Once upon a time the Bloody Mary was a simple drink – vodka, lemon and tomato juice, and possibly the hot sauce of your choice. That was somewhere between the late 20s and 30s, when the drink was first mixed. But, much like life in modern times, things have gotten a whole lot more complicated since then.
Not long after the Bloody Mary was born, bartenders started tweaking it to make it their own. They added salt, pepper, cayenne, Worcestershire Sauce, garlic, celery salt, red pepper flakes, chipotle and any number of other elements to make it more savory, satisfying and just plain tasty. Garnishes went from a simple stalk of celery or a pickle spear to skewers of olives and cheese cubes or even beef jerky. In short, a simple drink became a large-scale pain to make. Especially for an early Sunday morning brunch after a hard night when a well-made Bloody sounds so amazing.
We are Americans, however, and if we want a delicious Bloody Mary to ward off the living hell known as a hangover, or even just to cap off a perfect brunch, it's our right to do so without chopping garlic, breaking out the spice rack or otherwise inconveniencing ourselves in any way, shape or form. Luckily, we don't have to - there are literally hundreds of bottled Bloody Mary mixes out there. Every single one of them just needs vodka (or beer) added to be a ready-to-go solution to the brunch challenges of modern man. Sure, they're not as good as homemade, but they'll go a long way toward satisfying dehydrated brunch-goers throughout the country in a hurry.
ZingZang Bloody Mary Mix – A first place winner in the “Fiery Food Challenge” in New Mexico, ZingZang is about as close to homemade as a bottle can be. It's thick and rich, with hefty tomato and garlic flavors. There's a slight lemon and vinegar tang to it as well, with heavy doses of cayenne and black pepper providing some serious heat all the way through. It has an impressively beefy taste, with chunks of spices floating around in the mix. Great with vodka or beer, it was easily the best of the class, though perhaps a bit hard to find in some areas and not a great choice for anyone too sensitive to spice.
LongBranch Bloody Mary Zinger – A favorite of Chicago-area bartenders, LongBranch is an excellent choice for anyone looking to customize their Bloody a bit. There's great fresh tomato flavor paired with a solid lug of cayenne, though not enough to create more than a little warmth. Extremely smooth and without much texture from coarse ground spices, it's a blank canvas to paint up with extra garlic, spices, raw egg, or whatever else screams Bloody Mary to you at the time. Fresh horseradish makes a huge difference in here – adding some fire and much-needed tang, not to mention a wake-up call for the sinuses. It’s tasty on its own, but far better after adding some personal touches.
Ditka's Kick-Ass Bloody Mike Mix: Thick & Spicy – Sadly, no matter how badass Mike Ditka was in the NFL, his Bloody Marys are the punters of the cocktail world. The mix is certainly thick, but the corn syrup added to the bottle gives it a ketchup flavor that desperately needs some spice to balance it out. Anyone who's a fan of sweeter Bloodys will be all for this, but anyone looking for the typical savory drink won't be well-served – though adding beer rather than vodka and plenty of pepper and cayenne to the mix goes a long way toward making it work.
Mr. & Mrs. T Bold & Spicy Bloody Mary Mix – Neither bold nor spicy, Mr. & Mrs. T still manages to deliver a tasty bottle. It's slightly sweet with some bright tomato flavor. Onion and celery salt add nice savory notes, but it needs more garlic and pepper to really shine. The flavors here are mild, but with a little added spice this could be the base for a great Bloody Mary. Of course, that might just defeat the entire purpose of buying a bottled mix to begin with.