Friday, February 14, 2014

Cocktail of the Week: The Blood and Sand

They’re not many in number, Scotch cocktails, and understandably so. Scotch whisky, whether smoky or peaty, is a lonely, Brontë-esque figure on the moors, demanding to be savored in solitude. The one or two drinks I’ve spotlighted using this spirit don’t stray far from the Manhattan. But the cocktail that shows Scotch to its best advantage moves in a completely different direction, and is in my personal pantheon. Naysayers who don’t believe Scotch mixes well be warned: no less an authority than Ted Haigh, in Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails, calls the drink “revelatory.”

Blood and Sand began as a 1908 novel by Vicente Blasco Ibáñez. The tale of a young bullfighter undone by success, it would be brought to the screen by the author himself in 1916. Six years later, a Paramount Pictures adaptation would cement the fame of Rudolph Valentino; the actor later identified the role as his favorite and the performance as his best. A 1941 remake starring Tyrone Power and Rita Hayworth was also a hit. As for the 1989 Spanish-made version inexplicably starring Sharon Stone, this much can be said: it exists. Both the 1922 and 1941 films spawned comic send-ups by name talents, first Stan Laurel’s “Mud and Sand” (in which he plays Rhubarb Vaselino) then the Three Stooges’ immortal “What’s The Matador?”

Valentino’s triumph also gave rise to the cocktail. Its exact origin is unknown, but the recipe first appeared in Harry Craddock’s Savoy Cocktail Book (1930). The inspiration carries over to the ingredients, with orange juice representing the sand and the rich red of Cherry Heering serving as sanguinary element. Springing for a bottle of this extraordinarily flavorful brandy has allowed me at last to make this drink at home.

The Blood and Sand was initially an equally parts cocktail, and many bartenders still prepare it this way; A.J. Rathbun in Dark Spirits cleverly suggests making it as a punch. The redoubtable gaz regan ups the OJ ante and serves it as a brunch highball. I prefer it with an emphasis on the whisky, leading to the question of which brand to use. You’ll want a light single-malt or a blended. Famous Grouse is the default choice at the bars where I regularly order it, but following a run on the product at my local liquor store I sent Bank Note Blended (containing a higher than usual 40% single malt yet at a price that won’t gore you) into the ring in its suit of lights and it brought the crowd to its feet waving white handkerchiefs. A sterling replacement.

The Blood and Sand

1 ½ oz. Scotch
¾ oz. orange juice
½ oz. Cherry Heering
½ oz. sweet vermouth

Shake. Strain. No garnish.

Want more Cocktail of the Week? The first fifty-two essays are available in the Kindle bestseller DOWN THE HATCH: ONE MAN’S ONE YEAR ODYSSEY THROUGH CLASSIC COCKTAIL RECIPES AND LORE. Buy it now at