What is the official beverage of Charleston, SC? Bloody Marys, apparently. Home to multiple nationally-distributed bloody mary mixers, the city is now welcoming the newest mix on the block—Natural Blonde.
Created by longtime barman and founder of the Charleston chapter of the United States Bartenders Guild, John Aquino has 5 Bacardi Mojito Challenges wins and competed in the Cabana Cachaca world finals in Rio de Janeiro, so I was surprised when I first found out he’d created a bloody mary mix. I’d always associated him with creative mojito variations and fun tropical drinks.
“I literally stumbled upon creating my bloody mary mix by entering a competition sponsored by Ketel One during the ‘Bloody Mary Throwdown’ as part of the 2012 Cooper River Bridge Run festivities,” he explains. “I competed against about 15 other local restaurants and won. After getting comments from enough people wanting me to recreate it for their own personal consumption, I began tweaking the recipe to make it as tasty, local, sustainable, and cost effective as possible until I was satisfied. It’s taken on a life of its own, and at this point is consuming all of my time and energy. So I just roll with it and hope for the best!”
What sets Natural Blonde apart from the others in the market is its distinctive use of yellow tomatoes, Valencia Gold Tomatoes to be exact, which he sources from Blackbird Farms on nearby Johns Island, South Carolina.
“Because of their lower acidity, yellow tomatoes lend themselves to be a blank slate and accept lighter ingredients readily without being masked by standard red tomato traits.”
“Many people want a lower-sodium, fresh, lighter version of almost everything nowadays, and yellow tomatoes fit the bill. I tested about twelve different types until I found the ones that worked correctly, so my research has been thorough.”
This is a man that takes his cocktail craft seriously, which results (predictably) into an outstanding final product that pairs well with vodka and tequila (Bloody Marias are a fun variation) but also is made to enjoy with brunch, not in place of it. A veggie frittata or a local greens salad with a citrus vinaigrette is what we’d order … and we’d ask for a shot of Ancho Reyes to be added to our Natural Blonde. With that added kick, we can be sure that blondes do have more fun after all.