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Searching for Perfect: The Bloody Mary

Mar 1, 2013 etc

Illustration by Henrietta HarrisBy Delaney Mes, January 2013


Described by my sister as “cold, alcoholic soup”, the Bloody Mary is one of those cocktails people either love or hate. They are the perfect addition to a hangover brunch: strong, spicy and, courtesy of all that tomato juice, offer a perversely perceived health kick.

After much solidly alcoholic research on my quest to unearth Auckland’s best, I have decided that vodka and tomato juice are the only requisite ingredients. I had coriander, capsicum, olives, cucumber, horseradish and smoked chipotle sauce, among other things, thrown at me at various bars. Usually shaken, sometimes stirred.

One bartender swore by celery salt. Another swore by homemade white pepper syrup. Either way, my eyes watered and my belly warmed as I put our city’s bars to the test.

Bloody Mary is an uncommon request on a rainy midweek evening, but our bartender at Mea Culpa, that somewhat serious cocktail bar, was happy to oblige. He looked at me dubiously when I said I liked them spicy, and asked me to quantify that on a scale of one to 10. I was ambitious, I threw down a 7.5. He responded with an attractive amount of arrogance, and explained that a dash of red wine is essential.

With an inventive garnish of fresh basil, white pepper syrup and two kinds of hot sauce, this drink had layers of cheek-flush burning. In a good way. My friend looked at me as if I was mad but, had I been hung over, I would have sweated it out immediately. Essential and attractive.

I tried favourite hangouts. At a late lunch at Depot , they served what I’m pretty sure was equal parts vodka, tomato juice and Tabasco: a tongue-burning concoction of little else. Likewise, Golden Dawn didn’t appear too interested, although they did oblige with an adequate attempt.

My challenge was embraced with more enthusiasm downtown. Britomart Country Club pride themselves on Bloody Mary Sundays, and rightly so. With the traditional celery garnish, this tall, well-shaken cocktail was a delightfully surprising sunny-afternoon hit. The attention to detail was impressive: this was a classic drink with good flavour, a nice kick and chilli around the rim. Dangerously, I could foresee many Sundays lost to Bloody Marys in BCC’s sun-soaked city haven.

We were essentially provided with a meal at new-kid-on-the-Britomart-block Xuxu, Cafe Hanoi ’s sister-bar across the road. I’d heard good things about the horseradish content of Cafe Hanoi’s Bloody Marys, and Xuxu’s bartender took pride in the challenge. He presented me with an Asian-inspired chilli, garlic and capsicum number, with a decent garnish of fresh coriander. This was more like cold, alcoholic soup than ever. My friends were horrified at my delight, but it was made with care and attention, and that’s all it takes, really.


My Bloody Mary

One bartender told me that without 60ml of vodka it was not a cocktail but simply a vodka tomato juice. I’ve gone with a fairly well-tested ratio of one part vodka, two parts tomato juice, although braver souls than I swear by including the two in equal amounts. Likewise, I chose to include the wine and the horseradish — many are not interested, but to me they provide the depth that turns a simple layered drink into a complex cocktail. Choose the best vodka you can, and if it’s chilli-infused, that’s good too.

60ml vodka

120ml tomato juice

A dash of red wine

¼ teaspoon of horseradish

A good few drops of Tabasco sauce

A squeeze of fresh lemon

A dash of Worcestershire sauce

Salt and freshly cracked pepper

To garnish: a celery stick, a lemon wedge and a pinch of chilli flakes.

Combine ingredients in a shaker, and shake well. Fill a tall glass with ice and strain the cocktail into the glass. Garnish with chilli flakes, another crack of pepper and the lemon wedge. Add the celery stick and enjoy.


Delaney Mes blogs at


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