old Bay, celery salt and salt.

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