This piece originally appeared on Fix.com.
Considered both a hangover cure and a weekend brunch staple, the Bloody Mary is one of the most versatile cocktails. The key to delicious homemade Bloody Marys? Start from scratch. While there are plenty of decent premade mixes, creating your own guarantees freshness and the perfect blend of spices, veggies, and heat.
Tips for the Perfect Bloody Mary Base
Tomato juice and vodka are the basic ingredients of a good Bloody Mary. But if you want to change up the game, try using V8 or Clamato juice for more flavor.1 Clamato (a blend of tomato juice and clam broth) produces a thinner cocktail called a Caesar or Bloody Caesar, which is ideal if you don’t like the texture of thick tomato juice. Whichever juice you choose, serve it cold out of the refrigerator because Bloody Marys taste best chilled.
Want to get creative? Infuse your vodka with different flavors, such as pickles, cucumbers, lemongrass, jalapeños, or even bacon. Chop up the ingredient of your choice (you only need two jalapeños or one cucumber) and add to a large container with a lid.23 Pour in 750 milliliters of vodka and let steep in a dark place at room temperature for up to one week.4 Pour the infused vodka through a mesh strainer and serve each blend in a labeled pitcher.
Bacon vodka requires cooked bacon strips. Store three bacon strips and vodka in a mason jar for three weeks, then place it in the freezer so the fat solidifies.5 Strain the vodka through a coffee filter before serving.
Have fun with flavors by trying different salts. Combine equal parts kosher salt with a variety of chile powders or herbs.6 Try 1 tablespoon of kosher salt with 1 tablespoon of paprika, celery salt, or lemon pepper. If you’re hosting a party, set each combo out on a small plate just big enough for the rim of the glass, and set out an additional plate with water so partygoers can wet the rims of their glasses before dipping. Don’t forget to label each spice mix. If you don’t have time to come up with your own creation, Old Bay seasoning pairs well with any Bloody Mary mix.
Now comes the fun part: creating toppings using unlimited garnishes. Typical toppings include celery stalks and lemon wedges. To go one step further, take the guesswork out of garnishing by stacking skewers with bite-size garnishes. An antipasto skewer, for instance, goes well with a Bloody Mary made with beer. Thread salami, pepperoncini, olives, marinated mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, and small mozzarella balls onto a long skewer.7 You can also offer guests the ability to customize their own skewers. Lay out long skewers next to several plates or bowls of garnishes from which guests can choose.
Related: Channel Your Inner Sommelier
Make your party a brunch with mini cheeseburgers or grilled cheese sandwiches. To make bite-size grilled cheeses, cut the crusts off slices of white bread and add one or two slices of cheese between two slices of bread. Butter each side and place the sandwich in a hot pan. Cook until golden on each side. Remove and let cool slightly so the bread is easier to cut. Slice into smaller squares and then into triangles with a sharp knife.8 Thread each sandwich onto a skewer with a small pickle and olives.9 You can also try a seafood version with shrimp and lobster tails for a full feast.
How to Pickle Your Own Veggies
Pickling your own produce is easy once you have all the ingredients handy. Choose your vegetables; typically, those with tougher skins, like cucumbers and peppers, work the best. Use cider or distilled vinegar, salt, sugar, and dry spices. Fresh herbs boost the flavor even more.10 Before you begin, stock up on quart-sized or pint-sized glass jars with lids.
First, sterilize the jars and lids by boiling them for 10 minutes. Mix together 3 cups of vinegar, 3 cups of water, 2 tablespoons of sugar, and 3 tablespoons of canning and pickling salt (found next to table salt in the store; it doesn’t contain iodine like other salts).11 Boil for two minutes. Wash and prepare vegetables and remove any blemishes. Put any flavorings – 2 tablespoons of garlic, fresh dill, or crushed red pepper – on the bottom of the jar and fill it with vegetables. Pour the vinegar mixture into the jars, making sure the vegetables are fully covered. Cover and refrigerate for two days and use within two weeks.12
Swap Vodka for Other Liquor
If tomato juice with vodka is overplayed, try other boozy variations. Tequila brings more personality due to the sweetness from the agave, and its other qualities help make this savory cocktail known as the Bloody Maria.13 Choose Blanco tequila, which pairs well with citrus flavors and chipotle seasonings. Mezcal, a Mexican liquor similar to tequila, brings a delicious, smoky, chili flavor to Bloody Marys.14 Serve it garnished with pepperoni, smoked Gouda, and blue cheese-stuffed olives, and you have yourself a snack in a glass.
Don’t have vodka? Try gin, which blends well with tomato juice, for a cocktail called the Red Snapper.15 If you’re a fan of beer, mix 12 ounces of a light lager with ¼ cup of tomato juice, 1 tablespoon of lime juice, and a dash each of hot sauce and Worcestershire sauce.16
Bloody Marys taste best served cold, so the cocktail is generally filled to the top with ice. To prevent your Bloody Mary from diluting, freeze the base into cubes before stirring them into the booze.17 You can also make cucumber-basil ice cubes by blending 2½ cups of chopped cucumber, ¾ cup of lightly packed torn basil leaves, 1 Serrano chili (seeded and chopped), 1 teaspoon of light brown sugar, ¾ teaspoon of salt, and 3 cups of water. Strain through a fine sieve into ice cube trays and freeze for at least 3 hours.18
Pre-squeeze lemon and lime juice into small pitchers so guests can add citrus to their concoctions, but leave a few wedges out for garnishing. Provide freshly grated horseradish to increase spiciness.19
If you’re on a budget or have limited space, make a full batch of Bloody Marys the night before and serve drinks in pitchers during brunch. If you want to prevent the ice problem, blend up a batch of frozen Bloody Marys.
Frozen Bloody Marys
For a new take on a classic, try frozen Bloody Marys. This recipe serves two.20
- ½ cup tomato juice
- 1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
- 1 cup fresh tomato chunks, frozen
- 1 Tbsp. and 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
- 3 dashes hot pepper sauce
- ¼ cup vodka
- ¼ tsp. salt
- 1½ cups small ice cubes
- Freshly ground black pepper
1. Blend all ingredients except the freshly ground black pepper in a blender until smooth.
2. Season with black pepper.
Health Benefits of Bloody Marys
With the right garnishes, your breakfast cocktail can double as a nutrition-packed salad. Fresh tomato juice is loaded with the antioxidant lycopene, which is also found in raw tomatoes.21 This antioxidant helps fight free radicals, which damage cells.22 If you buy canned tomato juice, look for brands with “no added sugar” and “low sodium” since additional spice mixes and garnishes can rack up sodium levels. In addition to celery and olives, you can use other healthy garnishes, including pickled green beans, asparagus, and carrots. A little protein, such as turkey bacon, shrimp, or crabmeat, will help keep you full until lunch. Add a small cube of cheese for calcium.23 Make your drink virgin for a well-balanced breakfast or stick to the classic version; one study shows vodka in moderation raises good cholesterol and lowers the risk of hardened arteries.24 When compared to other cocktails, Bloody Marys top the list as one of the most nutritious options.