The Alternative Derby Cocktail
In my home state horse racing in general and the Kentucky Derby in particular means bourbon and mint juleps. My fondness for the former is almost as legendary as my disdain for the latter, and it is always a surprise when my track guests see me sipping anything other than bourbon on the rocks. Truth be told, my favorite drink at the track is a Bloody Mary.
There are good track Bloody’s and poor ones, quality having more to do with the bartender you choose to patronize rather than the vodka you pick. I should probably point out that the brand of vodka used is irrelevant. Premium Vodka is a spirit category I’ve never understood. By definition and by law vodka must be odorless, colorless and tasteless, so why pay $2 more for a Grey Goose Bloody when the well vodka gives you the same end result? Save your premium purchases for the bourbon you will likely find yourself drinking later.
In preparation for this post I spent much time during the just completed Keeneland spring meet conducting, uh… research, into the various mixologist techniques that go into crafting the perfect trackside Bloody Mary. Like the thoroughbreds in the races themselves, the perfect Bloody is at the same time powerful yet reserved – knowing when to unleash its potency without expending itself too early. It’s a demonstration of patience and balance in a glass. Fail to mix one properly and you are hit over the head with the raw liquor or the heat of the Tabasco. Go too easily on the booze or the other ingredients and you might as well have had a V-8. The trick is truly in the craft and once you find a bartender who makes one properly – tip them well! – and make sure to return for a second.
The Bloody Mary is one of the few cocktails where I consider it perfectly acceptable to use a pre-made mixer. Let’s face it, you are not going to find good enough quality tomatoes in early April to create this yourself. Tastes vary, but I can tell you through much study of the subject that Keeneland uses Major Peter’s brand Bloody Mary mix and that it makes a perfectly tasty cocktail. After taste testing Bloody’s from various locations around the track, I settled on one particular bartender who just seemed to have a better grasp on the individual elements. So here, likely revealed in print for the first time, is the perfect Keeneland Bloody Mary – my personal preferred cocktail of the thoroughbred racing season. Try one today at your Kentucky Derby party while your friends are trying to down an overly sweet Mint Julep. Chances are they will look at you with an envious eye. If not today, mix one for the post Derby Sunday brunch tomorrow, almost as much of a tradition as the Derby party itself.
The Keeneland Bloody Mary
- Fill a glass no more than 1/3 full of cracked ice.
- Add heavy dash of salt and black pepper
- Add two dashes each of Tabasco and Worcestershire
- Squeeze in 1/4 lemon wedge then toss lemon into the glass
- While adding measure of Vodka (approx. 1-1/2 to 2 oz) simultaneously pour in Major Peter’s brand Bloody Mary mix (approximately 4 to 5 oz depending on your glass size)
- Pour back and forth twice between serving glass and another larger glass to mix well.
- Garnish with olives on toothpicks.
- Drink, enjoy and repeat as necessary to achieve the desired effect.