To some, a Sunday brunch is not a Sunday brunch without a Bloody Mary. Its recuperative properties have long been debated, but there is no disputing the fact this is the most lycopene-packing cocktail around. Holla! Tomato juice is the foundation for the drink, and of course a wee bit of vodka, but the fun comes in what else makes its way into the mix. Horseradish, lemon or lime juice, Worcestershire sauce, salt and black pepper are almost always present. Tabasco, beef bouillon, celery salt and cayenne are not far behind. Then there are the garnishes – olives, celery stalks, pickled okra, pickled carrots, lemon or lime… I’ve even seen shrimp and lobster somehow climb their way atop a glass.
My favorite Bloody Mary recipe comes from Greg Best and Andy Minchow at Holeman & Finch here in Atlanta. It pulls together your typical ingredients, plus a golden beet, some fennel, some Guinness and sriracha. And its made-from-scratch character shines through tremendously well. Serve it up when you have friends over and you will be handing out the recipe left and right. And, really, if you’re entertaining, why not pull out all the stops and make your Bloody Mary mix from scratch? There is something to be said for the bright flavors that fresh squeezed citrus juice and freshly grated horseradish bring to the drink.
As for bottled Bloody Mary mixes… there are a million out there. The best-selling Mr. & Mrs. T is not too bad in a pinch, and it seems most regions have their own local favorites. Today’s post focuses on two artisan mixes from the South – one from Charleston Mix in, duh, Charleston, South Carolina, and one from Atlanta’s H&F Bottle Shop (the same folks who created the recipe above, but it must be noted that the bottled version is an entirely different concoction). The Charleston Mix comes with the endorsement of Sean Brock and Garden & Gun Magazine (who am I to argue with that??). The mixologists at H&F have been lauded left and right, and for good reason – they know cocktails like crazy (Google Greg Best or Andy Minchow, go ahead, I dare you). Enough with the accolades though… how do they taste?
It’s evident right away that these two products are very different beasts. The Charleston Mix Bold & Spicy lives up to its name. It’s fairly thin, a rusty red color flecked with plentiful spice. The ingredient list is lengthy, starting with water and tomato paste, plunging into apple cider vinegar and lemon juice, veering off to roasted vegetable base, beef base, habanero mash, and a vast conspiracy of herbs and spices. Once you taste it, black pepper, celery seed, and a lemony twang jump to the forefront, but there is A LOT going on here. Behind the heat and acidity, a dark brown sugar mellowness adds depth. It goes down quick, and you’ll be ready for a second one in no time.
The H&F Bloody Mary Mix is bright tomato red, thick like a puree, almost like a marinara in texture. As for the ingredients, the list is short – nine items – but includes one novelty in Cream Sherry to provide a bit of sweetness and punch. The first item? Tomato. As in, NOT tomato juice. And you can see it in the thickness of the product. The flavors veer much more towards fresh tomato sweetness and vegetable notes. The spice and the zing are a bit more in the background here – it’s clear they’re not trying to blow out your taste buds with heat, but horseradish makes its presence known. H&F notes on the bottle that their mix is a base for exploration, encouraging folks to add Worcestershire or hot sauce. For my taste buds at least, some added heat is a mandatory to get the kind of kick-in-the-pants I expect from a Bloody Mary. That’s not a knock against H&F’s mix, just a recognition that their mix is more about balance and less about the spice. And it drinks almost like a meal.
So is there a victor between these two? Personally, I appreciate the powerful spice profile of the Charleston Mix – that’s what I’m looking for in a Bloody Mary mix. H&F gives you more room to play doctor with your drink, and a more “homemade” feel, so for those who like to add a dash of this and a squirt of that (or for a more timid crowd who can’t take heavy heat), it is probably the better option. Either way, you’re in good hands, and will be off to a great start to your day with your Bloody Mary in hand.
H&F Bloody Mary Mix is available at the H&F Bottle Shop in Atlanta, $8 for 32oz.
Charleston Mix is available on their website or in select stores in South Carolina, including Whole Foods, $10 for 32oz.
Related: for another Charleston artisan of cocktail mixers, check out our review of Jack Rudy Cocktail Co. Small Batch Tonic.
Full Disclosure: Charleston Mix provided a tasting sample for this review.