I am not really a fan of the Bloody Mary. I understand and appreciate a sip of a well-executed version — the tang of the tomato, the kick of the horseradish, the toxic sludge of heat at the bottom of the glass in all its peppery mystery is not lost on me. Maybe I’ve been scarred from too many bad Bloody Marys at all-you-can-drink brunches. There’s a fine line between s classic and high quality cocktail and a weird, unsavory gazpacho/tomato sauce hybrid, and a lot of the Bloodies I’ve had reside firmly on the wrong side of history.
There’s a bar in San Francisco that makes the only Bloody Mary that I will drink in great gulps. They stick pepperoncinis and pickled green beans on a swizzle stick and stuff them into a glass full of tomato-y, spicy, acidic goodness, so that it tastes virtuous while still getting you drunk. Sipping one of these while sitting in their backyard with the sun on your shoulders during that week where the city clears out because everyone’s at Burning Man is a pleasure that everyone should experience at least once. But, normally, a Bloody Mary is not the drink I reach for.
The Bloody Mary has undergone a broification. There’s a Bloody Mary at a bar in Milwaukee that’s served in a gallon-sized mason jar and is topped with a whole fried chicken. It costs $50, and it’s a clever gimmick, but I will never understand the pleasure in drinking what is essentially a vat of pasta sauce. There’s a Guy-Fieri-one-way-ticket-to-Flavortown appeal that resonates with some, but not with me. I’m not advocating for twee cocktails or mixologists who are overly precious about what they’re pouring, but I think there’s something nice about a drink that doesn’t feel the need to announce itself so overtly.
I like a heavy glass with a stiff pour of bourbon over ice. I like the way a cold beer bottle feels in my hand on a sunny day sitting on my roof. Bloody Marys have always struck me as a heavy, overbearing sort of drink, the kind of thing that sloshes around in your stomach, making you feel queasy and weird and wrong. Vodka, the most innocuous of all liquors, has a taste that I can always sniff out, vaguely medicinal and sharp. Even in the best executed Bloody Marys, the vodka cuts through, making me think of the off-brand screwdrivers of my college years. I have been trying to expand my palate, only because it seems silly to allow memories that are at least a decade old to inform my current drinking experiences. That all changed with Zing Zang.
I was introduced to Zing Zang on a weekend away in Vermont. We were hunkered down in a big farmhouse with a fireplace, and two televisions, a mess of friends who hadn’t seen each other in a very long time, puttering around the house in woolen socks and big sweaters. It was a safe space, a good time to try something new.
“Try this,” my friend said, sliding a glass over to me, bright red and flecked with pepper. “I know you hate Bloody Marys, but I bet you’ll like this.”
Upon the first sip, I was in love. It tasted like a Bloody should taste — spicy enough to clear my sinuses, with a hint of acid from the tomato, but not so much that it tasted like a pizza smoothie. The flavor was complex without an abundance of bells and the whistles. It didn’t even taste like there was vodka in the drink, though I was assured that there was. It was a revelation.
Zing Zang tastes like what every aspiring Bloody Mary master wants to make at home. There’s tomato juice, but also a hint of vegetable juice, a lot of pepper, no Worcestershire sauce to speak of, and it’s spicy enough on its own to go without great lashings of Tabasco. It tasted like something I could drink all day, at a slow and steady clip, without feeling too full. It finally clicked.
Here’s how I like to do it. Put a heaping spoonful of horseradish at the bottom of a pint glass, then fill it with ice and Zing Zang. Add a healthy slug of vodka — use your best judgement. Do you need to be present anywhere other than your fire escape, or your roof, or a windowsill in the sun? Adjust accordingly. Rummage around and find the hot sauce, any will do really, and splash in as much as you’d like. Add a pepperoncini and a big stalk of celery, to scoop up the spicy, infused mess of horseradish at the bottom of the glass. Follow up with a big squeeze of lemon, a sprinkle of pepper. Retreat to your favorite chair, your stoop, your roof or your porch. Enjoy.
Original by @mega_hurt