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Tastes of Texas: The Cocktail Manifesto -- Part IV, The Bloody Mary

With care, the right ingredients, and a little bit of effort, anyone can make a good drink.

Throughout this series, Jeff Haley has had few good things to say about vodka and the subsequent cocktails derived from it. In almost every case I agree wholeheartedly with Mr. Haley's assessment. Vodka is absolutely flavorless and is just a step above drinking rubbing alcohol in my book. In fact, I've been on record several times stating that vodka is booze for people who don't really like booze. That said, I make one glaring exception regarding vodka in cocktails: The Bloody Mary.

The Bloody Mary is the quintessential brunch/early morning tailgating beverage. Yet, for drink that is so widely consumed you would be hard pressed to find any two establishments with the same recipe. Unlike the cocktails Jeff has already discussed that have mostly consistent recipes, give or take a few tweaks, the Bloody Mary is somewhat of an aardvark in the cocktail world. Against that backdrop I'm not going to attempt to tell y'all what makes a perfect Bloody Mary; there are far too many variations and personal tastes at play to do that. Instead, I'll take y'all through the basics, as well as some common ingredients and additives, and let you fight it out in the comments for whose recipe should reign supreme.

At the most basic level a Bloody Mary is some mixture of tomato juice and vodka, shaken or stirred with ice. In fact, if you've ever ordered one on a commercial airline, that's about what you get. Thankfully, at BON we know better and are much more selective with our Bloody Mary ingredients. I personally think Spicy V8 makes the best Bloody Mary. It has more flavor than tomato juice and gives the drink a naturally spicy base. However, the number one complaint I get when I use V8 is that the final drink is too thick. If this is the case with you, I recommend using a base of half V8 and half Clamato to thin up the drink. Keep in mind, however, that a Bloody Mary made with Clamato is actually called a Caesar, but I think the naming committee is splitting hairs with that particular distinction.

Another viable option for your base is to use a pre-made Bloody Mary mix with all the spices already included. Honestly, though, the only mix I've ever found worth buying is Zing Zang, and even then I still feel the need to add additional ingredients, so unless I'm in a hurry, I steer clear of the pre-bottled concoctions.

Regardless of what you choose for your base, start with a ratio of about 3 parts tomato, 1 part vodka in your shaker. Then the fun begins.

There are three ingredients in addition to the tomato and vodka every Bloody Mary should have: Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, and citrus. I like to add about 3-4 heavy dashes of Worcestershire, 3-6 dashes of hot sauce and a mix of both lemon juice and lime juice. The classic hot sauce used in the drink is Tabasco, but feel free to get creative with your hot sauce choices; I find Cholula or Valentina work very well.

After adding these three necessary ingredients, the rest is essentially up to you and your imagination. I've seen people use everything from cucumber vodka to a splash of dark beer, to olive brine to create their own unique recipe. Despite this wide array of ingredients, I do have very strong opinions about which ones make a proper drink.

First, you have to have a dash or two of celery salt. Some people think that simply adding a celery garnish is enough to impart the celery flavor into the Bloody Mary, but it simply isn't true. If you believe the drink should have that celery flavor ( I do), the celery salt is a must. Be careful though, because too much will make the drink bitter.

Second, I like to add several dashes of pepper, and occasionally, Cajun seasoning to taste. Finally, and I find this is the most debated ingredient in my Bloody Marys, I like horseradish in the drink. Lots and lots of horseradish. It's best if you can use fresh grated horseradish root, but the prepared variety out of a jar works well, too. A word of warning: if you use a lot of horseradish like I do, you might need to back off of the amount of Worcestershire and citrus in your drink because things can start tasting like cocktail sauce very quickly. I personally do not find this to be a problem, but it is a very hit or miss flavor for some people, so tread lightly.

Shake your conglomeration of ingredients vigorously in a shaker with ice and pour all the contents into a fresh glass. Garnish with a celery stalk, or olives, or pepperoncini peppers, or pickled green beans, or picked okra, or a pickle, get the point.

It's a complex drink, but I'd rather have nothing else over brunch. I look forward to hearing your variations.