The best cocktails come with stories and the Bloody Mary, or the closely related Caesar for Canadians, is no exception. However, the best stories about this drink may involve the garnishes that accompany it. Traditionally, a Bloody Mary is served with a celery stalk and perhaps a green olive or pickle. But garnish trends have recently slipped into a game full of one-upmanship — bars may add pickled eggs, cheese, a bacon cheeseburger or even a whole fried chicken.
While some of those toppings are a bit excessive, one that has caught on is the meat straw. It "infuses meaty goodness into every spicy mary sip," writes Brenna Houck for Eater. If the reader is not on board with spicy, salty, umami-rich cocktails that resemble meals, perhaps the meat straw’s appeal isn’t obvious. But to many other people, it is: More than 30,000 "original" meat straws garnished drinks sold through stadium concessions last year, Houck writes.
That meaty garnish’s inventor, Ben Hirko of Coralville, Iowa, is making a small fortune, reports Tamara Keith for NPR. Hirko was tending bar in 2009 when the idea occurred to him, inspired by a couple who brought meat sticks to snack on. Fueled by a few beers, Hirko admits, he thought the snacks would go well with a Bloody Mary. Keith writes:
"And so I grabbed a plastic straw out of one of the dispensers, and I grabbed a new stick from them. And I literally started digging a hole in it and eating the meat out of it until I got all the way through," says Hirko, recounting the moment his meat straw concept was born.
That straw was Hirko's first. "I held it up to the guy that was there," he tells NPR. "And I looked him in the eye, right through the hole, and I said, 'That's awesome.' And he looked at me and said, 'Yes, it is.' "
Hirko started selling the meat straws, which attracted the eye of someone at the Detroit Lions football team’s stadium. They added the meat straw to their Hail Mary Bloody Mary drink. Since then the meat straws have made their way to other stadiums — a recent Washington National baseball game in D.C. served them in a "make-your-own-Bloody-Mary" bar, Keith reports.
Hirko recently sold his company to a larger one but he still works there. His story just goes to show that not all ideas born in a bar are worthless, some are actually worth pursuing.