Sunday, November 15, 2009

Blood and Sand

If you've ever been to the Tiki Ti in LA, it's unlikely that you ever made it through an evening without witnessing the awesome spectacle that accompanies any order of a Blood and Sand cocktail. The drink is mixed and poured into a glass, then the bartender breaks out a tequila bottle with a bull's head pouring spout and the entire (admittedly small, but surprisingly loud) bar yells "TORO TORO TORO..." while the floater is poured. It's great fun.

Classically made from equal parts Scotch, cherry brandy, sweet vermouth and OJ, the cocktail is named after a bullfighting movie of the same name. There were many versions of the film including an original 1916 version filmed by the author of the book Vicente Blasco Ibáñez but perhaps the most famous is the 1922 silent version starring Rudolph Valentino (poster, right). It is likely that this movie formed the impetus for the cocktail's creation, as others have indicated the recipe first showed up around 1930.

The Blood and Sand emerges from an interesting melange of ingredients which, I have to admit, doesn't quite sound that great on paper. Scotch is difficult to mix in cocktails because of its tendency to dominate with its strong peat smoke flavors, but somehow it manages to play nicely in this one. I used Johnnie Walker green label (a vatted pure malt), which is probably a little high end for cocktail mixing, but it worked fine. A blended Scotch would work well - I'd probably recommend Teacher's which claims Ardmore single malt as one of its components - an excellent peaty Highlander.

This is my first experience with Cherry Heering which is a fantastic cherry liqueur and is the star of the cocktail despite playing a supporting role. Made in Denmark from a local cherry, the Stevens variety, the liqueur is very flavorful with a complex palate of cherries and subtle spices as well as some of the bitter almond-like character of the pits. Cherry Marnier is also recommended by many, but it is not widely available in the US from what I've seen.

I used fresh squeezed OJ, which I always recommend if you have oranges on hand. Also I used Martini & Rossi sweet vermouth, my recommended go-to for a "daily" vermouth.

I'm using the Cocktail db version which reduces the amount of cherry brandy and sweet vermouth. This variant is attributed to "Dr. Cocktail" Ted Haigh in one of the articles below. This version retains a strong cherry flavor, offers a better overall balance and is still sufficiently sweet.

A couple of articles that I came across while working on this post are worth noting:

SFGate article
Cocktail Chronicles Post

Blood and Sand Cocktail
1 oz. Scotch whiskey (blended is fine, used JW Green Label)
1 oz. Orange Juice (fresh squeezed)
3/4 oz. Sweet Vermouth (Martini & Rossi)
3/4 oz. Cherry Brandy (Cherry Heering)
Mix in a cocktail shaker with ice and strain into a cocktail glass.

I have yet to try the Tiki Ti version (there are just too many good drinks there!). I understand that it is made not from Scotch, but rather bourbon as its base and includes the addition of the tequila which is definitely not in the classic variant. Judging by the frequency this drink is ordered in the bar though, it must be delicious indeed. It'll probably be my first drink ordered on my next visit

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Fitz's Root Beer

During a business trip last week to St. Louis, I stumbled across a barbeque joint near my hotel which was offering Fitz's Rootbeer in the bottle. After having just seen a six pack of Fitz's Rootbeer on display in the airport as part of a Delmar Loop advertisement, I was intrigued.

According to the company's website:

Fitz’s American Grill & Bottling Works sits in the heart of the Delmar Loop, a ten-block section of distinctive stores, shops and even a renovated movie theater dating back to the 1930’s.

A small hamburger joint may seem like an unusual place for the birth of a root beer legend. But Fitz’s Drive-In is exactly where it started in 1947. Noted for incredible smoothness and thick, creamy texture, Fitz’s Root Beer was served in mugs and quickly became the root beer of choice among St. Louisans.

It still is. Our recipe is a closely-guarded secret and contains many of the ingredients used in the original. Unlike most soft drinks, Fitz’s continues to use pure cane sugar. The old-fashioned goodness of Fitz’s must be tasted to be believed. Curb service and thirty-cent hamburgers may be a thing of the past, but the distinctive, satisfying taste of Fitz’s Root Beer lives on.

So back at my bbq joint (Bandana's was the name of the place), I bellied up to the bar, ordered a mixed plate of pork and beef bbq with beans and cole slaw and a tall bottle of Fitz's.

Still suffering from the lingering effects of a cold at the time, I can't provide the most accurate notes but what I did get from the bottle was a high quality taste, clean from the use of cane sugar and with a fair amount of a wintergreen, minty element that I like in root beer. Others may find it too "toothpasty" but it worked for me.

I always enjoy trying some of the local flavors wherever I am, and I'm happy to have discovered this interesting St. Louis gem of a soda.