Wine & Spirits: Tailgate Tipples

by WL Author

Ideas for savory morning sips for game day and beyond.
By Kelly A. Magyarics

A bloody mary- the perfect game day drink.

I know it’s sacrilege for true football fans, but my favorite part of the game is the one that takes place in the parking lot before it even starts. I’ll take a juicy grilled burger and some Maryland crab soup over hours spent in a cold stadium any time. But even the most die-hard football fans who wouldn’t miss a second after kickoff needs sustenance before rooting for their teams, and that includes imbibing a quintessential sip for a brisk fall morning.

The undeniable umami of a salty, spicy Bloody Mary (with more than a dollop of horseradish, if I’m mixing) is making my mouth water as I type this. Equal parts eye-opener and appetizer (depending on how generous the garnish,) and perhaps even hair-of-the-dog (depending on the raucousness of the previous evening’s festivities,) this brunch time staple is as necessary a component of a well-stocked tailgate as chips and dip.

My in-laws and their friends, die-hard Lehigh University alums and fans who never miss a game (home or away,) set up a kick-ass tailgate each Saturday morning, which I happily partake in each year before the big Lehigh-Lafayette game held the Saturday before Thanksgiving (this match up is the most played college rivalry, incidentally, with 146 games. But I usually remain in the parking lot for the entire thing. See above.) My father-in-law whips up lethal Bloody Marys made with habanero-infused vodka—easy to make by placing a pepper in a bottle and shaking a few times over a couple of days. But I warn you: sip at your own risk.

Here are some other ideas to wake up your taste buds with Bloody Mary-esque beverages before the big game.

Bakon Vodka

Bakon Vodka makes a smoky, savory Bloody Mary. Photo Courtesy of Bakon.

Think for a second how great a well-made BLT tastes; using bacon-flavored vodka in a Bloody Mary renders a similar result. Sure, you can make your own through fatwashing (placing bacon fat in a bottle of vodka for a day or two, freezing it and skimming off the fat—the smoky flavor will remain). But even easier is grabbing a bottle of Bakon Vodka. I served Bakon Marys to family at brunch, and everyone enjoyed the subtle smokiness that the spirit lends to the brunch beverage.

Bakon Mary
“The Bloody Mary has always been a great tailgate drink, and now we’ve reinvented it to reflect those awesome flavors enjoyed during backyard BBQ’s and tailgate parties,” touts Stefan Schachtell, Co-Founder of Bakon Vodka. “We’re proud to say that it injects a savory kick that impresses the most die-hard Bloody Mary fans!”

1½ oz. Bakon Vodka
Tomato juice
1 dash each of celery salt and ground black pepper
2-4 dashes each of Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco
1/8 tsp. horseradish
Celery stalk or pickled vegetables, for garnish
Salt, for rimming

Add vodka to a pint glass. Fill glass tomato juice, and other ingredients except garnish and salt. Shake with ice, and pour into a chilled salt rimmed pint glass. Garnish with a celery stalk and your favorite pickled vegetables.

Bloody Masuki
Courtesy of Justin Freet, Liberty Bar, Seattle, WA
If you crave a tomato libation with an Asian flair, the Bloody Masuki replaces “regular” horseradish with nostril-burning Wasabi. Celery bitters and a cucumber garnish offset the heat and add freshness.

1 ½ oz Bakon Vodka
2 oz tomato juice
Dash Bitter Truth Celery Bitters
¼ oz Wasabi
Dash soy sauce
Dash Tabasco sauce
Cucumber slice, for garnish

Add all except garnish to a cocktail shaker. Fill with ice, and shake vigorously. Pour into a chilled cocktail glass, and garnish with a cucumber slice.

Sometimes I want the flavor of tomato, but without the thick texture. Recently Jaleo celebrated the Tomatina Festival, the Spanish event held each year where thousands of pounds of tomatoes are tossed at willing participants. (Jaleo honors it in a more civilized way, with tomato-based dishes and beverages.)

1959 Cocktail at Jaleo

Tomato, basil, lemon, gin = Jaleo's 1959 cocktail. Photo Courtesy of Jaleo.

Sometimes I want the flavor of tomato, but without the thick texture. Recently Jaleo celebrated the Tomatina Festival, the Spanish event held each year where thousands of pounds of tomatoes are tossed at willing participants. (Jaleo honors it in a more civilized way, with tomato-based dishes and beverages.)

Their 1959 cocktail (so named because that was the year the festival officially started in Spain) is one of the best savory drinks I’ve ever tasted. Soft and earthy Plymouth Gin is combined with tomato water, lemon, and a simple syrup infused with Opal basil. The festival is finished for this year, but I happened to snag the recipe, and tomato lovers will definitely want to mix up a batch. If you can’t find Opal basil, other varieties will work just fine. Since we can no longer get garden tomatoes in the DC area this season, I would recommend using tomatoes-on-the-vine, for the sweetest, most intense flavor.

1959 Cocktail
Courtesy of Jaleo, Washington, DC

1.5 oz. Plymouth Gin
3/4 oz. tomato water (see Note)
1/4 oz. fresh lemon juice
1/2 oz. Opal (or other variety) Basil syrup (see Note)
Pinch of Kosher Salt
Micro basil sprig, for garnish

Add all ingredients except garnish to shaker. Add ice, shake and strain into a chilled coupe glass. Garnish with micro basil.

For the tomato water: juice tomatoes, and then double strain with a mesh strainer and a cheesecloth or coffee filter.For the Opal Basil syrup: Combine 1 cup Opal basil leaves with 1 ½ cups simple syrup. Let it infuse for 24 hours, and then strain out the leaves.

Tillen Farms haricots verts. Photo Courtesy of Tillen Farms.

To top off your perfect Bloody Mary:

  • Spice Lab Premium Bloody Mary Sea Salt Blend is made from organic sun-dried tomatoes, paprika, cayenne pepper, wasabi powder, celery powder and sea salt. Buy it here for $14.95 for a 4-ounce bag.
  • Pickled vegetables from Tillen Farms let you step up your garnish from the typical celery stalk. Try crispy asparagus, carrots, snap peas, haricots verts, peppers and more. Look for them at Wegman’s or Whole Foods, or buy them online.

Kelly Magyarics is a wine and spirits writer, and wine educator, in the Washington, DC area. She can be reached through her website,, or on

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