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Everything I Use to Make a Perfect Bloody Mary (and I’ve Had More Than 200)

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A few years ago, I bought tickets to the Bloody Mary Festival — an annual “celebration of the most beloved brunch cocktail” that travels the country — when it came to Brooklyn. To this day I dream about the curry-spiced bloody I tasted there, and also still remember when, after sidling up to the Mediterranean stall, I put what looked like a garnish of feta in my mouth. Except it wasn’t feta — it was a bacon-flavored marshmallow, and the worst thing I’ve ever tasted. Which is ironic, because a proper Bloody Mary is among one of the best.

Aside from the bloodies I remember from that day (and the marshmallow-topped one I’m still trying to forget), I’ve tried about 200 other kinds. I’ve sipped them at Stephanie’s on Newbury in Boston, gotten a hearty kick in the pants from Little Goat’s “The Hair of the Goat Bloody Mary” in Chicago, and even made a pilgrimage to the home of the Bloody Mary, Harry’s New York Bar in Paris. Here in New York, I’ve made my own at the DIY Bloody Mary Bar at Saxon + Parole, drunk my way through Prune’s 11-deep menu, and savored one topped with actual cheese at Edwards, which serves bloodies garnished with blue-cheese foam.

I’m no professional bartender (but my sister is), and whether by nature or nurture, my years of nonscientific research have resulted in a palate that can discern the exceptional (Holy Ground’s smokehouse of a bloody) from the very bad (the marshmallow-topped one). And when my taste buds recognize a Very Good Bloody, I always ask what’s in it — because, as I’ve grown to prefer brunching at home over fighting for a table on weekend mornings, I’ve found the only thing more satisfying than a proper Bloody Mary is making one (or a pitcher) myself.

My time-tested recipe starts with add-ins: I begin by tossing a few dashes of olive juice (from the jar), a few dollops of horseradish (juice included), some freshly ground pepper (any kind), the zest and juice of one lemon and lime, and a generous squeeze of sriracha, to the pitcher. Then I add a bottle of tomato juice and tweak for flavor (I pour one or two shots of booze directly into a glass, and then pour my mixture in and stir to combine before serving). Below, the basic ingredients and gear I use to make and serve my crowd-pleaser — which can be personalized with whatever extra garnishes you like, and should always start with vodka (if you ask me, it should be Tito’s).

I discovered Gordal olives when some came in a martini I ordered, but where these meaty, salty beauties really shine is in bloodies. At almost $20 a jar, they aren’t the cheapest, but there is no other olive I will use — there’s a heftiness to these (Gordal translates to “the fat one”) that makes them a participating ingredient, rather than just a vehicle for more salt.

For Bloody Mary horseradish, I turn to Gold’s, or what I call the Hellman’s of horseradish — it’s the same spicy, satisfying, and familiar brand I grew up dousing over gefilte fish.

I take a nose-to-tail approach to citrus: before squeezing fresh juice from lemons and limes into my bloodies (and cutting up the fruits for a garnish), I throw some ultraflavorful zest into the mix. This tiny workhorse gadget allows me to zest and juice — it’s a studio-dwelling, Bloody Mary–maker’s dream.

I’ve noticed Sriracha Bloody Marys popping up on more and more menus lately, but, because I like it hot, this ingredient dates back to 2009 for me (I’d recommend a generous squeeze to start, then adding more as you see fit).

Truly my most prized possession, this hardworking pitcher has it all when it comes to Bloody Mary service. The central ice insert keeps liquids cool even in the warmest temperatures (indoors or out), and the stir stick helps evenly distribute any add-ins, so each glass is an ideal pour.

When I ask for my Bloody “extra spicy,” I’m rarely taken seriously. So I’ve learned to take no chances with my mix, and there is no better base than spicy, briny Clamato picante. (Those with milder tastes should opt for the original Clamato tomato cocktail.) Clamato is made with dried clam broth, which gives it a nice brininess — it has so much more dimension than a regular tomato juice.

Some might say a toothpick is a toothpick is a toothpick. But these are no ordinary toothpicks: Long enough to stay propped up, it can as double as a stir stick and hold whatever extra garnishes you like. They really go the distance — and are reusable, because they’re stainless steel.

Often people coat their Bloody Mary glasses with “rim salt,” but I think there’s enough sodium in the drink that you don’t need more outside of it, too. Za’atar, however, is a different story. I first fell in love with the dried sesame seed–thyme-oregano-sumac blend when my Israeli friend’s aba smuggled some back from his homeland, and picked up the tip from Cafe Mogador to coat the rims of my Bloody Mary glasses with it.

Generally, I don’t mess with ice cubes. But on extra-hot days, these larger cubes have enough chill for one glass (the silicone tray makes it much easier to extract them in one piece). And I’ve found the best way to keep a bloody from diluting as ice melts is to use cubes made from my virgin Bloody Mary mixture — each time I make a batch, before I add the vodka, I’ll fill a tray with some and throw it in the freezer, so I’ve got bloody ice at the ready.

You could use a standard highball glass, but I prefer these lightweight Hurricane glasses because their stems ensure dry hands stay that way. Plus, they look so festive with a lime or lemon wedge nesting on their rim. And “shatterproof” is never a bad idea — especially when it comes time for a second round.

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The Best Stuff for Making Bloody Marys at Home