I have the right cocktail for tonight’s Halloween parties (for adults anyway) and it’s aptly named Blood and Sand. I came across it in a wonderful new book, Everything You Need to Know About Whiskey (But You’re Too Afraid to Ask), by Nicholas Morgan, published by Ebury Press in conjunction with the Whiskey Exchange.
Morgan has worked in the spirits business for many years, so he really knows his stuff; his book covers a lot more than how to mix a whiskey cocktail, but it was this section that made my eyes sparkle.
This is because I have always been concerned with turning whiskey into a different concoction. Surely it is a sacrilege for a great connoisseur of whiskey? “It would be a grave injustice to assume that there is something wrong,” Morgan says dryly, pointing out that until the 19th century, polite society usually drank whiskey in the form of a hot toddy (he has a recipe for it too in the book), not neat or on the rocks. And a grog is kind of a cocktail.
Indeed, he thinks we should be looking for top quality whiskey, not the cheapest, for cocktails. “Make sure the whiskey you use is as good as you want your drink to be,” he says. “Cocktails are all about the perfect balance; if you have a poor one, it gives an unpleasantly harsh taste to the whole drink.
Permission to shake and stir, then. So why choose a Blood and Sand, other than its name, on October 31? Turns out the name of the cocktail is the title of a 1922 Rudolph Valentino movie, but that won’t stop me from knocking it out for Halloween.
It’s made up of equal parts scotch, cherry liqueur, sweet red vermouth, and fresh orange juice (Morgan recommends blood orange).
As with all of the best cocktails, it has bittersweet elements in balance, as well as a bright, juicy ruby hue; it carries those depths of warm woody spices with a whiskey base that particularly appeal on cool late autumn nights.
I asked spirits writer Joel Harrison, co-author with Neil Ridley of the award-winning book Distilled (Mitchell Beazley, 2014), what his favorite whiskey cocktail is, without any suggestion of my new favorite, and he returned directly with Blood and Sable. Sinister.
Harrison mostly makes his with the unpeated Chivas Regal 12, then gives it a hint of peaty whiskey such as Laphroaig Select “just to give it a little kick”. Morgan and Harrison simply shake the ingredients together over ice and strain into a glass (Harrison recommends a coupe).
Each whiskey cocktail in Morgan’s Book can be easily created at home, without weird and obscure ingredients, and he encourages readers to play around with the recipes, tailoring them to suit. “Let’s not be hard-nosed and inflexible about cocktails,” he advises, “they’re meant to be fun, after all.” Like tonight.