While Champagne is traditional for New Year’s Eve, so much else gets slurped down in between toasts that come morning only one remedy is suited for the sins of the night before. In the tassel-loafer panhandle of Connecticut from which I hail, a riot would break out were there a lack of Bloody Mary ingredients at dawn on New Year’s Day.
The bright-red highball with the gory name contains the makings of a sublime restorative: vitamins (tomato juice), palate stimulants (hot spices) and hair of the dog (vodka). But it took surprisingly long to catch on. Not old enough to be a real classic (tomato juice wasn’t available until 1917), nor strictly a cocktail (no bitters), the drink was invented in the 1920s. Its creation was claimed both by the renowned bartender Fernand Petiot and George Jessel, an anticommunist entertainer who normally eschewed things that were “red” and had Russian ingredients.
Today, time is better spent arguing over the recipe, not the origin. At its simplest, it combines two parts vodka with four to six parts tomato juice over ice. But the fun is in the seasoning (perhaps sea salt, black or red pepper, basil, horseradish, Worcestershire sauce, even Tabasco or chipotle). Heretics add beef consommé, but that’s really a Bloody Bull. Limes or lemons add acidity and, of course, you’ll need celery for swizzling. Those with forethought mix the nonalcoholic ingredients days in advance and let the flavors steep. You might also present the ingredients to your guests and let them build their own.
With a drink so pungent, the choice of vodka brand isn’t that critical. If the spirit makes the tomato part too watery, use the thickest juice you can find or add puree. Even blend with fresh cherry tomatoes. Alternatively, you could use less vodka—but I jest.