Remaking Bloody Marys, Global Province Letter, 22 February 2012

Sunday in late December
calls for one, with a celery stalk
and faint taste of Worcestershire,
to be sipped while eating
poached egg and corned beef hash,
in a hotel dining room
with someone you love. Touch
the hairs at his wrist
as the warmth endorses
all bed-lingering, non-churchgoing.
It's the solstice, remember,
when your frugal father
would hand around dollar bills
so the day would last longer.

The Bloody Mary—Susan Donnelly

Beginning the Day. People of some authority, such as Frank Kelly Rich, editor and publisher of Modern Drunkard Magazine, will first rouse the day with a Bloody Mary. We readily admit that it is a morning drink. And we believe it should be the rule for any civilized person to drink the right drink at the right time in the right place. Ms. Donnelly, as she says in her verse, thinks it best for a brunch in a companionable hotel on Sunday, a bite out perhaps after a romantic night with a loved one. A drink out of context is mere swill, losing potency and magic if the circumstances are too banal.

We have found another uplifting usage, but still by daylight. Of an afternoon, again on the weekend, we will watch a golf match with the sun still pouring in past the shutters. Down in the kitchen we can catch Tiger or Ernie Els squeezing off shots as we make our Bloody. The nice thing about the drink is one does not have to use a lot of alcohol, and we have reached the age where you drink for quality and not quantity. More importantly, getting a Bloody Mary right takes an unearthly amount of time, especially as one pauses to watch this stroke or that in the competition crowded onto the TV screen. So one can get by with just 2 Bloodys for the 18 holes. Temperate but not temperance.

It's a Process. The truth is that a fine Bloody Mary demands a lot of the maker. For starters any of the prepared mixes are simply god awful, it being a gruesome tie between the indigestible stuff one pours out of a can at home or aboard a flight or the tawdry slop sequestered in bottles that sit in bar refrigerators, eerie venom the barkeeps swear to be their secret formulae and which, they claim, will put you in Xanadu. There are also a plethora of bad bloody-awful recipes on the internet that will help you make a bad situation worse, some even posing as half scientific.   Amidst this minefield of horrible mixes and bad information, we have studied how to get the Bloody right.

We live in a time of cruel paradoxes anyway. The cocktail is enjoying a revival. Yet the revival is stillborn. The cocktails at most any bar are increasingly trashy, sculpted by those who know little of drink. Recently the Wall Street Journal devoted a page to Manhattans ("Make Mine A Manhattan") and, true to form, added so much complication that a drink is guaranteed to turn out badly. Bartenders are like consultants:  if they make things complex enough, they can sell their ostensible wisdom to a whole bunch of suckers at high prices. Best to get back to basics.

At the end of the day, David Embury's The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, a fine drinks book by a New Yorker broker published in 1948, is the place to start. Our 1958 edition is much tattered but very worthy. On page 234, you will find a commonsense Bloody recipe – 6 parts tomato juice, 1 part vodka, a few drops of Tabasco, Worcestershire, or A1 Sauce, maybe a touch of lemon juice or a lemon slice. In other words, keep it pretty simple and start from scratch. Nothing pre-made; no absurd ingredients. This is the right starting point.

That said, modern times demand a few precautions. And a little more precision. One should use a big shaker (the little ones used now to make single drinks create a vapid product) that can be shaken vigorously and even passed up and down a line of helpers as Mr. Ramos used to do with the Ramos Gin Fizz. A key ingredient to add is horseradish, but horseradish freshly ground with a good zester. It has become common enough to insert a small stick of celery in Bloodys: this is tasteless and we are experimenting with a correct replacement. Most recently we have used a scallion which was a considerable improvement. Measure out 2 drops of Tabasco, and 6 drops of Worcestershire.

The Quest Never Ends. Already our Bloodys taste worlds better, and we wonder why we did not start our investigations years ago. But we are a long ways from perfection. We need a much better shaker, and will have to chip finer ice. The glass has yet to be designed that will bring out the best. And, most of all, we have to get much more deeply into spices, since this can kick the drink up several notches. We intend to consult our Spicelines colleague on what else the fields of the East may offer this Western drink. A finer black pepper will help a great deal. Turmeric should be in the blend. Tomato juice out of the bottle will not do in the long run:  better that we squeeze the tomatoes, as does our favorite Mexican chef.

Merchant Craft Goods through Knowledge Infusion. Writ large, the correct making of the Bloody Mary tells us where we must go with our economy. The age of mass manufacturing and mass marketing is drawing to a close, painfully and slowly, but surely. In this new age of the boutique economy on which we have commented elsewhere, a whole different style is required. The ingredients of a product must be carefully cultivated and picked. Designs must be well engineered and esthetically conceived. The selling of the product must be very personal. In other words, the task is to infuse every step of the making and marketing with the knowledge that an advanced developed nation can bring to bear, the bundle of knowledge which is the only leverage high- cost nations have in a world where so many others can make and market things 10 times more cheaply.

Craft and Paper. As it happens, maybe by accident, The New York Times just published two articles, almost side by side, that point the way to our economic future. "It Ain't Just Pickles" suggest that "craft businesses may portend the future of the U.S. economy."  "Many of the manufacturers who are thriving in the United States…have done so by avoiding direct competition with low-cost commodity producers in low-wage nations. Instead, they have scrutinized the market and created customized products for less price-sensitive customers."  In fact, the new kind of producers go way beyond craft, tightly overseeing every step of the product—from husbanding raw materials to putting the product into the consumer's hands. Just as we have insisted that the Bloody Mary has to be drunk in the right spot in the right situation at the right time of day, the intense value producer even makes sure his or her product gets used correctly. Products and services now are like operatic productions where a huge number of variables must be orchestrated and harmonized.

We would draw your attention to another article in the February 19 Sunday Times Magazine for an example of the total custom manufacturer. "Cellulose Hero" describes the very high end paper created by Timothy Barrett, asking us, "Can a Papermaker Help to Save Civilization?"  "Barrett's work has been driven by the notion that good materials, worked by hand, transmit their power in ways that the products of less painstaking manufacture can't."  It must be painstaking. One must have a sensitive hand in the middle of things, be it papermaking or serious drinking.

P.S. "The success of Ramos Gin Fizz depends upon the amount of arm power used in making it rich and creamy. At Ramos' original bar in New Orleans, which has now been revived, half a dozen (bar boys) … stood in line shaking fizzes as the bartender handed them on. Each shaker was passed all the way down the line, with every (helper))…tossing it strenuously for half a minute or so."---The Wine Cookbook-1960

P.P.S. Open for Business. Several readers have wondered why they have not heard from us lately. Our internet provider went belly up…without notice. We have had to spend a bit of time finding somebody who could do the job whom we could trust to be financially stable for years to come. Please note that the Global Province is again open, and the letters will be forthcoming. Interestingly, we now realize that we will have to change out some of our other long-term information system providers.

P.P.P.S. We must counsel you further on Bloody Mary 'expertise' you should ignore. "There will be Bloodies,' which appeared in the Wall Street Journal, suggests additives as well as sundry liquors that ostensibly will beef up your drink. Strictly verboten. This is the poison that ruins your taste buds. Garbage in, garbage out.

P.P.P.P.S. Bloody Marys arouse Proustian memories in us. We never drink one but that we call to mind Marys of long ago. After an afternoon's sail in olden San Francisco we came back for a visit with our hostess at her home on Pacific Heights. Sitting back on the divan in the more than ample kitchen, we paused as her gracious Spanish husband conversed with us. Then the Bloodys arrived, paired with bowls of turtle soup. Laced with streams of laughter, the talk never ended. The Bloodys ran thick.

We can see other memorable settings where Bloodys might just expand the spirits. The most powerful soap opera of the moment is Downton Abbey from England. It is all the rage in the UK and America. PBS just ran a marathon of several episodes to end the season, thinking that this popular show would help it raise zillions. Covering the early 20th century years of upper class folk and their servants but flowing right into World War I, it merits a watch with drink in hand. A drink that is colorful, that is. There's more to come as you can learn in "Good Bet: More Turmoil for 'Downton.'"

P.P.P.P.P.S. There's a dilemma these days to having drinks out. The bars only serve half a drink but charge twice the price. That's all of a piece with most businesses these days which labor at charging much more for much less. The problem here is that shrimp-sized drinks, for some reason, have a diminished taste, even with all the useless ingredients bars add to try to offer original cocktails. Years ago, the Yale Club of New York City proudly served a double martini that was a real drink, such that the Harvard chaps came over to the Yale Club when the Harvard mismanagers chopped down the size of their drinks at the Harvard Club on 44th. Harvard had to roll back its cutback, as shamefaced as Netflix which recently had to restore its original product after losing battalions of its subscribers. But dem days are gone forever, and the Yale Club now serves up half a drink. The young grads there now all drink wine anyway, so what do they know about drinks. Do make a big drink even if you don't imbibe the whole thing.


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