The Chameleon

The Blood and Sand cocktail is one of the most successful drinks making use of Scotch whisky. At the same time it’s a bit of a mystery. Camper English trys to lift the lid on a strange classic.

The Blood and Sand is a cocktail that makes no sense when you see it written: It is equal parts whisky, orange juice, Italian vermouth, and cherry liqueur. It sounds excessively sweet, bland, and fruity, like one of those unbalanced cocktails a public relations firm would invent for National Vermouth Day. However, when shaken and served in a cocktail glass, the combination is quite amazing. It is fresh and juicy, rich yet nuanced, and it can be made masculine and smoky or light and easy depending on the brand of scotch used. And luckily for cocktail nerds, a four ingredient drink provides four different ingredients over which to obsess, independently and also in combination.
Though many early American cocktails were named for successful Broadway actors and plays, the Blood and Sand was named for a famous movie back in the early days of Hollywood. The silent, black-and-white movie Blood and Sand was released in 1922. It stars Rudolph Valentino as the young Spanish boy who becomes a famous bullfighter but is ultimately undone by falling in love with both his childhood sweetheart and also a rich and worldly woman. Since it is a bullfighting movie, you can probably guess the tragic ending. (For those interested in seeing the movie, I recommend the sound-and-color 1941 version staring Tyrone Power as the bullfighter and Rita Hayworth as the temptress.)
Neither version of the movie contains cocktails or any large amount of drinking, so it seems that the cocktail was inspired by the success of the movie. Of the ingredients, only oranges might be Spanish in origin, but both scotch and orange juice could be considered sand-colored, while cherry brandy and Italian vermouth could be considered blood-colored. The first printed recipe for the drink in a book appears to be in The Savoy Cocktail Book by Harry Craddock in 1930. Though much of the Savoy Cocktail Book was copied from other, earlier cocktail books, the Blood and Sand is one of the rare recipes that appears first in its pages. Cocktail Kingdom owner and vintage cocktail book expert Greg Boehm says the drink was mentioned in “A Cocktail Continentale” from 1926 before the Savoy, but not the recipe.
Blood and Sand Cocktail, from The Savoy Cocktail Book
¼ Orange Juice
¼ Scotch Whisky
¼ Cherry Brandy
¼ Italian Vermouth
Shake well and strain into cocktail glass.
The Base Spirit
This drink is most often served with blended scotch whisky, which is a blend of single malt scotch with grain whisky. Chivas, Johnnie Walker, and Dewars are three of the top-selling blended scotches. However, the Blood and Sand benefits from the use of single malt scotch or blended malt scotch, which is a blend of single malts. The more neutral column-distilled grain whiskies in blended scotch do not lend as much flavor and texture to the drink as does a single-malt. At Hide Bar in London, the default scotch used in the drink is the blended malt Monkey Shoulder. Bar owner Paul Mathew (who works in Beijing as a consultant and runs the blog called says of the scotch, “(it) has a nice full-flavour that carries through the drink. Blends with lots of grain can be a little light for the drink in my opinion. Given the richness of the other ingredients, I like the whisky to be bold enough to remain the backbone of the drink. We prefer a peaty single malt, but the cost is too high to list it with drinks that are a standard price. We usually recommend it as an up-sell though.”
The more expensive option is also to match the customer’s tastes. Mathew continues, “I would recommend the smoky option to someone who likes their whisky and wants something bold, but for another customer who has been drinking gin cocktails or wants an aperitif, a lighter whisky and less full-on vermouth might be a more appropriate introduction to the drink.”
Blood and Sand, by Paul Mathew of Hide Bar and
30 ml Compass Box Peat Monster or Lagavulin 16
20 ml Carpano Antica Formula Vermouth (or 25ml Punt y Mes if not available – it’s a little less rich)
25 ml Cherry Heering
25 ml fresh orange juice, or pink grapefruit for a more sour twist
Shake very hard over the coldest ice you can get your hands on, then single strain into a chilled coupette. I leave off the twist as I find the bitterness unnecessary and a little out of place – others add a flamed orange. A hard shake and single strain are, to me, essential to leave a small film of broken ice shards over the surface of the drink through which it should be gently, but not too slowly consumed.
At Reingold in Berlin, the Blood and Sand is usually served with Auchentoshan 12 year-old single malt scotch, Martini Rosso vermouth, Cherry Heering, and fresh orange juice. However, for a recent special bartender David Wiedemann says they made the drink with the peaty Laphroaig 10-year-old scotch, the robust Carpano Antica Formula vermouth, Cherry Heering, and fresh pink grapefruit juice.
At Lebensstern, also in Berlin, Ricardo Albrecht uses a different smoky scotch in the drink: Ardbeg. Albrecht says, “The drink works with nearly every scotch. We thought about making it a bit different. It turns the whole drink around; gives it more power.”
Blood and Sand, From Ricardo Albrecht of Lebensstern, Berlin
40 ml Ardbeg 10-year
30 ml Carpano Classico Rosso
30 ml Cherry Heering
20 ml Fresh Orange juice
Hard and short shake on dry ice with a small orange zest. No garnish.
Islay scotches like Laphroaig, Lagavulin, and Bowmore add a smoky flavor to the drink that pairs surprisingly well with the fruity combination of cherry and orange juice. The smoke flavors in whisky come from peat, a decaying vegetation once burned for heat that is now used to flavor the malted barley that goes into the whisky. Some bartenders are finding their smoke flavors from other sources than peat, however.
In the United States, California in particular, bartenders have access to several brands of excellent mezcal. Top quality mezcal is typically made by placing agave into an earthen pit with hot coals and cooking it for several days. This gives it a smoky flavor not entirely similar to that of peated whiskies, but the resultant mezcal can sometimes be used in recipes that call for smoky scotches.
Bartenders have substituted mezcal for whisky in the Penicillin, Sazerac, Old Fashioned, and of course, the Blood and Sand. At Beretta, a bar in San Francisco, bar manager Ryan Fitzgerald calls the mezcal version of the drink the Arena y Sangre; the Spanish translation of blood and sand.
Fitzgerald says, “It’s a cocktail I’d been trying to get right for awhile. Because of this you’ll see that the recipe is quite different from the original. It’s even got an Italian twist to make it more Beretta-esque,” citing the restaurant’s Italian theme.
“I had to add some bitters and lemon juice to balance it out and brighten everything up. The Visciolo is playing the role of sweet vermouth,” he says.
Arena y Sangre, by Ryan Fitzgerald of Beretta, San Francisco, California
1.5 oz Chichicapa Mezcal1 oz Orange Juice
0.25 oz Lemon Juice
0.75 oz Visciolo (an Italian sour cherry dessert wine)
0.5 oz Cherry Heering
2 dashes orange bitters
Shake, double strain into coupe with flamed orange zest.
A final way bartenders infuse smoke into the Blood and Sand and other cocktails is by smoking the ingredients themselves. Some accomplish this by smoking fruit over a barbecue grill. Other bartenders use oven smokers to smoke fruits in a kitchen setting. After the fruit is smoked, they may muddle the fruits along with alcohol to make bitters and tinctures, or add sugar to make smoky syrups. These preparations provide the opportunities to added smoked bitters or tinctures to the cocktail, or perhaps to make the drink made with smoked cherry syrup and orange liqueur in place of cherry liqueur and orange juice.
The Choice of Orange Juice
Craig Hermann, who blogs at the site, has undertaken a study of orange juice in cocktails. (If you want to know about citrus, ask a tiki geek.) He has found that unlike most citrus juices where fresh is by far a better option, “Freshly squeezed orange juice is in most cases insipid and may well ruin your cocktail.” According to Hermann, this is because many of the oranges available for sale are grown for maximum yield of juice, ease-of-harvest, aesthetics, and shelf life. They are acceptable for eating and have great zest in the peels, but are not good for flavorful juice. The most common orange varieties in the US are “common sweet orange” and the Bahia Navel orange.
Recommended orange varieties include Valencia (from which most orange juice is made), Cara Cara (with a “dark orange color and complex juice flavor”), and Hamlin (“light, flowery orange flavor with undertones of honey” but a thin rind). These oranges come from California, South America, and Florida: Likely there are other varieties available in Europe. When choosing oranges in general, Hermann gives the following guide. “Your chances will improve greatly by looking for these characteristics: location, weight, color. The locality should be your closest (source). The weight should be heavy for its size – it should feel dense. The color should be as close to green as possible. All oranges are green in their native tropics: colder climes and senescence cause the process that lead to the reveal of the orange color. Yes. Oranges are green.”
Of course, not every bar has access to a variety of oranges and other produce as seasons change. Given the option of fresh-squeezed orange juice from watery flavorless oranges and juice from a bottle, the bottled juice may be the better option. But let us not pretend that bottled orange juice is juiced oranges put into a bottle. There are two kinds of orange juice usually available on shelves: Orange juice from concentrate, and not-from-concentrate that is often called “fresh-squeezed.” The not-from-concentrate type is centrifuged to remove the oils, then pasteurized, and usually de-oxygenated to prevent it from spoiling. This removes much of the juice’s flavors, so it is then re-flavored before shipping to stores. Orange juice from concentrate is heated to remove excess water, flavored, and frozen. It is then sold as frozen concentrate or is watered down and bottled. Hermann says he will use processed bottled orange juice products when all he can find is out-of-season oranges, or cannot find (real) fresh orange juice in jugs from a health food store. To recognize the real, fresh orange juice, Hermann says, “Real orange juice goes bad in days, so the (expiration) date should be less than a week or so.”
But not all bartenders use orange juice. The special at Reingold used fresh pink grapefruit juice. Humberto Marques of 1105 in Copenhagen uses persimmons. Marques says, “One day I was in a big fruit shop and I found persimmons (A persimmon is an orange fruit that looks similar to a tomato. There are two varieties of this fruit, one of which is small and round and can be eaten right off the tree, skin and all. The other variety is larger and must be picked and softened then eaten.) I squeezed some in a fruit machine and I mixed it with Auchentoshan Three Wood which has on the nose fruits like raisins, especially dates, and orange peel and on the palate a beautiful balance of dark, syrupy, fruity, maturation flavours and cedary, oily, marshmallow characteristics, along with Cherry Heering and Carpano Antica Formula and 10ml of Grand Marnier to enhance the flavors.” Marques says this drink will go on the menu at 1105 in 2011.
True Blood, by Humberto Marques of 1105, Copenhagen
25 ml Auchentoshan Three Wood scotch whisky
25 ml Cherry Heering
25 ml Carpano Antica Formula vermouth
25 ml Persimmon juice
10 ml Grand Marnier
Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange twist. Marques says you can also double the whisky and garnish the drink with a sherry-plumped cherry.
Vermouth and Cherry Brandy
Both the vermouth and the cherry brandy sweeten the Blood and Sand, so most bartenders are cautious of using too much of either ingredient. These are both important elements in the drink, but play more of a supportive role to the scotch and citrus and are usually kept in the background.
In Lebensstern’s Blood and Sand, Albrecht uses Carpano vermouth and Cherry Heering liqueur, both in less quantities than the scotch in the drink. He says he researched other brands though. “I tried some but found our favorites for his drink. The focus was to show the complexity of the Ardbeg, so we used some very good, but not too dominant partners.”
The typical sweet vermouths include Noilly Pratt and Martini & Rossi. Some bartenders substitute Punt y Mes or Dubonnet for sweet vermouth in the Blood and Sand and other cocktails and adjust the recipes to match. Several bartenders interviewed for this story call for Carpano Antica Formula, a robustly flavored vermouth with some chocolate notes, made based on a recipe from 1786. While most brands of vermouth can be used in equal parts to the scotch and other ingredients, Carpano Antica is so powerful it typically must be used in smaller quantities.
Surprisingly, the one ingredient that bartenders change the least often in this cocktail is the cherry brandy. Bartenders almost always use Cherry Heering, which is actually a cherry liqueur. Of the bartenders interviewed for this story, only Beretta’s Fitzgerald uses Visciolo (an Italian sour cherry dessert wine) in addition to Cherry Heering, which he says adds more brightness to the drink.
Other cherry brandies or liqueurs that might be substituted include kirsch (unaged cherry brandy) and other cherry liqueurs including Combier Roi Rene Rouge and ones made by liqueur houses like Bols and Marie Brizard. Despite all the different variations of the drink made with scotch and mezcal, smoked syrups, and a variety of citrus fruits, there are still more vermouths and more cherry ingredients with which to experiment. Despite its classic status dating back to at least 1930, the Blood and Sand is not a drink frozen in time and takes on new forms depending on the bartender in charge.
Beware of Flamed Garnishes
The Blood and Sand is often not garnished, but when so it is typically done with an orange peel. Some bartenders create an orange twist or knot that they drop into the drink. Others make a flamed orange peel by squeezing a coin-sized section of peel toward the cocktail glass and holding a match flame between the peel and the drink. (This is famously depicted on the cover of Dale DeGroff’s Craft of the Cocktail book.)
San Francisco bartender Erik Adkins noted though that many bartenders are using the wrong type of oranges to flame. He says, “It is important to get oranges without wax or paraffin on them. Most oranges sold in grocery stores are treated so that they will have more eye appeal to the consumer. (When flamed) the wax leaves a nasty smelling black streak of burnt oil on the top of the drink. I have seen this in a lot of bars. I have met bartenders whose fingers were stained black from flaming peels.” Adkins continues: “The way we can check our fruit is to flame the peel over a white napkin. If you get a smelly black streak then it has been treated. It is a pretty dramatic effect,” he says.
This article was first published in MIXOLOGY Issue 1/2011.

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