Try getting a Bullshot next time you’re out. Not a Bloody Bull, or a Bulldog, or a Bull’s Eye. A Bullshot. You might think the main obstacle is the fact that most bars don’t stock the key ingredient, beef bouillon. But it goes deeper than that. Most bartenders have never heard of the drink. Despite its solid stature in the mid-20th-century, it has essentially disappeared.
Sure, stepping up to the rail and asking for a savory libation based on a kitchen staple is like scanning a fast food menu for poached salmon. But I’m not talking solely about the corner tap. I don’t even think about trying my luck unless I’m settled in the bar of a five-star hotel (where they at least have access to a pantry) or at a cocktail lounge that’s all about making anything under the sun. But bartenders and mixologists alike have let me down.
Not that they haven’t tried. One evening at a Peninsula Hotel, the crew was determined to come through, with one fellow off to the kitchen and another listening intently (along with half the patrons) as I went through recipe.
Truth be told, the only spot I was satisfied was the long-gone Pump Room of the Ambassador East Hotel in Chicago. Which isn’t surprising. After all, Hitchcock filmed there. This was where Frank Sinatra held court when he was in town. And in its sunset years — the late ‘90s — it was still serving Rob Roys to neighborhood residents who’d been popping in for decades.
I still give it a shot from time to time, although when venturing my order, I always say, “If you have to ask what it is, I’ll have a Martini.” Of course, the eye rolls from my drinking companions don’t help.
So, what is this elusive elixir? Kin to the Bloody Mary, it’s spun of vodka, beef bouillon, Tabasco, Worcestershire, and lemon juice. And yes, it’s served cold. The broth and dash of Worcestershire give the drink an umami richness, while the tartness and heat of lemon juice and Tabasco soften the shock of the chilled broth. Cocktail historian David Wondrich traces the Bullshot’s origin to 1950s Detroit, when a public relations rep for Campbell’s Soup told restaurant and lounge owner, Lester Gruber, that he was having a tough time pitching the company’s beef stock. The two grabbed the vodka and got to work.
The drink enjoyed a vogue throughout the ‘50s and ‘60s, although even then, plenty of folks just couldn’t get their palate around the idea of ice-cold beef stock. According to Wondrich, Marilyn Monroe was reported to have protested, saying “What a horrible thing to do to vodka.” You decide.
2 ounces vodka
4 ounces Campbells Condensed Beef Stock
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 to 2 dashes Worcestershire Sauce
1 to 2 dashes Tabasco Sauce
1/8 teaspoon celery salt
Combine, stir, and serve over ice in a tumbler or highball glass.