Here at OnMilwaukee.com, we pride ourselves in being Milwaukee experts. Since it is literally our job to eat, sleep and breathe all things Brew City, we get many questions from our readers.
This is where we answer them.
In the "Ask OMC" series, we take your questions, big or small, and track down the answers. Send your query to firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to include your name and location, and we will consider it for our next installment.
Our question today comes from Kim in Milwaukee, who writes:
"I was just reading your article on the best bartenders in Milwaukee ... I'm looking for the most knowledgeable bartender who would be able to tell me the origin of the Wisconsin tradition of a beer chaser with your Bloody Mary. Possibly one of the best ideas in the history of ideas. Can you shed some light on the tradition or know someone who can?"
Thanks for the question, Kim. We asked a panel of respected experts -- on both sides of the bar -- and got a range of responses. The short answer is, nobody really knows for certain how or where the tradition originated.
But, just about everyone likes it.
"It adds to the presentation," said Robert Greenya, owner of Champions Pub, 2417 N. Bartlett Ave. "I think presentation of a drink is almost as important as the taste. You want to make the customer feel that you are going the extra mile to make theirs special, thus making them feel welcome and wanted. We make Bloodys any time of the day, all day. I hate places that will not make them after a certain hour. That's just lazy."
Our experts agreed that the practice of serving a chaser is regional. In Wisconsin and through much of the Midwest, visitors are often stunned when they order a Bloody Mary and are served a beer chaser. At the same time, Wisconsinites traveling abroad often act stunned -- and sometimes offended -- when they aren't offered the small glass of beer.
"I think it's something that is only done in Milwaukee -- or parts of Wisconsin," said Dave Sobelman, who sells between 200 or 300 Bloody Marys a week at Sobelman's Pub and Grill, 1900 W. St. Paul Ave.
"It seems like no one from outside the area has heard of it. I don't know how often it happens, but there are times when people are surprised by the beer. When that happens, you say ‘You're not from here, are you?'"
How did it all start?
"I have no idea," Sobelman said. "Maybe it's just the history of beer in Wisconsin. With 30 breweries here, maybe people would order their Bloody Mary and say ‘I could still go for a beer.' I don't know."
Greenya echoed Sobelman's theory.
"I thought the chaser for the Bloody came from the large number of breweries in the area," Greenya said. "Drinking was commonplace on the line and at lunch, with drinking carrying over into the evening. In the morning at work, not feeling great, they would have a Bloody beer or Bloody Mary to help their day along.
"With all the beer on hand and free, it just went hand in hand. I do not have a time frame. I believe it is an upper Midwest specialty. I've seen it in very few places outside of Wisconsin, but it is usually at a place that someone from the Midwest opened somewhere else."
Local bartender Dave Mikolajek has a theory on the origin of the practice and it's as good as any we've heard.
"My assumption is that the 'original' Bloody Mary was made with just tomato juice and beer," Mikolajek said in an e-mail. "Then, as it evolved into a cocktail, the beer was just given on the side for good measure (and to break down the spiciness)."
It's not exactly surprising that there is question about the beer chaser. The origin of the Bloody Mary is disputed in bartending circles. Some believe that Fernand Petiot created the drink in 1920, while working at Harry's Bar in Paris, where he served Ernest Hemingway and other American ex-pats.
Others credit George Jessel, an actor and comedian who came to be known as "Toastmaster General of the United States," with creating the drink in the 1930s. One story has it that Jessel, who was a frequent emcee at political and cultural events, had the idea of mixing vodka and tomato juice as a hangover cure, but that Petiot added the spices that set the drink apart -- salt, black and cayenne pepper, Worcestershire sauce and a dash of lemon juice.
Even the name is a point of contention. Some say that the drink is named for Queen Mary I of England. Others believe that it's named after actress Mary Pickford or several waitresses, including a famous Mary who worked in Chicago, which is where the celery stalk garnish is believed to have originated.
Speaking of garnishes, we tend to be a little unique in that regard, too. Celery, olives, pickles and asparagus are reasonably common everywhere. Around here, though, you'll see them with beef sticks, shrimp, mushrooms, cubes of cheese, string cheese whips and dozens of others.
If this discussion has made you thirsty for a Bloody Mary, we offer this basic recipe and a whole bunch of variations:
BASIC BLOODY MARY
1 1/2 ounces of vodka
3 ounces of tomato juice
1 dash of lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce
2-3 drops of Tabasco sauce
Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into an old-fashioned glass over ice cubes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with a lime wedge and celery stalk.
BLOODY MARY VARIATIONS
Bloody Bishop -- Use vodka and sherry in a mixture.
Bloody Fairy -- Use absinthe instead of vodka.
Bloody Geisha -- Use sake instead of vodka.
Bloody Maria -- Use tequila instead of vodka.
Brown Mary -- Use whiskey instead of vodka.
Bloody Pirate -- Use dark rum instead of vodka.
Bloody Scotsman -- Use Scotch instead of vodka.
Bloody Maureen -- Use Guinness instead of vodka.
Bloody Molly -- Irish whiskey instead of vodka.
Ruddy Mary -- Gin replacing vodka.
Flaming Bloody Mary -- Float a dash of 151 rum on top of the Bloody Mary and ignite.
Host of “The Drew Olson Show,” which airs 1-3 p.m. weekdays on The Big 902. Sidekick on “The Mike Heller Show,” airing weekdays on The Big 920 and a statewide network including stations in Madison, Appleton and Wausau. Co-author of Bill Schroeder’s “If These Walls Could Talk: Milwaukee Brewers” on Triumph Books. Co-host of “Big 12 Sports Saturday,” which airs Saturdays during football season on WISN-12. Former senior editor at OnMilwaukee.com. Former reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.