Making Cocktails Special
Much ado has been made of bloody Mary garnishes this year. Every couple of weeks a story seems to pop up in the news about the most outrageous bloody Mary. The west coast has their opulent brunch specials with bloody Mary bars that offer more food choices than an all you can eat dinner buffet. The eastern and southern coasts have tall hurricane glasses with shrimp and all manner of seafood as bloody Mary garnishes. But nowhere does the garnish of a bloody Mary become more ridiculous, more over the top, and more outrages than in the Midwest, most specifically, Wisconsin.
As a native Midwesterner and aficionado of the tomato brunch cocktail, I’ve had the pleasure to sample many of these works of art. From the simple celery stalk to the towering tree of bloody Mary fruit served at O’Davey’s Irish Pub & Restaurant in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. I’ve come to appreciate a good garnish, but also to learn its place.
Before breaking down and listing the essential elements of good bloody Mary garnishes, let’s put things in perspective. We’re making/ordering/drinking a cocktail here. So before we go dressing up the little tart, let’s make sure that she is of good stock. There’s nothing worse than paying $20.00 for some towering abomination, only to find that the bar or restaurant has used some cheap mix to craft the cocktail, a practice I call, “garnouflage.” Don’t try hiding a poor bloody Mary behind licorice ropes and pinwheels. Start with a good solid bloody Mary recipe.
So you have a good fresh drink. Great! Now it’s time to make a statement, provide a little extra nourishment, and give folks something to talk about and share with friends. Much of what makes bloody Mary garnishes great is the same as what makes a bloody Mary great; fresh ingredients, proper food handling, and presentation. Your aunt’s pickled turtle eggs might be the talk of the town, but no one is going to share a picture of it on Facebook if it’s sunk to the bottom of their drink. Get those garnishes up where we can see them. Using a skewer and resting the goodies on top of the glass lets the whole world see your art, and also saves room in the glass for the main attraction: The bloody Mary.
If your get together, restaurant, or bar has a theme, go with it. If you’re in Wisconsin, include cheese and sausage. If you’re at a beach party, add some shrimp. If you’re trying to promote your pirate themed eatery, skewer veggies on a hook. You get the idea: make it fun, interesting, and memorable.
Keep your bloody Mary garnishes properly stored or refrigerated until using. Seeing a 5 gallon bucket of pre-skewered cheese and wilted pickle sitting out in a smoky bar is disgusting Keep it fresh!
Our Picks for Top Garnish Honors
*Please add your own in the comments
Celery: This is the time-honored classic. The flavor compliments any bloody Mary, and those green leaves are an iconic symbol of daytime drinking.
Pickle: Pickles store well, and offer as many variations as the drink itself. Homemade is best. Never serve them wilted.
Olives: Again, they keep well, and most homes and bars have them on hand. They’re always a good complement to vodka.
Pepperoncini Peppers:a little sour, a little spicy, and a little salty like a good bloody Mary should be. Perfect. Their lighter color also makes for good accent.
Beef Stick: ’nuff said
Pepper-jack cheese: Yes, I’m from Wisconsin.
I consider these bloody Mary garnishes to be the first tier. Here are a few secondary possibilities please add your own: Beef jerky, shrimp, polish sausage, asparagus (pickled or fresh), cucumber, bacon, lemon and lime wedges, pickled eggs, pickled brussels sprouts…
-Greg Tooke My short bio