This is the tedious origin story of a cocktail, or rather my version of a cocktail.
I’ll start apologetically and admit that I don’t know very much about cocktails. I read one book about them last year (Imbibe!), and then started mixing them at home. Probably no book has had such a deleterious effect on my liver and general health. Anyways, I think the drink described in this post is delicious, but I acknowledge that it’s a bit over the top. I have absolutely no idea how it would play in the real world with real bartenders and patrons.
Blood and Sand is a classic cocktail, typically composed of equal parts blended scotch, orange juice (often blood orange juice), cherry liqueur (usually Cherry Heering), and sweet vermouth. The standard version is delicious, but through a variety of circumstances I have developed a unique take on the drink.
Last year we hosted a private dinner at Little Brick. The organizer wanted a custom cocktail served to welcome the diners, and she knew that the guest of honour loved big, peaty Scotch. I racked my brain, and then the internet, to try and find a list of components for the drink whimsically called “For Peat’s Sake”, one of the signature cocktails served at Three Boars in years past. Naturally, I wanted to copy it and pass it off as my own, under a different pun-name. My brief, private brainstorm session for a new name was pretty embarrassing. “Peat Sampras” was the best I came up with, which doesn’t even really make sense.
Unable to find a recipe or think of a clever name, I pondered the classic scotch-based cocktails. I could think of only two: the Rusty Nail (Scotch and Drambuie…. an acquired taste) and The Godfather (Scotch and Amaretto). Nate knew of a third: Blood and Sand, which sounded ten times sexier than the others, so I set out to make a Blood and Sand using a smoky Scotch, instead of the usual blended Scotch.
Most of the components were pre-determined by what we had on hand: Ardbeg (very smoky), a homemade cherry liqueur which would take the place of the usual Cherry Heering, Carpano Vermouth, and a bag of navel oranges. That was the form the drink took for the event at Little Brick, and really all that made it unique was that we used an Islay peat-bomb for the Scotch, and the cherry liqueur was homemade, with local cherries. Otherwise, it was just a Blood and Sand.
Several months later I tasted a cocktail conjured up by Nich Box at District Café. It was called Flatbush, and one of the ingredients listed on the menu was “saline”. In other words, a salt solution.
I don’t know why, but this absolutely blew my mind. It’s not so weird to put salt in a cocktail, now that I’ve had time to think about it. After all, I’ve had margaritas with salted rims, and Caesars with Clamato and Worcestershire. Salt in a cocktail, in and of itself, is not revolutionary. But dissolving the salt right into the drink in such a measured, purposeful way, so that the drinker can’t dance around the salt as one might do with a salt rim… it was an epiphany, and I really really liked it.
To Make Saline. One part kosher salt and five parts water by volume. Heat on the stove until the salt dissolves. This is just about the most concentrated salt solution you can make by this method. The 1:1 and 2:1 ratios common for sugar syrup are quite impossible with salt. I might have learned this in a grade eight science class. I had to relearn it when making saline.
The first drink that I tried at home with a touch of saline was the Blood and Sand. Now, most people find the campfire-smoke flavour of Ardbeg too much to begin with, so by adding something as distinctive and unusual as salt, this is admittedly not going to be everyone’s cup of tea.
The drink tastes of salty, smoky cherries. If you’ve ever had the salty preserved plums at a Chinese grocery store, you can imagine what this tastes like. It’s peculiar, but delicious. And I especially love that the hint of salinity puts the “blood” into the Blood and Sand.
Certainly not something that I would drink everyday, but still, a synthesis of which I’m rather proud. In fact, I keep having this daydream in which I am a barkeep and maybe have tatoos, and someone comes in and asks for something that tastes utterly unique and unlike anything they’ve had before. This is what I serve them in that fantasy.
Blood and Sand Cocktail, Button Soup-Style
- 1 oz Ardbeg Scotch (or another suitably smoky Scotch from an Islay producer)
- 1 oz Carpano Vermouth (or another suitably prestigious sweet, red vermouth)
- 1 oz homemade cherry liqueur, preferably made from Evans cherries (or Cherry Herring, or another suitably delicious cherry liqueur)
- 1 oz Navel orange juice, freshly squeezed
- 1/4 tsp saline solution (see description above)
- Combine all ingredients on ice. Stir swiftly until thoroughly chilled, about 20 seconds.
- This is where I might belie my ignorance of the cocktail craft. I think the Blood and Sand is usually served “up”, ie. without ice. I almost always take all of my cocktails, event classic “uppers” like a Manhattan, on ice. Likewise for this number.
- Garnish with orange peel and sour cherry.