It took Prohibition, a New York bar in Paris, the Russian Revolution, and canned tomatoes for America’s most famous brunch hangover cure, the Bloody Mary, to come into existence. Or so the story goes, anyway. Almost a century later, the veritable mix of tomato juice, vodka, and spices still holds a cherished spot on the brunch table. But it’s time for a change, America. A tasteful change. And that change is called gin.
Gin, not vodka, should be the hair of the dog in your vegetable smoothie. Vodka, a neutral spirit that tastes only of alcohol, is designed to let the other ingredients of a drink shine through. But vodka can have the opposite effect, too. It dilutes the drink it goes into; the higher the ratio of tasteless alcohol, the lower the ratio of carefully mixed flavors. Using vodka in your Bloody Mary results in one of two things: either a weak Bloody Mary full of flavor, or a strong Bloody Mary you’d rather shoot up than sip.
Enter gin. Gin adds flavor and character. It mixes easily, has a distinguished flavor, and it’ll set you apart from the rest of the Bloody world. Before you scoff at the idea, take note: Something has gone terribly wrong when swapping out a single flavorless ingredient for a delicious one gets people up in arms, while an entire fried chicken, bacon-wrapped tater tots, and a miniature garden are an acceptable “garnish.”
“But a gin Bloody Mary is its own drink! It’s a Red Snapper,” those of you with a cocktail background might be thinking right now. Just try ordering a Red Snapper at your neighborhood brunch spot. Go ahead, condescendingly tell your waiter how to make it, and see how that goes over. No one likes a snobby, know-it-all guest, especially not at an unpretentious brunch spot.
Instead, simply ask for a gin substitute while ordering your BM, and you won’t be disappointed. Aim for a London Dry, like Beefeater or Bombay Safire, for the best mix. The strong, piney juniper of the gin holds its own against pepper and Tabasco, refusing to be forgotten. Best of all, the gin’s botanicals add another non-sweet dimension to the semi-sweet tomato juice, enhancing it.
Don’t count out the gin Bloody Mary if you’re a purist, either. While the drink’s history is hazy (like all history involving alcohol), there’s a fair chance that the first Bloody Mary made in America was made with gin. Vodka wasn’t as ubiquitous back in the day, and when the Bloody Mary was brought to the St. Regis King Cole Bar in New York City, gin was used instead, or so one story goes. Gin was then forgotten as vodka rose in prominence and Americans chose to hide alcohol in drinks, preferring utility over taste.
But taste is back in style. Give it a shot: Add gin to your Bloody Mary instead of vodka. You won’t regret it.