Blood and Sand

Ian Wisniewski looks at a silver screen classic cocktail
By Ian Wisniewski
While some cocktails are the result of sheer creativity, and so can happen at any point in a bartender’s career, other recipes are inspired by specific events at a particular time. The blood and sand cocktail for example, was created in 1922 for the premier of the film Blood and Sand, starring Rudolph Valentino, then the most successful actor in Hollywood.

Comprising Scotch whisky, red vermouth, cherry brandy liqueur and orange juice, shaken over ice and strained into a cocktail glass, the success of this cocktail rests on attaining the right balance between such distinctively flavoured ingredients.

In addition to the right proportions, the specific choice of each ingredient does also of course influence the final flavour.

Whether the Scotch whisky is mellower or richer, with brands offering various degrees of oakyness, vanilla, honeyed notes or fruityness for instance, while cherry brandy liqueurs can include a hint of almonds on the palate. Similarly, there’s plenty of individuality among red vermouths, while the taste of orange juice can also vary greatly.

Although the author of the recipe remains elusive, it must have been a great honour to create a cocktail for such a star as Rudolph Valentino.

Born in Italy in 1895, he was discovered in Paris before relocating to New York. Having worked as a model and dancer, he had the right qualifications to achieve his ambition of becoming an actor, as modelling was then a typical route into acting.

The inevitable move from New York to Hollywood happened around 1915, and after some minor parts, Valentino’s first supporting role was in Camille, with his first lead role in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. When The Sheikh was released in 1921 Valentino was established as a romantic idol.

In Blood and Sand he played a bullfighter for whom life beyond the bullring also entailed various challenges, mainly of a romantic nature. Forced to choose between two women, he finally ends up marrying his childhood sweetheart rather than her rival. The film also created great emotion during scenes that showed the bull getting uncomfortably close to Valentino, which resulted in female fans fainting in the aisles.

With such a devoted following it’s hardly surprising there was mass hysteria when Valentino died in August, 1926, on the operating table, following a complication arising from an appendicitis. Meanwhile, Valentino’s cult status has continued, with the crypt where he lies buried in Hollywood still visited on a daily basis.

As a classic cocktail, the blood and sand could take its place in the spotlight once more, because the latest trend on the cocktail circuit is a return to classics.

In one sense cocktails are all about trends, with the ultimate trend being that cocktails have gone in and out of fashion every decade. Each decade has also been marked by particular characteristics in the way cocktails are prepared and served.

The 1980s for example were all about exuberance and excess, with too many ingredients combined in the same glass, and presented with abundant accessories.

The current cocktail revival got underway during the mid-1990s, and in a reaction against 1980s excess, the new bartender manifesto was a more streamlined approach, combining fewer ingredients for a more sophisticated result.

Another recent trend is to enhance the character of the ‘main’ spirit, rather than the traditional approach of masking it.

This is a significant development, which makes it possible to discover the individual character of a brand through cocktails. As everyone is generally more adventurous when ordering a cocktail, and more likely to give something unfamiliar a chance, this can be a vital way of introducing a spirit to a wider audience.

Moreover, while trends within cocktails continue to evolve, it seems there won’t be any more cocktail revivals, in the sense that cocktails have become established as an essential element of contemporary British life.

Beyond trends emanating from bartenders, any renewed interest in silent movies and Valentino’s career could give blood and sand (the cocktail) an additional boost.

Ironically, the associations of a cocktail can also be very influential in the way that it is perceived, before anyone gets to the actual flavour.

As the number of Scotch whisky cocktails on the circuit is relatively small, anything that heightens the profile of the blood and sand, and encourages cocktail drinkers to give it a chance, would be a good thing.