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I’m a cocktail expert — my picks for the best vodka for a Bloody Mary

Bloody Mary
Johann Trasch/Unsplash

Whether it’s the morning after a wild night out and you’re looking for something to staunch the feeling of excess, or whether you’re throwing a lively brunch and are hoping to add a note of spice, the Bloody Mary is a beloved daytime cocktail. It’s honestly surprising that tomato juice isn’t more popular as a drink as it has both sweetness and a savory quality which makes it delicious to enjoy, especially as it has a thick, rich texture in the mouth. You add some salt and pepper and a bit of lemon juice and it really comes alive, and when you throw in a shot of vodka you’ve got the perfect easy sipper.

Despite — or perhaps because of — the well known status of the Bloody Mary, many people’s experience with this drink is a little indifferent. It’s just a fancy mixed drink, right? Tomato juice and vodka? Well, sort of, but there’s a lot of finessing that you can do to the balance of flavors by adding elements which are sharp, or vinegary, or savory, to make this more complex and compelling.

And of course, if you’re going to go to the trouble of mixing delicious spiced tomato juice, then you don’t want to ruin your drink by adding low quality vodka. This isn’t a cocktail which requires the highest end spirits in your collection — you won’t taste the subtitles or nuances of a really fine vodka here anyway, so it would be a waste to use it — but you do want to avoid very cheap vodkas which have that hairspray taste that can be so off-putting. For this drink you want a vodka which is clean, smooth, and sippable to make the best of your indulgent Sunday morning.

If you’re on the lookout for a vodka to use in a Bloody Mary, then I’m recommending a selection of mid-range options which have the qualities to fit the bill.

Tito’s Handmade Vodka

A great all-round vodka that’s widely available

Image used with permission by copyright holder

Tito’s is one of those great brands that offers the trifecta of good taste, wide availability, and reasonable price. This has become the go-to vodka for many cocktail bars over the last decade, and it’s easy to see why. It’s smooth, it’s not overpowering in any one regard, and it slips into a Bloody Mary perfectly. This type is gluten free too, which can be important for some drinkers. The smoothness is thanks to its distillation in a copper sill, similar to the technique used for many small batch gins, and the overall drinking experience is clean and crisp. An easy choice.

Chopin Organic Rye Vodka

An interesting grainy flavor to add spice to your Bloody Mary

Chopin
Chopin

Chopin Vodka is a popular brand perhaps best known for its potato vodka, but it does also have a range of other vodkas made with ingredients like wheat or rye. This rye version of the spirit has the same high quality as the potato version, but it also has a spicy note which is a great match for tomato juice and a dash of Tabasco. This is quite a subtle vodka, evolving as the taste goes one, but it has notes of pepper  and citrus that are the perfect partner for a Bloody Mary. If you and your friends are vodka enthusiasts, this is one to try neat as well as to use in vodka cocktails of all kinds, particularly those leaning towards the savory end of the flavor spectrum.

Grey Goose Vodka

Neutral and smooth, good in everything

Grey Goose Vodka
Grey Goose Vodka

Grey Goose is one of those iconic vodka brands that is almost universally regarded as good tasting but a bit overpriced. However, if you purchase the bottle directly from an online supplier it is much more reasonable as you avoid the hefty markups that restaurants and clubs tend to add to higher end spirits. This 750ml bottle can be had for under $30, which takes it out of the range of overpriced luxury and solidly into the category of being worth it. The vodka itself is full and rich in the mouth, with an earthy spiciness which comes from the wheat used in distillation. That savory earthiness is what makes this good for Bloody Marys, as it can stand up to the spicy heft of tomato juice. And you can use this for plenty of other cocktails like vodka martinis as well.

Purity Vodka Connoisseur 51

Crisp and clean, a vodka lover’s delight

Purity Vodka Connoisseur 51
Purity Vodka Connoisseur 51

This is a real vodka lover’s treat. The Connoisseur 51 is the highlight of Purity Vodka’s offerings, having won awards and praise from critics and regular drinkers alike. The Swedish brand offers a bready, warm taste which is more distinctive than other vodkas. This isn’t something which is totally clean and neutral and will disappear into the background of a drink — rather it makes its presence known with its zappy flavor and super-smooth texture. That might make it a bit harsh in a Bloody Mary for some, but if you are looking to savor that vodka taste instead of covering it up then you’ll enjoy the form presence of this. For a group of vodka enthusiasts looking to ease their way into a morning after a big night, it’s the perfect choice.

Gallant Vodka

For a smooth and silky texture

Gallant Vodka
Gallant Vodka

Similar to the Grey Goose, Gallant Vodka provides more in the way of a smooth, easy to drink spirit than one with big punchy flavors. It does have some subtle floral notes to it, as well as some cereal and some citrus. But its strength is mostly in its texture, which is smooth and clean. This is another all-purpose vodka which can go in any cocktail, and though it might not make for the world’s most exciting martini it’s perfect for something simple like a Bloody Mary. This is another gluten free option for those who want it, and its smooth qualities mean it will be inoffensive even to those who don’t drink much vodka. If you usually opt for Grey Goose or similar brands and you are looking to branch out or to try something a little cheaper, then this can be a great option.

Ketel One Vodka

It’s affordable but decent quality

Ketel One Vodka
Ketel One Vodka

Ketel One Vodka is another standby for many bars, and it’s just as useful for a home bar too. You can find it on sale easily enough and often for an affordable price of under $20, but it doesn’t have the nasty acetone tang that many other cheaper vodkas have. It’s fairly neutral, with a slight leaning toward the black pepper with a touch of sweetness. Mostly, though, what you’re getting here is something very neutral than can be mixed with basically anything, including a Bloody Mary mix. It’s probably not something that a vodka enthusiast would have much interest in sipping, but it’s invaluable for mixed drinks due to its adaptable nature. A bottle to always have on hand in your home bar.

How We Chose These Vodkas for a Bloody Mary

Bloody Mary is a classic brunch cocktail, and practically everyone who likes to drink has tried this at one time or another. But as a well-known classic, it’s worth learning how to make a Blood Mary really well. Whether you’re offering a reviving breakfast aide to a few tired friends after a big night out or hosting a big group for lunch, a jug of Bloody Mary is always welcome.

It’s worth noting that while many restaurants and bars will offer this cocktail for sale and do a brisk trade on them during lunchtime and the afternoon, it’s a bit frowned upon to order one in a busy bar in the evening. That’s because it’s a fairly easy drink to make en masse, but it’s annoying and fiddly to make just one. If it’s busy and everyone else is drinking bottles of beer or simple mixed drinks, then your bartender will likely be less than delighted if you order this and they have to go off and find the tomato juice.

That’s another reason to make this drink at home. It’s an easy one to mix, and it’s endlessly customizable to your desires. It is also something you can easily make ahead of time then serve as required. Trust me, nothing will lighten up tired post-party faces than a bottle of chilled, ready-mixed Bloody Mary. I like to mix up the spiced tomato juice a day or so in advance, then keep it in the fridge in a sealed glass bottle. When you serve it, you can add spirits as you pour. This way anyone who wants to can enjoy a non-alcoholic version (often referred as a Virgin Mary, or, rather delightfully, in Australia as a Bloody Shame).

The traditional spirit to use for a Bloody Mary is vodka, obviously, and just about any type of vodka will work. Most vodkas are either potato based or grain based, and the slight sweetness of the potato type or the cereal taste of the grain type will work equally well with tomato juice. There’s little benefit from using a very high-end vodka in this drink as the spiciness of the tomato tends to cover most of the vodka taste, so don’t get out your fanciest vodkas for this. However, you also want to avoid using very cheap vodkas as these generally have a pungent alcoholic tang which is strong enough to be tasted and smelt. You want something solidly middle of the road here.

If you would like to branch out, you can also try using different spirits. I love to use gin in place of vodka, creating a version called a Red Snapper. This works particularly well with gins which are vegetal and savory such as Rutte Celery Gin, though it can also work with citrus-forward gins like a Tanqueray. The zing of juniper berries plays very well with the tomato juice.  Another option is to use tequila in place of the vodka, though I find the taste of tequila to not meld so well with thick tomato juice, or even mezcal which brings a smoky, spicy note which works great.

As a general rule of thumb, use either a single or a double shot (30 ml or 50 ml) per 250 ml glass to serve this drink. But just a warning — these slip back very easily and the double version is pretty boozy. I’d advise opting for the single version unless you’re really determined to get on it on a Sunday morning. I like to start with several large ice cubes in a regular glass, then add the spirit, then top with the spiced tomato juice and add garnishes. It’s very easy to make a whole bunch of these if you’ve prepared the tomato juice beforehand.

On the topic of the tomato juice, the original and classic recipe calls for tomato juice, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and Tabasco. However you are by no means bound by this and you can experiment freely. Some options to add to your tomato juice include using lime juice rather than lemon juice, or even vinegar in place of the citrus, or a splash of pickle brine. You can also add Worcestershire sauce or just about any kind of hot sauce you can get your hands on, and other seasonings like garlic, herbs, or horseradish. One of my favorite additions is a dash of celery bitters to add a deep, green note to the drunk. I have also been known to throw in a dash of soy sauce, Maggi, or even Marmite to add an umami heft to the juice.

It’s a lot of fun to try experimenting with the tomato juice, and you can just keep tweaking and tasting as you go until you find something that you like. One more variation that can be delicious is to use some carrot juice or vegetable juice in addition to the tomato juice. You do still want to keep the primary tomato flavor, so I’d recommend doing no more than half alternative juice and half tomato juice.

Finally, we come to the unusually important topic of garnishes. A Bloody Mary can be made or ruined by its garnishes, which are often elaborate because the drink is simple. The most classic garnish is a celery stalk, which is a great texture contrast to the smoothness of the tomato juice and has lovely juicy flavor and scent. Other common options are olives, cornichons, or other pickles, often held in place using a skewer. A nice touch to add some visual interest to your drinks is to add a rim of garlic salt, which you do by running a wedge of citrus around the rim, pouring some garlic salt onto a plate, then upending the glass and twisting it around so it picks up the garlic salt.

At some point it became trendy to have increasingly huge and ridiculous garnishes for these drinks, like entire sliders hanging off a skewer. These might look fun for Instagram, but they’re pretty impractical and generally don’t lend themselves to either enjoyable eating or drinking. Do your guests a favor and keep the nibbles on a plate and use something smaller and more elegant as your garnish.

My advice would be to keep the garnishes simple but go wild adding whatever tasty sauces you find in your kitchen to your tomato juice. Prep and chill the tomato juice in advance, use a quality vodka, and don’t add too much spirit to each serving and you home bar will soon be the hottest brunch spot in town.

Editors' Recommendations

Georgina Torbet

Georgina Torbet is a cocktail enthusiast based in Berlin, with an ever-growing gin collection and a love for trying out new recipes. When she's not in her other life writing about science she's sampling local craft beers, hunting down interesting Italian amaros, or making strange and experimental cocktails for anyone who stops by her compact but much loved home bar.

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