At its core, the Bloody Mary is an unpretentious cocktail made with a spiced tomato base, vodka, lemon juice, and salad-esque garnishes. It’s one of life’s straightforward pleasures, yet it’s the pared-down ingredient list of this boozy beverage that actually allows for so many different versions to come to life.
Across the country, the concoction has spawned many riffs that uniquely showcase local flavors and regional styles. In many ways, the cocktail that is synonymous with brunch is also the ultimate postcard.
Here are a few of our favorite regional spins on the Bloody Mary.
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The Midwestern Mary
In the Midwest — more specifically in Minnesota and Wisconsin — the Bloody Mary has a reputation that has earned it nationwide attention. Affectionately known as the Midwestern Mary, the cocktail is often overly dressed with meats, cheeses, and an array of pickled veggies. But what makes this Mary distinct to the Midwest region is the “snit,” or beer chaser it is almost always accompanied by. According to Jessi Pollak, bartender and beverage manager at Minneapolis-based Spoon and Stable, it’s usually a small pour of light beer that is used to top off the beverage when a patron is halfway through enjoying it.
But aside from their shared love for the bloody, the formulation of the cocktail in these two states couldn’t be more different. “Minnesotans aren’t big on spicy things, so the recipe is generally straightforward and classic with a mild bottle of hot sauce served on the side,” says Pollak. On the contrary, Wisconsin is known for its over-the-top Bloodies which can largely be attributed to Dave Sobelman, owner of Sobelman’s Pub and Grill and creator of its famous Bloody Mary menu.
Sobelman’s menu began as a way to create the best Bloody in a town obsessed with the classic cocktail. “It started with a few pickled garnishes to support my neighbor, Bay View Packing, and the next thing I knew, I was putting entire fried chickens in my Bloody Marys,” exclaims Sobelman. His restaurant’s famously exaggerated garnishes include sliders as well as Wisconsin’s staple fried cheese curds.
On the West Coast
California cuisine is known for fresh produce and a refreshing, contemporary style, an ethos that’s more than apparent in the state’s riffs on the Bloody Mary. At Redbird in Downtown Los Angeles, bar director Tobin Shea crafts the so-called Modern Mary. Pale yellow and surprisingly translucent, it features clarified tomato and lemon juices, white balsamic vinegar, fennel, basil, and chili vodka. Served in a Collins glass and topped with soda water, this style of bloody is meant to deliver the same umami notes as its root drink, without the heavy feeling.
East Coastal Styles
Southern variations on the Bloody Mary are known to include a generous spread of fresh seafood and spicy mixes that channel the very best of the local cuisine, from the signature Cajun flavors of New Orleans to the local Old Bay seasoning of Baltimore, these flavorsome mixes are the ideal pairing for shellfish garnishes. We’re especially fond of Charleston’s The Darling Oyster Bar, which serves its signature Bloody with a king crab leg, pickled shrimp, and an oh-so-iconic hush puppy.
In a similar fashion, many Northeastern bloodies prize fresh lobster claws as a garnish, but what really sets riffs from this region apart are mixes like that of Cisco Brewers in Nantucket. A citywide staple, the locally infused vodka from Triple Eight provides the perfect peppery base for even the simplest dressed beverages.
Be it a small addition or complete reinvention, the classic ingredients in a Bloody Mary provide the perfect base for local flavors and personalities to shine. “I hate to use the word ‘improve,’ because to some people those are classics they look forward to every Sunday,” Shea says. But a modern spin that nods to the classics? Now that’s the way to make the Bloody your own.