For my fifth and final cocktail on Pouring Ribbons' Cuba 1958 menu, I partnered with Rachel Galea – shift manager, server, and graphic designer who designed every Pouring Ribbons menu from NYC 1983 onward – to create this clarified Bloody Mary riff for the nocturnal imbiber.
More often than not, a Bloody Mary is a one and done cocktail, a meal in and of itself. You know what I'm talking about. First, you eat your way through a plumage of elaborate edible garnishes: celery stalks, pickles, cheeses, cured meats, bacon, and in the most offensive cases, hamburgers and fried chickens. All that work just to gain access to the straw, which allows you to slurp down your spicy, vodka-spiked tomato paste. And don't forget all the chewy bits settled at the bottom of the glass, providing an additional course of shredded horseradish and crushed peppercorns.
As you may have gathered, I've had some heavy Bloody Marys in my day. I've also had plenty of exceptional, nuanced Bloody Marys. In fact, whenever I order a Bloody Mary, I also order a beer so I can pour it into the inevitable, thick, delicious dregs found at the bottom of the glass. While such decadence is fun at brunch, it makes for less than ideal post-dinner drinking when one should be settling the stomach, not stacking more meals.
With these concerns in mind, the Mojo Maria swaps the generally flavor-neutral vodka base for a blend of spirits that does much of the "seasoning." The universally standard Worcestershire sauce is replaced with a shrub adapted from Mojo, a Cuban sauce primarily flavored with bitter orange and garlic. The delicate, clarified tomato juice remains the star of the show and makes for a refreshing Bloody Mary you could drink one after another.
Mojo Maria recipe
1 oz Aylesbury Duck Vodka
.5 oz Rutte Dry Celery Gin
.25 oz Sotol Por Siempre
.25 oz Koch Espadin Mezcal
3 oz Clarified Tomato Juice
1 tsp Mojo Shrub
1 tsp Celery Syrup
1/2 tsp Acid phosphate
Garnish: Dehydrated Tomato Wheel & Celery Salt Half Rim
To apply the celery salt half-rim, rub an orange wedge around the outside of the mouth of the glass and roll in a saucer full of the rimming salt.
This cocktail was designed to be batched ahead of time and kept chilled so it may simply be poured over ice. If building to order, simply build in a glass over ice.
Strangely enough, in the cold fall and winter months leading up to the menu launch, Pouring Ribbons received a surprising number of requests for Bloody Marys, especially on nights I worked with Rachel. And while it wasn't a drink we could do on the fly at the bar, it did serve as the inspiration for the obligatory batched menu cocktail.
Bloody Mary cocktail
2 oz vodka
4 oz tomato juice
.25 oz lemon juice
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 dash hot sauce
salt to taste
cracked pepper to taste
I wanted Rachel to take the lead on this one while I offered spirit and ratio suggestions to nudge her in the right direction.
Aylesbury Duck Vodka
More often than not, when vodka is used in cocktails its purpose is either to lengthen the other flavors or to simply fortify those flavors without getting in the way. In this case, the vodka serves both purposes.
The Pouring Ribbons R&D process emphasized the importance of balancing cocktails with split spirit bases by demanding the combination of spirits works not only in the context of the cocktail – that base must be delicious on its own.
My original idea was to use mezcal as a base and "season" it with sotol and celery gin. Unfortunately, it was nearly impossible to find an agreeable ratio of these incredibly assertive spirits when combined with the clarified tomato juice and mojo shrub which are much softer than your typical tomato juice and Worcestershire. By starting with a neutral vodka base, we were able to dial back the other spirits to create a more nuanced blend that didn't overpower the tomato juice.
Ultimately, this spirit blend is a perfect match for any Bloody Mary recipe.
Aylesbury Duck Vodka was a high-quality distillate with a nice, rich texture specifically designed for use in cocktails. I say "was" because 86 Spirit Co discontinued the product last year. Luckily, any quality vodka will make for a fine substitute. I like Monopolowa, a Polish potato vodka (now distilled in Austria), for its oily body, subtle grassy/earthy flavor, and low price.
Rutte Dry Celery Gin
After trying the off-menu house gimlet at White Chapel in San Francisco, I was obsessed with procuring a bottle of Moletto, an Italian gin whose primary botanicals are juniper and tomato. I wanted to split the Moletto tomato gin with Rutte Dry Celery Gin for a Bloody Mary Tuxedo riff. This idea helped shaped my approach to the Mojo Maria.
Rutte Dry Celery Gin is exactly what it sounds like and is thoroughly delicious. There is no substitute, though Tanqueray infused with toasted celery seed would do the trick. In fact, you could use the leftover rinsed celery seeds used in the celery syrup production for said infusion.
Sotol Por Siempre
To be honest, my knowledge of Sotol as a spirit category is very limited. The few brands I've been lucky enough to try have ranged from earthy and vegetal to surprisingly confectionary with notes of hazelnut and cacao.
Sotol Por Siempre is a bit smokey and very earthy with a distinct carrot note. This is another bottle that will be hard to substitute, but I do recommend dipping your toes into this category if you can. And no, tequila is not a substitute.
Koch Espadin Mezcal
For the majority of R&D, we used the trusty Del Maguey Vida Mezcal, but ultimately it was too smokey and overpowering with a little too much tropical fruit. During the recipe finalization process, Rachel and Joaquín Simó nixed the Vida in favor of the very affordable Koch Espadin Mezcal.
Koch Espadin is less aggressive than Vida, with lots of green notes: agave, grass, bell pepper as well as lots of white pepper. Peloton de la Muerte would be a comparable substitute.
Clarified Tomato Juice*
Every Pouring Ribbons menu has had at least one completely batched cocktail that is usually kegged and carbonated or pre-bottled before service. This was one of those.
Typically, the biggest problem you will run into when batching Bloody Marys is how much the flavors change over time as they settle and marry, which leads to inconsistencies from day to day.
Just before we started menu R&D for Cuba 1958, the bar acquired a brand new Booker and Dax Spinzall. This was crucial for ensuring we could create large batches of clarified tomato juice very quickly. Because clarified juice is free of solids (aka nucleation points for bacteria), it won't change flavor as quickly and will have a longer shelf life.
The clarified juice is absolutely recommended for this cocktail as it is one of the biggest factors setting it apart from 99% of Bloody Mary variants. Non-clarified juice will still work, but the end result will be a heavier, more traditional Bloody Mary riff.
If opting for your preferred canned, bottled, or freshly juiced tomato, you should skip the celery syrup.
Rachel's primary flavor focus for this drink relied on her nailing the mojo shrub. Once she had it dialed in, it was simply a 1:1 substitute for Worcestershire.
Bonus: It makes for a stimulating pre-shift shot that will slap you harder than your favorite overproof rum.
Because the tomato juice lost its body and texture once clarified, the entire cocktail ended up just a tad too thin. Additionally, because there is no sugar in the mojo shrub (whereas Worcestershire's second and third ingredients are molasses and sugar respectively) a tiny bit of syrup was required. This rectified the texture without altering the sweetness and allowed us to continue echoing the celery notes throughout the cocktail.
Acid phosphate is a completely flavor neutral, shelf-stable acid which we used to nudge the acidity to perfect balance without interfering with dilution or flavor. While we could have simply increased the amount of shrub, that would have overpowered the rest of the cocktail.
Dehydrated Tomato Wheel****
While I was happy to serve this cocktail with minimal presentation, the dehydrated tomato wheel was added not only for a little visual pop but because it is The Law that all Bloody Marys must be garnished with something edible.
Celery Salt Rim*****
In keeping with my extremely pared-down presentation, I pushed for a saline solution in the cocktail. Thankfully, the decision was made by Rachel and Joaquín to incorporate this delicious celery salt rim.
While incorporating the toasted celery isn't crucial, it does draw a continuous line from the first sip through to the finish. The salt, on the other hand, is entirely necessary to get the most out of the tomato juice, as well as the spirits. It also tempers the harsh acidity from the shrub and acid phosphate.
*Clarified Tomato Juice
2-4 Tomatoes (Beefsteak will provide the most juice, but Roma tomatoes have a slightly more concentrated flavor.)
There are many different ways to go about clarifying your fresh tomato juice. The easiest is to follow the directions for juice clarification using a centrifuge, which is what we used at Pouring Ribbons.
In the event you don't have several hundred dollars invested into your home cocktail experiments, This article from Punch gives an overview of several clarification methods.
As for me, I would simply blend the tomatoes and fine strain the solids using a nut milk bag or cheesecloth. To get things really clear, give the juice an additional run through a coffee filter, but keep in mind each step of this manual clarification process will slightly reduce your yield.
8 oz apple cider vinegar
3 cloves garlic
2 bay leaves
.5 tablespoon cumin seed
.5 tablespoon dried oregano
.5 tablespoon dried sweet orange
.25 tablespoon bitter orange
.25 tablespoon coriander seed
1. Roast the garlic at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for one hour.
2. Toast the coriander and the cumin seeds until aromatic, being mindful not to burn them.
3. Combine all ingredients and infuse 48 hours. Fine Strain. [Yields 8oz of shrub]
250g hot water
250g white granulated sugar
3.5g celery seed (.5 tablespoon)
1. Combine the sugar and hot water. Blend until sugar dissolves to make simple syrup.
2. Toast the celery seeds on low heat until aromatic, being mindful not to burn them.
3. Combine toasted celery seeds and the hot simple syrup. Steep for 24 hours. Fine strain the celery seeds. [Yields 12oz of syrup]
****Dehydrated Tomato Wheel
Slice a tomato into thin wheels about one centimeter thick. Place in a dehydrator set at 165 for 8 hours or until slightly leathery.
*****Celery Salt Half Rim
50g Sea Salt
5g Celery Salt
Toast the celery seeds on low heat until aromatic, being mindful not to burn them. Once cooled, combine with the sea salt.