The Blood and Sand is a classic cocktail, but it’s really not mentioned all that often. There are, however, two places you’re guaranteed to find it. The first is on every list of scotch-based classics, as there aren’t that many of those. The other is anytime someone’s making a list of the so-called “worst” classic cocktails. It’s the drink bartenders love to hate.
Punch describes it as a “murky mess that’s one of the canon’s more infamous scourges.” Thrillist quotes a San Antonio bartender: “I find it unbalanced and downright repulsive.” A bartender in my social media circle once polled our community, and while there were many defenders, many more treated it like a shooting gallery: From the genteel “it’s nothing more than a curiosity” to the (presumably) facetious “actual blood and sand might taste better,” to the definitive, if unhelpful, “G-R-O-S-S,” there is an exuberance in hating the Blood and Sand. So, what’s wrong with the Blood and Sand?
I’m just going to jump to the last page here and tell you that there’s nothing wrong with the Blood and Sand and that it’s actually an interesting and impressive cocktail. While I hesitate to call these contrarians wrong per se, I will, because they are wrong. The Blood and Sand is good. Great even. Delicious. So a different question—what’s their problem?
The Blood and Sand first shows up in print in the Savoy Cocktail Book in 1930, created, we believe, by the author Harry Craddock and named, we believe, after the 1922 Rudolph Valentino film about bullfighting. According to the original recipe, it is equal parts scotch, sweet vermouth, cherry liqueur and orange juice, which is a clue. These are four ingredients that many people don’t use in cocktails at all, much less together and the first big problem people have with the Blood and Sand is that it sounds like it’s going to be gross. Which, admittedly, it does. As mixology legend Dale DeGroff recounted, “At first glance, this unusual cocktail seemed a godawful mix.”
The other complaint you’ll hear over and over is that orange juice lacks the acidity to provide the tension of something like a Whiskey Sour, so the cocktail is too sweet. According to the classic equal-parts proportions, is this cocktail too sweet? Well, that obviously depends on the sugar levels 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 certainly can be. Is that unfixable? Obviously not. Otherwise intelligent bartenders seem at a loss on how to balance a too sweet drink, as if reducing the quantity of sweet ingredients simply hadn’t occurred to them.
Yes, if you are forced to take a 92-year-old recipe and handcuff yourself to the exact proportions while making it with modern ingredients, yes, the cocktail can cloy (though I insist, even then it still tastes great). But if you reduce the sweet vermouth and cherry liqueur by 0.25 ounce, it cloys much less. And if you add a quarter teaspoon of lemon juice, the lack of acidity is officially no longer a problem and you can focus on the flavor of the drink, which is, as mentioned, impressive. The Blood and Sand is one of those cocktails that synergizes magically into something completely new—the maltiness, depth and fruitiness all at once. Not only do the flavors work together, but they work as well as any cocktail in the canon, locking together so tightly you can’t find the seams.
This brings us to the second half of the above Dale DeGroff quote on the Blood and Sand, the one about it sounding godawful: “But over time,” he continued in his Craft of the Cocktail, “I noticed the recipe appeared in some serious cocktail books, so I finally tried it. The taste convinced me to never judge a drink again without tasting it.”
Don’t take my word for it. Try it out and see.
Blood and Sand
- 1 oz. scotch
- 0.75 oz. sweet vermouth
- 0.75 oz. Cherry Heering
- 1 oz. fresh orange juice
- .25 tsp. lemon juice
Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker with ice and shake hard for 12 to 15 seconds. Strain up 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 blend like whatever 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 scotches finished in sherry or port barrels; the extra richness is unwelcome. If you’re a smoke fan, go with smoke, but for me, the monsters from Islay are overkill—I’d keep it subtle like Famous Grouse or Johnnie Walker Black.
Cherry Heering: A Danish cherry liqueur made for about 200 years, Cherry Heering is the gold standard for drinks like this and the Singapore Sling and is therefore necessary for any well-stocked bar.
Orange Juice: Must, must, must be fresh. Juiced-within-the-hour fresh. If you use purchased juice, or even yesterday’s juice, this cocktail will be terrible and it will be your fault.
Sweet Vermouth: In all our tests, it was surprisingly difficult to pick a favorite vermouth. Dolin Rouge is lithe, mild and excellent, but I narrowly preferred the richer vanilla kiss of Cocchi Vermouth di Torino which—surprise of surprises—plays beautifully with the orange.
Lemon Juice: Be gentle. While a tiny splash of lemon really helps with the sweetness, this cocktail hates excess acidity and really falls apart with even a little too much. There’s citric acid in the orange, of course, but about 5x less than in lemon, so what this teensy amount of lemon juice is doing is imitating a more acidic orange. When we say ¼ tsp., we mean it. That’s a maximum measurement.