Words by: Simon Difford
Probably the best-known Scotch whisky-based cocktail, the Blood & Sand is traditionally made with equal parts blended Scotch whisky, cherry brandy, sweet vermouth and orange juice, shaken and served straight-up. Created in 1922, the drink is named after Rudolph Valentino's Blood & Sand bullfighter movie which was released the same year.
Based on the 1909 Spanish novel Sangre y arena (Blood and Sand) by Vicente Blasco Ibáñez and the play by Thomas Cushing, the silent film was a box office hit. It tells the dramatic story of Juan Gallardo (Valentino), a poor village boy who grows up to become one of the greatest matadors in Spain. He marries his childhood sweetheart, the beautiful and virtuous Carmen, but once rich and famous is seduced by a wealthy widow. They embark on a torrid affair but feeling guilty he tries to end the affair. Furious at his rejection, his lover exposes their affair to his wife. Distracted and depressed he becomes reckless in the arena and somewhat predictably is killed in a bullfight. However, in true Hollywood style, just moments before his death, he manages to reconcile with his wife Carmen who is naturally grief stricken. The end.
Who was inspired by the film to make the cocktail is unknown, but it first appears in Harry Craddock's 1930 The Savoy Cocktail Book. The deep amber red cherry brandy is said to represent the blood and the orange juice the sand.
The Blood and Sand is one of those cocktails which started as being equal proportions and has pretty much remained so. It works but is perhaps a tad sweet with the cherry brandy slightly dominating the Scotch. If making late at night I like to double the scotch so:
1½ shot Scotch whisky
¾ shot Cherry brandy
¾ shot Sweet vermouth
¾ shot Orange juice
The above works for whisky lovers but this Blood & Sand recipe is better balanced and less polarising.
The discovery that blood orange juice is far superior to navel orange juice (but freshly squeezed navel orange is superior to any packaged orange juice) led me to create the Bloody Blood & Sand. In doing so I also introduced a splash of Islay malt to help the Scotch stand up to the other big flavoured ingredients.
This got me thinking about the cherry brandy and the Straits Sling, so I tried 50% cherry brandy and 50% kirsch eau-de-vie. That worked so I applied the same logic to the vermouth and the drink also became 'perfect', resulting in my Perfectly Straight Blood & Sand.
I've also come across a Dutch Blood and Sand with genever, and in London's Satan's Whiskers bar they add a dash of lemon juice and simple syrup to their equal parts Blood & Sand.