Hittin' the sauce

Austin’s Bloody Mary Festival mixes things up with spirited variations on the classic brunch cocktail

Austin’s Bloody Mary Festival mixes things up with spirited variations

People carry trays of Bloody Mary's with different garnishes
No other drink has this much potential for fun twists and garnishes. Photo by the Bloody Mary Festival

Austin is a brunch city, and proud of it. But brunch’s most iconic drink is getting its own spotlight. Austinites brave enough to say “Bloody Mary” three times in the mirror will be rewarded with the supernatural fortitude to perfectly pace their drinking at the third annual Bloody Mary Festival on February 27 at Fair Market.

The Bloody Mary is one of few cocktails that could stand up to an entire festival of variations without becoming so contrived that it is unrecognizable. The base recipe — tomato juice, vodka, and spices — lends itself to endless tinkering, including the addition of a beer (the michelada) and enough garnishes to count as a second brunch right on top of the glass. (We can guess what festival participant Frank’s RedHot will bring for its special ingredient.)

The savory breakfast drink is also well-known for additions of bacon and seafood, and the lore around naming and inventing the odd mix is as varied as its common ingredients. A Paris establishment called Harry’s Bar, often credited with inventing the Bloody Mary, celebrated the 100th birthday of the cocktail in December. The Associated Press recorded that day’s simple drink components: “salt and pepper, Tabasco sauce, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, vodka, and tomato juice.”

Some other contributors bringing mixes to the Austin festival include local eateries Yellow Jacket Social Club, Hillside Farmacy, Z’Tejas, and The Cavalier. At least 10 participants are bringing an original mix, listed on the festival’s website as more details are announced, for a chance at the People’s Choice Award. A festival ticket includes unlimited sips and a vote. Imbibers can also add on a cocktail kit ($59) to make the drink at home with whatever new twists they learn at the fest.

And since the event benefits local nonprofit The Boneshaker Project (which inspires kids to lead healthy, active lifestyles), sipping Bloody Mary cocktails totally counts as a do-good New Year’s resolution.

Helping pace those sips, an array of food, drink, and mixes-well-with-a-Bloody-Mary-cocktail vendors will be joining, with unexpected, funky contributions that include International Cigars, Ktonic Kombucha, Rockstar Bagels, Independence Brewing, and Lick Honest Ice Creams. Those bites also come with the tickets, which is good news since some combos might take more than one try to fully process. The photo booth could serve as a great soapbox for burgeoning Bloody Mary-and-pickles influencers and enthusiastic at-home after-party bartenders.

An Allrecipes article that went digging for the purpose of vodka in the popular Italian cream and tomato sauce found the following from a scientific exploration by Harold McGee in On Food and Cooking: “While large amounts of alcohol tend to trap other volatile molecules in the food, small traces boost their volatility and so intensify aroma.” Take that for your home cooking and run with it. Whatever the ratio, vodka and tomato is an unbeatable combination that sets the stage for assertive, unconventional flavors.

Start gathering inspiration at the third annual Bloody Mary Festival on February 27, at the Fair Market event space on East Fifth Street near downtown Austin. Tickets ($65 early admission, $49.50 general admission) are available up to the event at thebloodymaryfest.com.