This is an age of cocktail enlightenment—savvy drinkers aren’t surprised to discover artichoke infused vodka or persimmon bitters in their glass or a shiso leaf as garnish. They venture forth seeking vision and innovation, the eccentric and the unfamiliar. Yet it’s a classic cocktail, of all things, that causes consternation among the imbibing faint of heart. We speak of course of the endangered Bull Shot.
Why is this downright nourishing drink more difficult to find? In a phrase: beef broth. Yes, the Bull Shot is essentially a Bloody Mary that substitutes goodly beef broth for tomato juice. So rare is this historic concoction that on a recent trip to Florence we were overjoyed to find it listed at Harry’s Bar (not the endangered Venetian original, but, after more than 50 years on the bank of the Arno, nothing to scoff at).
At Harry’s, upon ordering, the broth arrives from the kitchen and the barman takes it from there. Where does that Bull Shot take you? Well, it’s a hearty daytime drink, unusually good when you told yourself you were going to take a day away from liquor. It’s downbeat but reassuring—like an old cardigan, like Chet Baker.
Another reason the Bull Shot is scarce: it’s brown. Not glowing amber like your favorite whisky, but really brown: Brown brown. Opaque. But cocktails with Bovril—the beef extract that dates to the 19th Century—were common enough in England that they factor repeatedly in Kingsley Amis’s masterpiece, Everyday Drinking. These days London’s Coburg Bar at the Connaught Hotel, which has a historic and encyclopedic cocktail list (pdf), does not even offer the Bull Shot. It’s enough to take matters into your own hands. Experts differ on the best source of beef, but the heartiness is the thing.
On a day when you thought the world was going to take it to you, the Bull Shot says otherwise. Three is probably pushing it, but two will do nicely. Then go forth and conquer. -DAVID COGGINS
The Bull Shot
Recipe adapted from Ben Benson’s Steakhouse, which closed last year.
1 1/2 ounces (3 tablespoons) vodka
3 ounces ( 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) Campbell’s double-strength beef broth
2 dashes Tabasco sauce
2 dashes Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce
Sprinkling of freshly ground black pepper
Fill a highball glass with ice cubes and add vodka, beef broth, Tabasco, Worcestershire sauce and black pepper. Stir gently. Garnish with lemon.
You can add 3 tablespoons of tomato juice to this recipe for a Bloody Bull.
Adapted from Rules, the game restaurant in London that dates to 1798.
50ml (about 3.3 tablespoons) Vodka
1 cup V8 Juice and Pasatta mix
50ml Beef consomme
2 Lemon wedges
1 Lime wedge
1 tablespoon Worcestershire Sauce
1 tablespoon Green Tabasco Sauce
1/2 tablespoon Celery seed
Heaped tablespoon fresh grated horseradish
Add lemon and limes to a glass shaker and muddle.
Add the celery seed by crushing in your finger tips and adding as a pinch to the shaker.
Add Worcestershire sauce, beef consomme and green tabasco.
Grate in a heaped tablespoon of horseradish.
Top with ice and vodka.
Add the V8 Juice/Passata mixture.
Shake thoroughly and strain into a chilled old fashioned glass.
Garnish with a stick of shaved celery.