Spicy Spirits: Belvedere Bloody Mary

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.

Drink recipe: New Orleans Bloody Mary

 More Bloody Marys to make bloody merry over!  This one is courtesy of “Cockail Guru” Jonathan Pogash, who made the drink on TV over the weekend. (Watch it here )

A few special touches make this version really interesting: 

1. the main spirit used is absinthe, not tequila or vodka, and it’s relatively light on the tomato juice, plus a good dose of lime juice instead of the lemon that brightens most Bloodies. I haven’t yet tried it, but it sounds like  a refreshing twist.

2. this drink is not for instant gratification freaks. Jon adds savory extras like salt & pepper, horseradish, and Tabasco, and then lets it meld for a full 24 hours

3. Then — and only then! — he pours it over ice and garnishes with something smoky and pickled, like okra.

New Orleans Bloody Mary (by Jonathan Pogash)

(serves 1)

1 oz. LUCID Absinthe

2 oz. Tomato juice

1 pinch black pepper

1 pinch horseradish sauce

1 dash Tabasco hot sauce

3 dashes Worcestershire sauce

1 dash kosher salt

1/2 oz. fresh lime juice

Directions: Combine ingredients and marinate for 24 hrs.  Then pour over ice into tall glass.

Garnish: Rick’s Picks “Smokra” pickled okra (or any other pickled vegetable)

Winner of The Bloody Mary Olympics

Mary on the Piste (photo courtesy of thepublican.com)

I’ve been on a Bloody Mary kick lately. Can you blame me? They used to be among my least-favorite drinks on the spicy spectrum, because too often they serve as an un-subtle tomato juice delivery system for booze. But recently they’ve been adopted as a wonderful canvas for exciting flavors and innovation. 

And so it was with great delight that I stumbled upon an account of a Bloody Mary Olympics held in London about a month ago. 

The rules:  entrants were given a dazzling and slightly nutty range of ingredients to work with, such as beetroot juice, Guinness, paprika, wasabi and roast garlic cloves. They were expected to pair the drinks with bar snacks ranging from filo pastry lollipops to popcorn crayfish marinated in vodka to corned beef hash. And each drink had to include a shot of Absolut, the spirits company sponsoring the event (grand prize was a trip to the Absolut Academy in Sweden). 

Here’s the winning drink, which I am translating into Americanized measurements.  (Speaking of translation, I had to look up “on the piste.” It’s a ski slope reference. I was concerned it might be crude menstrual cycle slang, considering the drink category and the British propensity for puns. I’m already sorry that I brought this up. Moving on…)

The cocktail was served with a frozen celery stick dipped in horseradish snow (similar to an ice cream, it melts slowly into the cocktail as you drink it).  And the accompanying snack was corned beef hash cakes and piccalilli (kind of a chopped tomato relish).

Although I don’t see any instructions for making “horseradish snow,” my best guess  is to mix together crushed ice with prepared white horseradish or grated fresh horseradish.

Mary on the piste

3 1/2 ounces tomato juice

1 1/4 ounce Absolut Peppar (or I suggest making your own jalapeno-infused vodka)

1/2 ounce dry sherry

Juice of half a lime

4 dashes of Lea and Perrins

2 dashes of Tabasco

1/2 tsp of Bovril diluted 1/10  (Yanks – try beef bouillion as a substitute)

Celery salt

Freshly ground pepper

Mix together and pour over ice in a 10oz glass. Make horseradish snow & spread on half a celery stick to garnish. (These are frozen & great for summer!) Serve with corned brisket of beef hash cakes with mustard and piccalilli.