The arrival of spring means brunch season now kicks into high gear. And along with eggs Benedict and Belgian waffles, nothing beats a bloody mary with a chunky celery stalk poking over the rim as part of a late-morning meal. Some count on this tomato juice-based drink as a hangover cure, while others simply like to savor its zesty mix of spicy and salty flavors.
To experience what's earned the title of "best bloody mary in California," park your beach cruiser at 19th and Q streets and take a seat at midtown's Pour House. General manager Jason Poole won a statewide bloody mary contest sponsored by Absolut Vodka, and then reached the national finals where he earned second place. (The grand champion was Dennis Sutton of Rochester, N.Y., who garnished his winning cocktail with a Slim Jim for a swizzle stick.)
Poole now bottles his prized concoction as Preservation and Co. Bloody Mary Mix, which is part of a preserved foods business that will launch shortly on 19th Street near R Street. He's the right guy to query about making the best bloody mary at home.
"The beauty of a bloody mary is that it's one of those drinks where you can have a whole lot of flair," said Poole. "Anyone who orders a vodka and cranberry (juice) just gets vodka and cranberry. A bloody mary is up to the interpretation of the bartender. You can pick any flavor and go with it."
Poole's winning bloody mary uses a dozen ingredients, including capers, a balsamic reduction for a hint of sweetness, Dijon mustard, a touch of brine and more. Poole also coats the rim of the glass with some Sriracha salt a combination of the hot sauce and salt which is then dehydrated that he makes in Pour House's kitchen. The drink is served in a mason jar with pickled garnishes.
Poole's is an especially full-flavored bloody mary, with a quenchable mix of salty and spicy flavors.
"I picked (a few) things I like a lot: capers, mustard, and I already had a whole bunch of brine sitting around," said Poole about his mix. "I threw all those into a Bloody Mary and worked them until I found a proportion that I felt was appropriate."
Pour House sells more than 100 bloody marys during a given brunch service, and goes through about 50 quarts of the mix each week.
Coming in second place for the national round of the Absolut competition turned out to be a blessing. If Poole had won, Absolut would own that winning formula. Poole now sells his Bloody Mary mix at Pour House for $9 per quart, and $8 for a small jar of Sriracha salt.
As with the history of many classic cocktails, nobody knows for certain who invented the bloody mary. Some believe it's named after Queen Mary I, known for her ruthless persecutions of Protestants. She's also the namesake of the spooky childhood game Bloody Mary, in which her ghoulish apparition is supposed to appear when someone chants her name in front of a mirror.
Chris O'Hara, author of "Bloody Mary: The Ultimate Guide to the World's Most Complex Cocktail," has explored the drink's origins. He found that the cocktail may have been named for the actress Mary Pickford, or a reference to a bartender named Mary at Chicago's Bucket of Blood saloon.
"The bloody mary's origin has always been in dispute," O'Hara said. "One story holds that a man named Fernand Petiot invented it at Harry's New York Bar in Paris in 1921, which was known for serving American expats."
George Jessel, a well-known comedian from the 1930s, also claims to have invented the drink.
"Petiot never really disputed Jessel's claim," said O'Hara. "But (Petiot) does take credit for expanding on the original recipe, and adding the spices that make the modern-day bloody what it really is. First it was just vodka and tomato juice, but Jessel added salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper and Worcestershire sauce."
According to the International Bartenders Association, the drink should contain six parts tomato juice to three parts vodka and one part lemon juice. The cocktail then takes any number of additions. A few dashes of Tabasco sauce are customary to boost the flavor. A few shakes of celery salt and pepper, plus a celery stalk garnish, add the usual finishing touches.
But those are just the basics. Sriracha hot sauce commonly gets substituted now for Tabasco, which provides plenty of heat and notes of garlic but without as much acidity as Tabasco. A chunky slice of bacon might replace celery for a meaty garnish. One of Poole's competitors in the national bloody mary contest took an Asian approach using wasabi and sake as key ingredients.
Steve Nichols, who created the bloody mary recipe for midtown's Bacon and Butter, uses a secret blend of 21 spices to gussy up his version. He's also known to use vodkas infused with ginger and lemon.
"It should taste a little salty, spicy and acidic," said Nichols, who now works at New Helvetia Brewing Co. "You still want to taste a little vodka on the end, and make sure it's the right color. It should be a darker red, not quite maroon-ish."
Ready-made bloody mary mixes like Poole's make it easy to create this cocktail at home on an otherwise lazy Sunday morning. For those who want to create their own mix from scratch, Poole encourages people to experiment.
"Everyone can make bloody mary mix it's not rocket science," Poole said. "Tomato juice, Worcestershire sauce and horseradish are the key ingredients, but I embrace the idea of opening up your refrigerator. See what you really like and throw it in there. It's the most forgiving cocktail ever."
It all has to start with a solid foundation of tomato juice. This isn't as simple as throwing some tomatoes in a juicer, which will come out watery and fairly weak tasting. Salt and other seasonings are generally added for proper flavor. It doesn't take much for a 50-quart batch of homemade tomato juice, Poole might add 4.5 ounces of salt.
For a store-bought juice, Poole prefers Sacramento brand tomato juice, which is actually a company in Indiana.
A little brine from a jar of pickled vegetables works especially well to add some saltiness and acidity to a bloody mary. The key is to use the brine as an accent, unless you want a puckery mouth after taking a sip.
For a bloody mary that has just enough of a vodka kick, Poole recommends a ratio of three parts Bloody Mary mix to one part alcohol. With so many ingredients going on in the glass, taste carefully along the way to make sure one flavor isn't overpowering the others.
"For me, a bloody mary shouldn't aim to be gazpacho in a glass," said O'Hara. "Rather, it should be tangy and refreshing, balancing the acidity of the juice with the tang of the pepper and the zing of the citrus. Good bloody marys are not made with a recipe book."
Where to find an eye-opener
No wonder this town is dubbed "Sacatomato." Many top-notch bloody marys can be found around the Sacramento area, and here are some favorites:
Pour House, 1910 Q St., Sacramento; (916) 706-2465: General manager Jason Poole has the best bloody mary in California, according to an Absolut Vodka competition. Taste this zesty drink and you'll see why. His winning bloody mary mix is also available here for $9 per quart.
Ink Eats & Drinks, 2730 N St., Sacramento; (916) 456-2800: Drop by on Saturday and Saturday for Ink's bloody mary bar and build a cocktail to your liking. Ingredients include Ink's house mix, various hot sauces, blue cheese-stuffed olives, pickled green beans and more.
Fanny Ann's Saloon, 1023 Second St., Sacramento; (916) 441-0505: For those lazy mornings, nothing quite beats some heat to kick-start your senses. This potent bloody mary is known as one of the spiciest in town.
Riverside Clubhouse, 2633 Riverside Blvd., Sacramento; (916) 448-9988: With all of its garnishes, this bloody mary almost counts as a meal in a glass. The recipe calls for the housemade mix that's also used at Bistro 33 locations, the sister restaurants of this Land Park eatery.
Call The Bee's Chris Macias, (916) 321-1253. Follow him on Twitter @chris_macias.