Golden Tomato Productions describes its annual Bloody Mary Festival as both a celebration of this beloved brunch beverage and the largest event of its kind.
“We noticed there were curated experiences for so many foods and beverages -- craft beer, wine, cheese, chocolate, oysters -- but nothing for bloodies so we organized the first one in 2014 in Brooklyn, and it was a resounding success,” said Evan Weiss, who runs the enterprise with his wife, Yunna. “The participating bars/restaurants, attendees and sponsors all loved it.”
From there they took the event (and, eventually their 1-year-old toddler) to Philadelphia, Denver, D.C. and San Francisco (where one competing bar’s staff dressed up as Furries). This year they’re expanding to nine cities -- adding Portland, San Diego, Dallas, and Nashville -- and their continued success has allowed the couple to leave their corporate jobs to focus on the business of this weird, wonderful libation.
The most recent NYC adventure of their coast-to-coast cocktail carnival was held on April 9th, in South Slope’s Grand Prospect Hall. Bartenders and mix masters from 10 local taverns and restaurants gathered to be graded by both patrons and a panel of judges in the hopes of getting an affirmative answer to the simple question: Does boasting the borough’s best Bloody help your business’s bottom line?
Here's what I learned -- and tasted -- on the floor of the Bloody Mary festival.
Thinking outside the glass
“We use the juice from Brooklyn Brine, a local pickle company, and another borough addition, garnishes from Ends Meat,” said Surene Anderson, bar manager of Cobble Hill’s Skylark Bar. “We top the bloody with Guinness and I think we’re the only ones that do it -- it adds an extra creaminess.”
To know me is to know I love “The Black Stuff” (i.e., that aforementioned Irish stout) and the red stuff (aka the cocktail in question) -- but gotta say? They were two great tastes that did not taste great together. But I was in the vast minority on that, as most people who stopped by for a taste loved it. So is it worth trademarking such a bar recipe? Can you trademark such a bar recipe?
“I don’t know if you can,” answered Anderson. “If it’s good enough hopefully they’ll call it Skylark’s Bloody Mary mix when they steal it.”
Anderson wasn't the only one trying to stir up the classic recipe. In fact, almost all of the contestants were trying to reinvent the wheel.
“We came up with something totally different,” said Alex Haskell, owner of South Slope’s meat happy Iron Station. “We went with vinegar instead of pickle juice and we infuse our vodka with bacon -- which in and of itself is a crazy process.”
Elsewhere, other contestants added beef jerky and one even added fried crickets. Which led me to the question...
Is there such a thing as too much innovation?
In short, yes. After hours of sampling, two things happened: the sodium intake made me look like some type of water-retaining Michelin Man and while the "wacky" versions were fun to try, my taste-testing companions and I gravitated to the more traditional ones that had subtle, but delicious twists.
“The best recipes we drank were the simplest with the least amount of ingredients,” said former Fox Business Network correspondent and CrowdVest CEO Matthew McCall.
And the winner is...
My vote went to the Korean KAPOW that Insa was pouring, which kind of goes against my "simple is better" philosophy. The Gowanus-based hotspot’s recipe was super busy to the tune of wasabi powder, celery salt, soy and fish sauce, Kiamichi brine plus candied anchovies (and that’s the Cliff’s Notes version) -- but I totally dug it.
There were a lot of amazing recipes, but in both the world of Highlander and the Bloody Mary Festival…there can be only one. (Okay there were six actual winners, but here’s the MAIN one…) On this given Sunday it was The Lobster Joint which won both the "People’s Choice" and "Best Traditional Recipe" awards with their attention-to-the-details offering that included Paradiso tomato juice, a secret spice mix, garnishes of lobster, lemons, limes, pickles, olives and celery.
So does victory mean anything more than a nice trophy for the shelf? I checked in with Lobster Joint owner Tommy Chabrowski a few weeks after their victory, “It was a big win and I gotta say, at least 25 percent of the clientele that comes in now is because of this.” The secret of his success? "The other options from competitors had a lot of garnish to get through -- you feel like you have to have a meal before you get to the actual drink -- but we kept it simple and I guess it worked.”