If you want to ruin a perfectly fine bottle of vodka, buy yourself some pre-made, preservative-filled Bloody Mary mix and a bag of celery hearts and knock yourself out. Of all the crappy cocktails in the world, none is as vile as a Bloody Mary made with a mass-market mix. There you are, happily settling in at a friend’s place for brunch, and she’s baked her French-born grandmother’s recipe for the perfect quiche Lorraine, and she’s put together a beautifully textured salad from greens she bought at the local farmer’s market, and she offers you a Bloody Mary, and suddenly, shit! Out of the corner of your eye you notice an empty bottle of store-bought Bloody Mary mix. “Uh, well actually,” you stammer, but she’s already poured it, and now she’s inserting into the drink a long stalk of celery topped with leaves that are clearly destined to go straight up your nose. “Cheers!” she says brightly. “Jeers!” you reply, hoping she doesn’t hear terribly well.
This classic American brunch scene - rendered so touchingly in Norman Rockwell’s never-seen illustration “Boozy Summer Sunday”—is often even more depressing now that premium vodkas have replaced the rotgut brands that most of us cut our teeth on. My own favorite cheapolla vodka, Popov, is almost impossible to find now; I’m left only with fond memories of my dramatically underage friends and me procuring the vodka in sneaky and sometimes extra-legal ways and then soaking watermelons in it on top of the slag dump in the woods behind my house, where we went to escape parental intervention. We cut plugs into the melons and poured in the Popov. After two or three pieces of melon, we’d be making the same jejune Popov jokes we’d made the weekend before. I still find them funny. As I do the college paper I wrote on Nathaniel West, which came back with jejune as the single word written in the margins. I still consider the intended put-down to be a badge of honor.
For better and worse, the Popov era is history. Premium vodkas have taken over, and that’s dandy. But this elevation of popular taste has led to mass desecration after mass desecration as these carefully crafted, delicious-on-their-own liquors are doomed to be mixed with Mr. Pee’s flaming red “¡Acidez Arriba!” -brand Bloody Mary mix. Back in the day, you could poison yourself and your friends all you wanted by diluting your Popov with Mr. Pee’s. Who cared?! The vodka tasted violent, and the bottled mix had such a familiarly terrible flavor that, like bathroom functions, the resulting “Bloody Marys” just happened whether you liked them or not.
Now that premium vodka is the norm, there is absolutely no excuse for defiling it with bottled Bloody Mary mixes that try to outdo one another in spiciness. Why on earth would anyone buy pricey, scrumptious vodka only to overpower it wildly with something as nasty as every single premade mix on the market? Why waste, ruin, even dishonor a bottle of Stoli by blending it with the supermarket equivalent of the stuff pharmaceutical company scientists use to stimulate acid reflux in rats?
There is no need for it. It’s easy to make a perfect Bloody Mary from scratch. Before you get all “I don’t have time”-y about it, nobody’s forcing you to make your own tomato juice from your own heirloom garden’s tomatoes. Just pick up a can or a bottle in the juice aisle at the supermarket. Don’t think you’re doing yourself a favor by buying the low sodium variety; it’s taste-free, and you’ll only end up dumping in salt on your own. Add a shake or two of Tabasco or a bit of horseradish to give it some kick. But be gentle, and keep your hands off the chili powder unless you know what you’re doing. Like firearms and dildos, chili powder should never be handled by the inept. Your goal is not to see which one of your guests will be the first to choke on the excess heat. It’s a brunch, not a Cast Iron Gut contest. Add the premium vodka of your choice, stir until everything is blended, and pour it into a glass with some ice cubes in it. That’s it, folks—a pure, simple, delicious cocktail.
Oh, and save the celery for a salad. Your and your guests’ noses shouldn’t have to do battle with a vegetable just so you can get something good to drink.