Strange but Delicious on

Thursday, Aug. 19, 1926, Rudolph Valentino lay in a New York hospital bed under the misapprehension that he was going to live. His emergency surgery for appendicitis and gastric ulcers had been a close-run thing. But resting comfortably before the peritonitis set in, Valentino took questions from the press. Asked his “favorite screen character among the parts you played,” the actor did not name the Sheik. “The part I like best was my role in ‘Blood and Sand,’ ” he said. “If I had died, I would have liked to be remembered as an actor by that role — I think it my greatest.” The poor fellow did die a few days later and, alas, is now remembered as the Sheik, not as the bullfighter of “Blood and Sand.” Not only has that role been largely forgotten, but so has the strange but delicious cocktail the film inspired.

The movie was based on a book by Spanish novelist Vicento Blasco Ibáñez, who in the years just after World War I was a best-selling author in America. His novels translated well to the screen, and before Valentino took his turn in “Blood and Sand,” he starred in an adaption of Ibáñez’s “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.” But “Blood and Sand” was a particularly durable work. It was remade in Technicolor with Tyrone Power in 1941. Beyond that, the book provided the template for the bullfighting tales that would crowd fiction shelves for decades. In 1958, newspaper columnist and novelist Robert Ruark summed up the essentials of the genre: “Poor boy makes good as matador, gets spoiled by success, drinks too much and/or takes up with ruinous women, loses his courage, and catches himself on a horn.”

Blood and Sand

1½ oz Scotch
¾ oz Cherry Heering
¾ oz sweet vermouth
¾ oz fresh blood-orange juice

Shake with ice and strain into a stemmed cocktail glass. Garnish with a cherry, or orange peel, or both.

Cherry Smash

1½ oz cognac
¾ oz orange curaçao
¾ oz fresh lemon juice
½ oz Cherry Heering

Shake with ice and strain into a stemmed cocktail glass. Garnish with a cherry.
The “drinks too much” part of the story makes “Blood and Sand” an odd inspiration for a cocktail. I doubt Ibáñez would have been pleased. Indeed, one of his later novels, “La Bodega,” was devoted to denouncing wine for enslaving Spain’s poor.

“Blood and Sand” not only inspired a cocktail but provided the moniker for a football Hall-of-Famer. A little over 80 years ago, a couple of college players eager to pick up some beer-and-pretzel money playing pro ball — but loath to give up their last year of college eligibility — decided to adopt aliases. Passing a marquee for the Valentino pic, John McNally turned to his friend and said: “That’s it. You be Sand. I’ll be Blood.” Johnny Blood never did return to play college football, but after a few years in the pros he ended up playing for Curly Lambeau’s Green Bay Packers. As the team’s star halfback, Blood helped lead the Packers to four championships. Cheeseheads looking for their team to channel some of the legendary Johnny Blood bravado could do worse than to toast their team this weekend with Blood and Sands.

How do you make them? There’s an old gag about a screenwriter who gets hooked on the cocktails at a Hollywood bar. He begs the bartender for the recipe but is rebuffed. Finally the writer offers him $100. “You wanna know what’s in a Blood and Sand, Mac?” asks the bartender, pocketing the money. “Blood and sand.” It seems this joke was once considered funny.

What really goes into the drink? The ingredients — Scotch, orange juice, cherry-flavored brandy and sweet vermouth — can hardly be described as intuitive. Dale DeGroff, in his book “The Craft of the Cocktail,” says the drink would appear at first glance to be “a godawful mix.” But plenty of serious cocktail guides from the ’30s and ’40s included the drink, so he gave it a try: “The taste convinced me never to judge a drink again without tasting it.” A sound principle.

The right ingredients are crucial. For starters, be sure to use a cherry-flavored brandy or liqueur, such as Cherry Heering, and not the cherry eau-de-vie known as kirsch. Cherry Heering is widely available and worth having, as it turns up in a number of old cocktail recipes and even a few new ones. For his recent book “Imbibe,” David Wondrich solicited new cocktails from more than a dozen prominent mixers. One of the best came from Julie Reiner, who runs the Flatiron Lounge in New York. Her Cherry Smash is made with cognac, orange curaçao, lemon juice and Cherry Heering, and it would be good enough reason alone to buy a bottle of the cherry liqueur.

What about the OJ? The temptation is to pour a bit out of the carton. But presqueezed juice, even if not from concentrate, does not taste like the fresh article. In particular, orange juice that sits tends to lose a bit of its acidic sharpness, resolving itself into a bland sweetness. A drink that has sweet vermouth, sweet cherry liqueur and sweet orange juice needs the tang that fresh OJ provides. Better yet, try squeezing blood oranges. Not only is the name of the fruit apt for the cocktail, but the slightly grapefruit-bitter taste of blood-orange juice works wonders in the Blood and Sand.

The proportions also matter. The drink was originally constructed of equal parts of all four ingredients. But ganged up on like that, the Scotch is overwhelmed by the sweeter components. Doubling the proportion of Scotch does the trick, creating a drink on which one can be bullish.

Comments are closed.

Legal Notice   |   Log in to graphic guideline