Blood and Sand
Suddenly the man was thrown from between the bull’s horns with a devastating blow, and tumbled to the sand. The bull lowered his head, picking up the lifeless body, lifting it for an instant on its horns and letting it fall once more before careering away on a mad path, the rapier plunged deep to the hilt in its neck…
…But the torero did not acknowledge the crowd’s outbursts of enthusiasm. He brought his hand to his stomach, crouching in pain, and began to walk unsteadily with his head hung low. Twice he raised his head as if he were looking for an exit and fearing to be unable to find it, finally staggered like a drunken man, and collapsed upon the sand.
– Vicente Blasco Ibáñez, Sangre y Arena (1909)
This cocktail was named after the 1922 film starring Rudolph Valentino, itself based on the classic 1909 novel written by Vicente Ibáñez. As you may have guessed, both tell the sordid tale of a bullfighter who ultimately meets his end at the hands (hooves?) of an ill-tempered bull
with a laser beam attached to its head.
Apparently this was signor Valentino’s favorite role. After recovering from a touch-and-go appendectomy, he told reporters that “The part I like best was my role in ‘Blood and Sand’. If I had died, I would have liked to be remembered as an actor by that role – I think it my greatest.” Despite the surgery, he died a few days later from peritonitis. Ah, Cazzo.
The first publication of the recipe was in – surprise, surprise – The Savoy Cocktail Book, so it stands to reason that the drink was invented sometime between mid-1922 and early 1930. The name of its inventor is – as is tradition in the annals of the American Cocktail – shrouded in mystery, never to be known for certain. Lástima.
The original recipe calls for equal parts of blended Scotch, orange juice, sweet vermouth and cherry brandy; however, using these ratios results in the whiskey being somewhat lost. Many up the Scotch, but I’ve gone with Jim Meehan’s recipe, which not only increases the Scotch, but also reduces the quantities of vermouth and cherry brandy. Lovely.
- 1½ oz. Famous Grouse Blended Scotch whisky
- ¾ oz. blood orange juice
- ½ oz. Carpano Antica Formula sweet vermouth
- ½ oz. Cherry Heering
Don an appropriately flamboyant traje de luces. Add everything to a shaker with plenty of ice. Shake in a manner that would undoubtedly piss off 1300 pounds of grouchy Miura bull. Once chilled, double strain into a chilled cocktail glass and say what every matador says when faced with a charging bull – ¡ay, mierda! Garnish with a few drops of blood and a pinch of sand. Just kidding – no garnish.
The above proportions give the blended Scotch a bit of breathing room and bring the overall sweetness level down to a more manageable level. There is a progression of flavours beginning with cherry and orange, morphing into a hint of smoky Scotch on the mid-palate, and finishing with an almost plummy taste and an ever so slight bitterness. This being said, I find the tanginess of the orange juice detracts a bit from the drink. I don’t know. I feel that this cocktail might need a dash of lemon juice or something to brighten it up a bit. Maybe something as simple as a lemon twist. Still, not a bad drink. Meehan’s version is superior to the original, hands down.
I’ll finish off this post with the concluding line from Blood and Sand:
“Poor matador…poor beast! But out there is the real beast – a beast with ten thousand heads!”
Indeed. Hasta la próxima vez, compadres.