Calexico. Picture: SUPPLIED
Calexico. Picture: SUPPLIED

There’s a Kris Kristofferson song lyric that goes: "… the beer I had for breakfast wasn’t bad, so I had one more for dessert". This was, of course, about a restorative attempt to deal with a hangover.

And since we’re talking about that headache — and the rest — the morning after, there’s the Bloody Mary. This cocktail is somewhat schizophrenic in that, on the one hand, there’s the "sweetness and light" version, which excludes vodka, called the Virgin Mary.

If you’re aiming for something more lusty and don’t have a hangover, there’s the Bloody Mary that contains vodka as a kicker, and is often savoured prebrunch, especially on a Sunday.

I first fell in love with this cocktail in Manhattan.

New Yorkers plan their Sunday brunches with much zeal and they almost always take place at restaurants with civilised live music.

The menu on offer at such outings includes a choice of drinks – among them, always, the Bloody Mary. The combination of ambience, music, the colour of the sky through tall glass windows, one’s choice of meal, and cocktail is pure feel-good entertainment.

Then there’s the bad boy: the dark side of the reason this cocktail exists. The journey to this shadowy elixir starts approximately 10 hours before, with some focused drinking.

To deal with the evil consequences of the imbibing, there’s the pressing need for a strong Bloody Mary, also known as "the hair of the dog". The expression was first used because it was thought that if a rabid dog bit you, treatment would include placing hair from said dog into the wound.

At this point, the cocktail becomes medicinal — and the best one can hope for is that it acts as a cure-all.

Potion for the pain

So, to the recipe. I first spotted the premixed Virgin Mary in a Manhattan supermarket. Avoid this kind of thing and always, always use the best-quality tomato juice you can find, and mix the cocktail yourself. A Virgin Mary is purported to be healthy. Well, yes, but what about the lift that vodka gives?

For research purposes I have, over the years, tried numerous variations.

So the main ingredient is high-quality tomato juice.

Picture: SYLVIA MCKEOWN
Picture: SYLVIA MCKEOWN

To construct the classic balance of sweet, hot, salty and acid: add salt and pepper, Worcestershire sauce and then the all-important "hot", created by using, say, Tabasco. My Irish friend (who is well acquainted with the hangover) religiously uses horseradish to add heat.

I prefer my "not so secret" ingredient: add some hot chillies to a bottle of Sedgwick’s Old Brown. The African Bird’s Eye variety packs a punch. Wait for a couple of weeks, if you can, then use the concoction in your Bloody Mary mix. The hot and sweet blend is a perfect marriage.

The classic presentation includes a stick of celery. However, I use celery salt instead — unlike sea salt, it adds an interesting dimension to the drink.

You may think the tomato juice in a Bloody Mary has vodka as its co-star. That is indeed so. However, I believe a good brand of vodka should be enjoyed over ice and possibly, at most, with a slice of lemon or orange. Tomato juice and all the other ingredients will mask the taste of fancy vodka, which is pointless. Don’t waste your cash, rather use an economy-class spirit for this purpose.

Speaking of tomato juice: mixologist Mitch Vermeulen, at Calexico in Joburg’s 44 Stanley Ave, muddles, mixes and makes the best Bloody Mary, bar none, by using fresh tomatoes. The taste is incomparable.

Warning: this is a bloody good cocktail but even so, curtail your morning-after drinking — you don’t want to wake up the next day with yet another hangover.

Calexico Vinyl Lounge, Bar & Grill,
44 Stanley Avenue, Milpark, Joburg
Tel: 011-482-5791

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