Detox by Re-tox: The Origins of the Bloody Mary and Tabasco’s Tango with Vodka


A Bloody Mary with kim chi, fish oil, sriracha, and rosemary salt. Photo by dana robinson from los angeles, ca, usa, via Wikimedia Commons.

A Bloody Mary with kim chi, fish oil, sriracha, and rosemary salt. Photo by dana robinson from los angeles, ca, usa, via Wikimedia Commons.

One will never see a Bloody Mary in front  of me early on a Sunday as the brunch hour approaches. French 75s, Mint Juleps, or Pimm’s Cups are typically within my reach. However, I often feel obligated to revel in the mystic power vodka has and continues to have over generations of drinkers. Despite resembling the smell of nail polish remover, I have heard that it can be quite wonderful to drink. But I’ll just take your word for it.

A Bloody Mary is a cocktail that one would think has no true origin, its lore lost in the tangles of a centuries long history. Impressively, this now iconic “hangover remedy” has only been reported on within the last century. No one is sure exactly who came up with the idea—or whose idea it was to make it with clamato—but a cocktail and brunch star was born.

It was surprising to me to find out that brunch was not an invention of the American South. While excessive drinking and regional cures can be found in other places too, sweet tea and fried chicken are still be the best hangover panaceas for me. For others, a hearty lunch of sandwiches, eggs, pancakes, and various other options is the ticket. The term “brunch” was termed by an Englishman in the 19th century as a meal to relieve the debauchery of the night before…while also allowing dedicated time to revel and reminisce about the prior shenanigans. Alcoholic drinks, or the “hair of the dog”, were served to help numb the effects of the patrons’ hangovers. Whether or not a Bloody Mary is a direct result of brunch is unknown, but now it has become a brunchtime staple. It’s hard to imagine the meal without it.

Fernand Petiot of Harry's Bar (Formerly the New York Bar)

Fernand Petiot of Harry’s Bar (Formerly the New York Bar)

There are three commonly disputed explanations of the origins of the Bloody Mary. Fernand Petiot, a bartender at the New York Bar in Paris, claimed that, in 1921—a time when Americans such as Hemingway and Fitzgerald lined the bar, he invented the first Bloody Mary. The second and third claims to the origin of the drink are more intertwined. Henry Zbikiewicz, the bartender for New York’s 21 Club, or the comedian George Jessel (also a frequenter of 21 Club), have both been given credit as the cocktail’s originator in the 1930s. Jessel even put it in an advertisement that he spilled the tomato red colored drink on a driving companion named Mary.

Tabasco and the Bloody Mary have had as hazy a memory together as a typical Saturday night in New Orleans. Edmund McIlhenny on Avery Island first produced Tabasco, a Louisiana-made hot sauce, in 1869.  He combined the chili peppers—given to him by a soldier returning from Mexico—and salt from the island leaving them to ferment, then mixed the mash with French white wine vinegar (today the company uses grain vinegar). By the time his eldest son John Avery took the helm in 1898 Tabasco was being delivered to the far corners of the world and used during expeditions and even archeological digs. Even scientists who uncovered King Tut’s tomb had Tabasco on their table while Britian’s Lord Horatio Herbert Kitcherner’s military outfit packed the bottles in their trek to Khartoum in Sudan.

It was not until the 1950s that Tabasco was introduced into the brunch concoction. Before then, Petriot stated that he would “cover the bottom of the shaker with four large dashes of salt, two dashes of black pepper, two dashes of cayenne pepper, and a layer of Worcestershire sauce…”  Tabasco, like the garnishes on top of the drink, was an experimental and preferred replacement for these ingredients, but depended entirely on the bartender in charge. Whether or not it was added was often up to the customer – similar to whether you prefer pickled okra to pickled beans. However, since the spicy condiment entered the mix, it has become integral to the taste that defines the Bloody Mary.

Whatever the consensus is on the origin of the Bloody matters less than the realization that, past and present, Tabasco has been on brunch tables and in several of brunch’s emblematic drinks. It has held its own being a condiment for food and an ingredient for cocktails. The Bloody Mary as well, whether created in the 1920s or 1930s, has been alleviating the ailments of a morning. With that, as I like to tell typical non-lushes, “The best way to detox is to re-tox.”


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