I was recently in Chicago for a business trip. The good? I was visiting Chicago, a fantastic food town. The bad? I was there for work, so my time wasn’t my own. I didn’t have much hope for squeezing in any foodie pursuits, perhaps I could find a great dinner for my one free night, but forget about doing any exploring or discovering.
So, on Tuesday night I had an amazing Italian meal at Trattoria #10 and happily closed the book on the foodie part of this trip. The next day was a morning of meetings then rooftop seats at the Cubs game. Fun? Yes. Foodie? No.
Like falling in love, finding good foodie often happens when you least expect it. There, at Murphy’s Bleachers after the Cubs game I tasted, for the first time ever, Tomato Beer. Fifty percent tomato juice, fifty percent beer. Tomatoey, tangy, rich but lighter than straight tomato juice and refreshing after a hot afternoon in the sun.
The origins of Tomato Beer are as murky as the drink itself. I was introduced to it by two hunters who claim that Tomato Beer is a western, hunting trip drink — to be clear, drank only after coming in from the field, woods or blind. A University of Kansas alumna tells me that Red Beer was very popular on KU’s campus, Rock Chalk, Tomato, Jayhawk? A Kentuckian told me that this was a Southern drink. Since so many tasty spirits and cocktails come from the South, this isn’t unfathanable.
For the true origins of tomato beer we need to head a little further south than Kentucky, we need to keep going until we hit Mexico. According to Wikipedia — tomato beer is a version of a Michelada, or Mexican beer cocktail made with lime juice, spices and/ or juice.
Too lazy to mix your own Red Beers at home? No worries, you can buy the beer cocktail already mixed. I haven’t tried these pre-made versions but Tom Gates did, I think his photos say it all. There is also a pizza beer being sold if you really develop a taste for this cocktail.
I was told that tomato beer was just tomato juice and beer — V8 is not regulation. I was also asked to keep this treat to myself — to not ruin the purity of this simple, fortifying drink. Well, I can’t keep a good foodie thing to myself so, even though my safety may be at risk (remember, it was hunters who shared this with me), I’m sharing this cocktail with you, dear readers. I’ll keep half of my promise and only savor Tomato Beer in its purest form – just tomato juice and beer. But if you’d like to experiment a bit, here are some popular variations. Ratios are to taste ranging between 50/50 to 5 to 1 beer to tomato juice:
Clamato: Beer, tomato juice, clam juice
Cubana: Beer, Worcestershire sauce, tabasco sauce, chile and salt.
Chelada: Beer, lime and salt.
Beer Bloody Mary: Beer, tomato juice, dash of Tabasco, dash of Worcestershire
Red Eye: A shot of tomato juice to ale or lager
Ruddy Mary: Shot of tomato juice, ale or lager, splash of Tabasco
P.S. – Need more to fill your craving for Tomato Beer? My friend Casey at Good.Food.Stories. posted today on Bloody Beer — dual Tomato Beer postings? Coincidence or could Casey and I actually be on trend? Developing…