If a name can make or break a reputation, how do you explain the popularity of the Bloody Mary, formerly known as the Bucket of Blood or the Red Snapper?
This spicy vodka-and-tomato-juice cocktail, created in the 1920s, has managed to flourish despite its grisly associations. (Its name refers to the battle-happy English Queen Mary I, whose nickname was “Bloody Mary.”) It is now standard cocktail and brunch fare, especially on New Year’s Day; the Bloody Mary is also reputed to cure a hangover, though medical evidence suggests otherwise.
Make a Bloody Mary at home
The easiest way to make a Bloody Mary at home is to open two bottles: one of vodka and one of prepared Bloody Mary mix, available at liquor stores. To find out which Bloody Mary mixes make the best toast to the New Year, we held a taste-off at the Boston-based Professional Bartenders School of New England. The six tasters rated each brand on a scale of 0-10, making 60 a perfect score. Each sample was tasted without vodka (we wanted to be able to read the judges’ handwriting), and brand names were kept secret until the end. Except where noted, the prices ranged from $3.50 to $5 for a 32-ounce bottle of mix.
The Top Score voted
- The top score of 40 points went to the Bull & Finch Pub’s mix – a surprise to judges, who assumed this brand was just a touristy “Cheers” tie-in. This mix had a good balance of flavors: “not too hot, with plenty of spice.” Its aftertaste proved pleasant, “not too harsh.” Some found that its super-thick consistency cried out to be thinned with vodka, as the mix reminded them too much of “cocktail sauce.”
- There was a second-place tie between Mr. & Mrs. T and Major Peters, which scored 36 points apiece. The ubiquitous Mr. & Mrs. T brand, produced by applesauce giant Mott’s of Stamford, Conn., proved to be a crowd-pleaser. It was the thinnest of the mixes tasted, with a “smooth, refreshing” consistency. Its flavor was “not bad, but not exceptional,” reminding some tasters of V-8 juice, or even a light fra diavolo pasta sauce.
- The Major Peters label is covered with a British flag, though the mix is produced in western New York. Some tasters found it “well-balanced” and “the most edible,” but the praise was not unanimous. Those who didn’t like it said it was “too watery” and tasted “like tomato juice that has been left out in the sun too long.”
- Bloody Bold, another Connecticut-based brand, landed in fourth place with 33 points. Once tasters got past the thick consistency, they were put off by “too much horseradish,” which made them want to “break out the shrimp cocktail.” Its lack of spices led one judge to comment, “It could be consumed on a date without creating hot breath.”
- The devil on the bottle of the Bloody Mary From Hell mix didn’t scare the judges away from giving it the lowest total score of 23. This habanero-chili-spiked mix did prove to be the most incendiary – and the most expensive, at $7.49 for 26 ounces. Tasters, not surprisingly, found it “far, far, far too hot” and “overpoweringly spicy.” Advised one judge, “If you really like hot, this will clear your sinuses. Follow with a generous rinse from the garden hose.”
The Herald’s Bloody Mary mix Taste-off
Leading our panel of judges were Lou Herborg, director of education at the Professional Bartenders School, and Paul C. Mullaney, an instructor and also a bartender at Joy Boston and the Roxy. Joining them were students Derek Sorel, George Cassista and Doug Stump. Bloody Mary aficionado Tom Powers completed our panel.
Herborg suggested that the best Bloody Marys can be found at a bar, because many bartenders and chefs use their own recipes to make a fresh batch each day. They can also adjust the spices and heat level to taste, and use accents such as freshly ground pepper.
Six tasters at the Professional Bartenders School of New England rated mixes on a scale of 0-10, making 60 a perfect score.