I’m a sucker for hotel bars with history. So of course I couldn’t resist an invitation to a spirits preview event at the King Cole Bar at the St. Regis Hotel, where the Bloody Mary was born — and where 5,000 Bloodies are served each week.
The spirit in question was Belvedere Bloody Mary, which will launch nationwide in April. Truth is, I know of a gazillion Bloody Mary mixes, where the instructions are “just add vodka” (or tequila, or other alcohol of choice). But this is the first spirit I know of where the flavoring is within the vodka, and the instructions are “just add tomato juice.”
Clare Smith, Head of Spirit Creation and Mixology for Belvedere (she was a brand ambassador before the term became ubiquitious) was on hand to explain how the product was made: each flavored ingredient is distilled separately, and then the flavored vodkas are blended together. So the Bloody Mary includes seven different distillations: fresh tomato, black pepper, horseradish, bell pepper, chile pepper, lemon, and vinegar.
According to Smith, the bottled blend is “recipe #37,” and over 200 flavor combinations were tried. The winning recipe includes equal parts black pepper and horseradish, and roughly 0.1% vinegar distillate, which “mimicks freshness without the hit of heat Tabasco would bring.”
Some of the flavors that were tried but discarded included habanero peppers, birds-eye chiles, green peppers, garlic, sundried tomato, and onion.
“The onion was nice on the nose, but it tasted awful,” Smith confided. “It was like the taste of onions the day after you’ve eaten them.” Gross. Thanks for sparing us that particular flavor. But knowing that all those flavors are in the Belvedere bank, I’m curious as to what blend might be released next.
So how was it? The finished vodka is clear — not red — which was a shrewd decision, since it can be blended into other drinks. Tasting the vodka straight, it has a distinct black pepper aroma, with warm hint of fresh tomato essence. On the tongue, it’s sweet, with a sharp, tangy finish (I presume that’s the vinegar/horseradish note), and a soft feel.
I also tried the Belvedere Bloody Mary cocktail (that’s it in the photo above) made with the vodka, tomato juice, Merlot, lemon juice, Tabasco, and a touch of salt. It’s a slam dunk in the drink — as it ought to be – and although I prefer my Bloodies with a bit more heat, the vodka surely should make for idiot-proof Bloody Marys at hangover brunches galore. (“It’s awful that the drink is relegated to one you drink when you feel terrible,” Smith said. I concur.)
I also tried the Belvedere Spiced Island Daiquri (Bloody Mary vodka, fresh pineapple juice, lime juice, simple syrup, a touch of smoked paprika). Unfortunately, this drink didn’t work as well – the black pepper and an odd vegetal twang come through where you don’t really want it.
Now, here’s the drink I would have preferred to try: Smith recommended a dirty martini with a lemon twist. I can easily imagine that — super well-chilled, served with a briny/savory snack like smoked salmon on toast. Now that sounds like an appealing drink to me.