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Weekend Cocktail: Blood & Sand

The Blood & Sand is a unique and enjoyable scotch cocktail, named for a 1922 movie about bullfighting and how women ruin it


Vacations, if you’re fortunate enough to take one, are a beautiful concept. You might travel or stay at home, but you’ve reclaimed your time for yourself. You can use it as you see fit.

If you’re anything like me and my wife, though, you tend to pack a lot of activity into the short time you’re away. See this monument; visit this museum; hike this trail; make good time; back on the road; you just peed an hour ago; hold it.

I’ve started to think that may not be the best approach. I read once that when you pay for a vacation, you aren’t simply paying for the experience of being in a place. You’re really paying for the memories you’re making. They are yours to recall any time you like, the next day or twenty years on. For a brief instant you can be back there in the sun, or the woods, or the city, or wherever. In light of that, it’s best to slow down and appreciate where you are rather than how fast you’re getting someplace else.

The same idea applies to a good cocktail. So much of our experience with food and drink is contextual – if you’re having a good time, it will taste better. You can get trashed in a hurry and make all sorts of hazy memories, but taking the time to really savor a well-prepared drink is something that can add layers of enjoyment to where you are, and who you’re with, and how you remember it.

Blood & Sand

The Blood & Sand is a unique and enjoyable scotch cocktail, one of the few. Named for a 1922 movie about bullfighting and how women ruin it, the drink appeared around 1930 in the Savoy Cocktail Book.

I first had a Blood & Sand while I was traveling (incidentally, while meeting with the publisher of this very online magazine) and was immediately impressed by it. It’s easy drinking, which is not to say it is a weak drink. Very potent, as I discovered upon consumption of the second (it was that kind of meeting).

You’ll need:

  • 1 oz. Famous Grouse scotch
  • 1 oz. sweet vermouth
  • 1 oz. Cherry Heering brandy
  • 1 oz. fresh orange juice (ideally blood orange)
  • orange peel (cut into a coin shape)
  • 1 match

The Blood & Sand is a breeze to prepare. Simply add the liquid ingredients to a shaker with ice, do the needful, and then strain into a cocktail or coupe glass. Between the vermouth and cherry brandy, the drink will be suffused with red and quite pleasing to the eye. But wait, there’s more.

Cut a coin-sized disc from the orange peel. Don’t be afraid to cut deep, as the pith will aid you in what you are about to do. Light the match and hold it over the glass. Bring the peel close, and squeeze citrus oil into the flame. It will flare up, providing a dramatic touch and ever-so-gently altering the flavor. I gave the rim of my glass a light kiss with the peel, but this is not strictly necessary.

After you finish delighting those around you with your dash and elan, discard the peel and enjoy. The sweetness of the brandy and vermouth is kept in check by the scotch. The orange rounds things off and ties all the flavors together.

Fresh orange juice is a must. If they are available you can use blood orange for its sweetness and hue, but it’s not a requirement.

I chose the Famous Grouse scotch because that was how it was first served to me, and I saw no pressing need to mess with a good thing. A blend is a solid bet for this one, as a single malt may come on a wee bit strong and overpower the other flavors (though you should let your own taste be your guide). The Famous Grouse is lighter in body, but strong enough that it is not wholly subsumed by the competing flavors.

The vermouth shouldn’t be too big and complex. Carpano Antica is great, but after thorough testing I’ve determined it could be a little much for this drink. Your lighter Martini & Rossi or Cinzano will do fine, and allow the cherry brandy to shine through.

Speaking of which, the cherry brandy was also tricky for me to nail down. Much of what you’ll find on shelves tastes a bit like Robitussin, and should be avoided. Many recipes call for Cherry Heering, a Danish liqueur with strong, natural cherry flavors and vibrant ruby color. I went with a Grand Marnier Cherry cognac I had on hand, which performed very well but wasn’t quite there. The Heering is worth tracking down for this one.

The Blood & Sand is a perfect drink after a long day, whether you were at work or on vacation. Just remember to take your time and enjoy what you’re doing, wherever you are.

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