April 7, 2010

Happy Hour: Blood and Sand

by Payman Bahmani

Blood and Sand 

Of all the names one could choose for a cocktail, the Blood and Sand is one of the oddest. It sounds odder when you consider the stuff that goes into the drink–Scotch, cherry liqueur, sweet vermouth, and orange juice, all in equal proportions.  But of the relatively few classic Scotch cocktails out there, the Blood and Sand, despite its strange name and ingredient combination, is one of the most noteworthy.  It is a prime example of the old adage that warns against judging a book by its cover. 

The Blood and Sand, in fact, deserves a place on the short list of cocktails I consider essential.  It is a classic that any bartender worth his Margarita salt should know how to make; and if you’d like your home bar to garner the respect and admiration of your guests, it’s something you should familiarize yourself with as well.

As with many of the great classics, the Blood and Sand comes with an interesting story.  While a few facts—like who created it, when they created it, and where—seem to have fallen into history’s lost items bin, we do know that the drink gets its name from a 1922 film starring Rudolph Valentino, who plays a bullfighter caught in a love triangle.  Also, we know that the first printed recipe for the drink appears in the 1930 Savoy Cocktail Book, which was a compendium of the popular cocktails of the day. 

What is interesting, and potentially informative, is the date range involved here, because from 1920-1933, alcohol sale and consumption was banned in the U.S. as part of Prohibition, making it unlikely for the drink to have been created in the states.  Even assuming you could get your hands on the necessary spirits, who would want to create a drink that couldn’t be shared with anyone for fear of legal reprisal?  Despite the oft-romanticized images of the Prohibition Era, the fact is that it was a dark time for cocktail creativity, and more ruin than respect came from that time period with respect to cocktail culture.

If the Blood and Sand was created during the Prohibition years then it had to have occurred overseas, most likely in Europe.  Consider the other pieces of evidence that bolster this theory: First, the ingredients (Scotch, sweet vermouth, Cherry Heering) were all of European origin; second, the Savoy Hotel, which was the source of the aforementioned cocktail book (even though not all the cocktails listed in the book were created there) is in London; third, before the Blood and Sand was a film, it was a Spanish novel called Sangre y Arena, written by Vicente Blasco Ibáñez; finally, the first American publication to feature the Blood and Sand recipe was the 1934 edition of “Cocktail Bill” Boothby’s World Drinks and How to Mix Them, published a year after the end of Prohibition—perhaps the Blood and Sand was one of the “world drinks” alluded in the book’s title.

Europeans don’t get credit for many of the classic cocktails, but it seems they deserve it here—although it could have been created by one of the many American barmen who fled to Europe to legally practice the craft that was outlawed in the U.S.

Credit, schmedit you say? I see, you wish to get your drink on.  Well, say no more.

Blood and Sand
¾ oz Scotch (Famous Grouse, Chivas, or other blended Scotch recommended)
¾ oz Cherry Heering
¾ oz sweet vermouth
¾ oz fresh-squeezed orange juice

Tools: shaker, strainer
Glass: chilled cocktail glass or coupe
Garnish: brandied cherries or orange twist, or both

Shake ingredients with plenty of ice and strain into your glass.

The recipe above is the original version as first published in the Savoy Cocktail Book. A few modern mixologists have found it useful to modify the recipe slightly by bumping up the Scotch and orange juice to 1 oz to create a drink that allows a little more Scotch and acid (from the orange) to shine through, which balances the sweetness better. I enjoy the original version, but can attest that the slight tweak does bring the drink a step closer to perfection, if not achieve it altogether.

A few notes on ingredient choices: First, you should reach for a blended Scotch here. Famous Grouse or Chivas are quality ones to use, as is Johnny Black—save the big bucks for a drink in which the other ingredients play more of a backup role to the Scotch.  Second, there are a few other cherry liqueurs on the market, and some are good, but I like Heering the best in this cocktail.

Last, and probably most important, is to use fresh juice.  You see, the drink has enough sweet ingredients in it that you don’t want to completely tip the scales by using a store-bought brand, even if it’s not made from concentrate.  There is a mild sweetness and light tartness that you can only get with fresh-squeezed orange juice.  This tartness is crucial for the flavor balance of the cocktail because you don’t have any other source of acidity—and the store-bought juices don’t have that same tart bight.  Besides, why go through all the trouble to source other quality ingredients just to use an inferior, overly-sweet substitute for the juice? 

It is an invariable truth that a cocktail is only as good as its lowest quality ingredient.  Cheers!

*Got a cocktail question? Hit me on twitter @paystyle, email me at payman(at)lifesacocktail(dot)com, or simply drop me a comment below.

6 Comments

  • Posted April 7, 2010 at 4:02 pm

    This is one of my favorite cocktails, love it!

  • Posted April 7, 2010 at 6:12 pm

    Tiare, it’s mine as well. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  • Posted April 8, 2010 at 9:43 am

    What a lovely & well informed post!

    I learned of the Blood & Sand from one of Dale DeGroff’s books, and was intrigued. At the time, I didn’t keep scotch whisky in my bar. I do now! I clearly need to pick up some oranges today.

  • Posted April 8, 2010 at 12:13 pm

    Kate – DeGroff was one of the first to dust off the old books and resurrect this gem, doing so decades before it was popular to do so.

    Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoy your B&S!

  • kayoko
    Posted April 9, 2010 at 12:08 pm

    I had my bartender make one of these last night, but he didn’t know what it was, and I rattled off everything off the top of my head and FORGOT the cherry heering. Damn, I knew SOMETHING was missing.

    When they don’t have the heering, could Luxardo be substituted?

    Love the post!

  • Posted April 9, 2010 at 8:11 pm

    Can’t substitute Luxardo for Heering b/c they’re completely different things. They’re both liqueurs based on cherries, but Luxardo’s flavor is less cherry and more cherry pit, to put it concisely. Heering, on the other hand, is pure, sweet, cherry flavor. Try it and you’ll instantly realize the difference.

    Also, bartender who’s never heard of a Blood & Sand is not a bartender. He is an aspiring actor who plays one in real life. I bet he’s the man when it comes to making gin & tonics. Fail.

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