How to Make the Citrusy Scotch Cocktail – Robb Report

The Blood and Sand is a classic cocktail that really doesn’t get mentioned all that often. However, there are two places where you are guaranteed to find it. The first is on any list of Scotch-based classics as there aren’t that many of them. The other is whenever someone makes a list of the so-called “worst” classic cocktails. It’s the drink that bartenders love to hate.

Punch describes it as a “gloomy mess that is one of canon’s more notorious scourges”. Thrillist quotes a San Antonio bartender: “I find it unbalanced and downright repulsive.” A bartender in my social media circle once surveyed our community, and while there were many defenders, many more treated it like a shooting gallery: posh “it’s nothing more than an oddity” to the (probably) joking “actually, blood and sand could taste better” to the final, if unhelpful, “BIG,” there’s an exuberance in hating Blood and Sand. So what’s up with Blood and Sand?

I’ll just jump to the last page here and tell you that there’s nothing wrong with the Blood and Sand and it’s actually an interesting and impressive cocktail. While I hesitate to call these contrarians not correct per se I will because they are wrong. The blood and the sand is good. Great even. Delicious. So another question – what is your problem?

The Blood and Sand appears for the first time in print Savoy Cocktail Book 1930, created in our opinion by author Harry Craddock and named in our opinion after Rudolph Valentino’s 1922 film about bullfighting. According to the original recipe, it’s equal parts scotch, sweet vermouth, cherry liqueur, and orange juice, which is a clue. These are four ingredients that a lot of people don’t use in cocktails at all, let alone together, and the first major problem people have with Blood and Sand is that it sounds like it’s going to be gross. Which it admittedly does. As mixology legend Dale DeGroff recounted, “At first glance, this unusual cocktail seemed like a goddamn mix.”

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The other complaint you’ll keep hearing is that orange juice lacks the acidity to create the excitement of a whiskey sour, so the cocktail is overly sweet. According to the classic equal proportions, is this cocktail too sweet? Well, that obviously depends on the sugar content of your orange juice (and it seems perfectly reasonable to assume that the oranges Craddock got in London in 1930 were more acidic than the juicy bombs we get today), but yes, it could be. Is that uncorrectable? Obviously not. Otherwise, smart bartenders don’t seem able to balance a drink that’s too sweet, as if reducing the amount of sweet ingredients just hadn’t occurred to them.

Yes, if you’re forced to take a 92-year-old recipe and shackle yourself to exact proportions while making it with modern ingredients, yes, the cocktail can be cloying (though I insist, even then it’s still tasty Great). But if you reduce the sweet vermouth and cherry liqueur by 0.25 ounces, there’s a lot less clumping. And when you add a quarter teaspoon of lemon juice, the lack of acidity is officially no longer a problem and you can concentrate on the taste of the drink, which as mentioned is impressive. The Blood and Sand is one of those cocktails that magically combine into something completely new – maltiness, depth and fruitiness all at once. Not only do the flavors work together, but they work just as well as any cocktail in canon, sealing together so tightly you can’t find the seams.

That brings us to the second half of Dale DeGroff’s quote above about Blood and Sand, which sounds awful about it: “But over time,” he continued in his Craft of the cocktail, “I noticed that the recipe appeared in some reputable cocktail books, so I finally gave it a try. The taste convinced me never again to judge a drink without trying it.”

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Don’t take my word for it. Try it and see.

Table of Contents

blood and sand

  • 1 ounce. Scotch
  • 0.75 oz. sweet vermouth
  • 0.75 oz. Cherry Heering
  • 1 ounce. fresh orange juice
  • 0.25 tsp. lemon juice

Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker with ice and shake vigorously for 12 to 15 seconds. Strain into a coupe or cocktail glass and garnish with an orange peel.

NOTES ON INGREDIENTS:

Scotch: This drink was practically made for blended scotch. A simple mix like your grandpa liked would be great (Chivas, Dewars, etc.). My favorites here are Compass Box’s Great King Street and the blended malt Monkey Shoulder. Avoid Scotch aged in sherry or port casks; the extra wealth is undesirable. If you’re a fan of smoke, go for smoke, but for me the monsters of Islay are over the top – I’d keep it subtle like Famous Grouse or Johnnie Walker Black.

Cherry Heering: A Danish cherry liqueur that has been in production for around 200 years, Cherry Heering is the gold standard for drinks like this and the Singapore Sling, making it a must-have in any well-stocked bar.

Orange juice: Must, must, must be fresh. Freshly juiced within the hour. If you use store-bought juice or even yesterday’s juice, this cocktail will be terrible and it will be your fault.

Sweet vermouth: In all of our testing, picking a favorite vermouth was surprisingly difficult. Dolin Rouge is smooth, mild and excellent, but I just prefer the richer vanilla kiss of Cocchi Vermouth di Torino, which – surprise of surprises – plays beautifully with the orange.

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lemon juice: be gentle While a tiny squeeze of lemon really adds to the sweetness, this cocktail hates excessive acidity and really falls apart even when it’s a bit too much. There is citric acid in the orange, of course, but about 5x less than in the lemon, so that tiny amount of lemon juice mimics a more acidic orange. When we say ¼ tsp, we mean it. This is a maximum measurement.

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