"I pray thee let me and my fellow have
A hair of the dog that bit us last night—
And bitten were we both to the brain aright.
We saw each other drunk in the good ale glass." —John Heywood, 1546
There may not be concrete scientific evidence proving that alcohol is an effective hangover cure, but people certainly like to repeat it. The earliest such statement dates back to the 16th century and has since been shortened from the above to a metaphoric call to ingest the "hair of the dog that bit you." It's medicinal effect aside, the Bloody Mary remains one of the most popular brunch staples in America and abroad.
Coupled with the fact that the pre-made drink mixes can be picked up from pretty much any store, Bloody Marys are just as easily made from scratch. And for all you "glass half full" types, you can technically even categorize the Bloody Mary as a meal if you can garnish the beverage with the slew of recommended additions, including celery, carrots, dill pickles, bacon, smoked oysters, olives, pepperoni sticks, and so much more. But invariably, the main reason alcohol is on brunch menus everywhere is for its hangover-curing properties. I personally remain unconvinced about this theory, which says absolutely nothing about my affinity for this liquid breakfast of champions.
The invention of the Bloody Mary is credited to Parisian bartender Fernand Petiot in 1920. One of the regulars at his bar—an American entertainer named Roy Barton—christened it "Bloody Mary" as a tribute to a Chicago nightclub called the Bucket of Blood and a shout out to his girlfriend, Mary. An alternate theory proposes the name is a nod to Mary Tudor, the treacherous 16th century Queen of England who persecuted and massacred many Protestants under her reign, earning her the straightforward moniker "Bloody Mary."
Petiot's original recipe was a barebones concoction of vodka and tomato juice, and was purportedly enjoyed by the bohemian, intellectual American expats in Paris, like Ernest Hemingway, Rita Hayworth, and Humphrey Bogart. The drink didn’t fully catch on in Paris but Petiot, upon landing a gig as head bartender at the St. Regis in New York, reintroduced it in the States. The drink eventually incorporated a nice assortment of seasonings and other experimental garnishes, and finally reached its current glory.
Bloody Mary Breakdown
- Vodka. Any type of vodka will do but really, even the type of alcohol used is negotiable in the Bloody Mary business. You can substitute gin to make a Gin Mary (aka Spicy Red Snapper), rum for a Cubanita and tequila for—that's right—a Bloody Maria. For those who prefer stronger tastes, bartenders sometimes use Aquavit (a Scandinavian spirit with a savory flavor) to give the drink an extra kick. There's no difference in hangover benefit, so just use whichever liquor you have on hand or like best.
- Tomato Juice. You can only get so creative with this aspect of the Bloody Mary, but many people use V8 or other tomato and vegetable juices. Most supermarkets have some sort of Bloody Mary mix (some with specialty flavors) or—if you're a rare breed who sticks to their diet while nursing a wicked hangover—use gazpacho to maximize nutrients. I've even seen people add beef consommé or bouillon to the base. Go crazy!
- Spice. This is the part where you can really get creative. The traditional Bloody Mary calls for Worcestershire sauce, which is often substituted for A1 Steak Sauce, Sriracha, or Tabasco sauce. Turn up the heat with horseradish and black pepper, chili powder or, whatever else tickles your fancy. Finish it off with a garnish of celery, cilantro sprigs, and/or lime wedges.
The Jury's Still Out
And now for the burning question—does this delectable brunch staple actually cure hangovers? The best answer I can give is a highly non-committal... kind of. As per the widely accepted "hair of the dog" hangover cure, many agree that at the very least, doing so alleviates symptoms simply by virtue of the alcohol making you slightly tipsy and staving off your intense headache. But looking at the scientific basis of the "hair of the dog" method, the jury's still out.
Most science folk attribute the source of hangovers primarily to dehydration, but there is also a conjectured chemical process happening as well. Alcohol is primarily made up of ethanol but has traces of methanol, which the body converts into toxic formaldehyde; indeed, this is the same substance used to preserve dead bodies and it suppresses oxygen circulation in high amounts. The treatment for methanol buildup is, in fact, more ethanol, so drinking alcohol theoretically combats your hangover by reversing methanol metabolization.
Of course, the implied caveat is that drinking a Bloody Mary will likely cure your hangover for only a short time, since the medicinal effect is really not that strong, and once the added ethanol converts into methanol, you're back on the hangover train (though likely not enough to produce further symptoms, but still). So drink one (or three) at Sunday brunch, but don't expect a miraculous recovery.
Really, the undisputed best way to combat a hangover is by drinking a lot of water. The rule of thumb is to imbibe twice as much water than the alcohol you ingested. Other hangover remedies include Alka-Seltzer (which soothes nausea) and aspirin or ibuprofen to alleviate your headache. Sweating out the alcohol in a sauna is reported to help as well, and if you can swing it, exercise is even better. Overall, sleep, water, and time is your best bet. But whether you indulge in the Bloody Mary for hangover cure or just because it's delicious, it certainly can't hurt. The jury may still be out, but I vote that you should go for it.