Naming Names

Clipped from yesterday’s New York Times: “The Drink’s the Thing”

Julie Rose likes hit shows. It’s not just that she’s an avid theatergoer. It’s also because she’s learned over the years that people at hits tend to drink more. Ms. Rose is the president of Sweet Concessions, which dispenses refreshments at seven New York theaters. Big chains like the Shuberts tend to fill their catering needs in-house, with a standardized array of simple mixed drinks and packaged snacks. But theatergoers at the establishments Ms. Rose caters can expect something extra, like the play-themed cocktails dreamed up by her “creative director,” Brett Stasiewicz.

At the Roundabout Theater’s production of Somerset Maugham’s “Constant Wife,” four drinks are named for the play’s main characters: the Constant Wife, the Constant Husband, the Constant Admirer and the Constant Mistress. The wife is described in the play as “a peach”; the title drink is made with peach vodka. At the Biltmore, where the Manhattan Theater Club is presenting Elaine May’s “After the Night and the Music,” Mr. Stasiewicz pays tribute to one of the evening’s themes with a gin-based drink called Take My Wife.

He says that a lot of research goes into his cleverly written drink menus. He reads the plays before they open and starts experimenting with ingredients. When there’s a book involved, as with Lincoln Center’s “Light in the Piazza,” he reads that, too. He also keeps up with the liquor industry’s latest trendy liqueurs and flavors.

(emphasis mine)

When I was a kid, in the small town where I grew up, every kind of soft drink was simply called a “Coke.” It didn’t matter if you were drinking a Pepsi, or a Mountain Dew, or an Orange Crush—if someone asked you what you’d gone to the store for, the proper response was, “a Coke.”

As goes the world of cocktails. The word “cocktail” itself is fading from bars and restaurants across the country, replaced by the now all-encompassing “Martini.” It doesn’t matter if the drink has no gin or vermouth; it doesn’t matter if the drink is composed of chocolate, vanilla and sugar, all suspended in neutral grain spirits; take a look at the cocktail—sorry, Martini—menu, and the name is spelled out in all its ignoble glory: the something-tini.

I’m not alone in my dismay for this trend; a brief glance at the Drinkboy or eGullet Cocktail (Yes! Cocktail!) forums will show many other like-minded folks, grumbling into their glasses of gin about the state of drinking today. But this—this New York concessions company, researching plays and books, then creating unique drinks (some even made without vodka!) using the titles of the plays, or the names of the characters—this gives me hope.

It used to be commonplace (I say, snuffling in my gin) to name drinks after musicals, or plays, or current events, or places, or anything at all, without resorting to the use of that bastard suffix, “-tini.” Witness: the Cuba Libre, named for the independence cry of Cuba around a century ago; the Pegu Club, named for the old colonial outpost in Rangoon; the Bronx, named for—well, you guessed that one; the French 75, named after the World War I artillery piece; or the Floradora, a gentle old concoction made of gin, lime juice, raspberry syrup and ginger ale, named after a frilly musical that opened in 1900. They may not have all been good; some, like the Floradora (and today’s “Light in the Piazza,” served by Sweet Concessions), may have doubled as the guerrilla marketing pieces of their day. But at least bartenders had the gumption to adorn the drinks with actual names.

I’m not sure who developed the Blood and Sand, but I do know where it got its name: from the 1922 film starring Rudolf Valentino as a bullfighter (it was remade in 1941, starring Tyrone Power and Rita Hayworth). The earliest reference I find to the drink is in the Savoy Cocktail Book, first published in 1930; it’s also in “Cocktail Bill” Boothby’s World Drinks and How to Mix Them, from 1934. These early guides (as well as recent ones, such as Gary Regan’s The Joy of Mixology) call for making the drink with equal parts scotch, fresh orange juice, cherry brandy, and sweet vermouth. Now, I like the idea of perfect ingredient balance in a drink, such as in a Corpse Reviver #2, but as alluring as this mixture is, there’s still something not quite right. But last year, in Vintage Spirits & Forgotten Cocktails, Ted Haigh (aka “Dr. Cocktail”) printed a recipe calling for the drink to be made with four parts each scotch and orange juice to three parts each cherry brandy and sweet vermouth. In my humble opinion, Doc nailed it.

Scotch is a notoriously difficult spirit to mix with, and simply reading the list of ingredients gives me a toothache when I imagine the sweetness. Somehow though, completely counter-intuitively, this drink works. The flavor complexity is like that of a Floridita, where even seasoned cocktail aficionados may have difficulty discerning the drink’s ingredients. In the glass, the blend of cherry brandy and vermouth form a perfect base for the stubborn flavor of scotch, the scotch’s aggressive smokiness keeps the sweet flavors in line, while the orange juice soothes all the various rough edges, making everything work together in the glass. When mixing a Blood and Sand, use a blended scotch (Famous Grouse works well for me), fresh-squeezed orange juice, and a decent cherry brandy, such as Cherry Heering.

And if anyone asks you what you’re drinking, for god’s sake don’t reply, “a Blood-and-Sandtini.”

Blood and Sand

  • 1 ounce blended scotch
  • 1 ounce fresh-squeezed orange juice
  • ¾ ounce cherry brandy
  • ¾ ounce sweet vermouth

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass; garnish with a cherry.

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15 Responses to Naming Names

  1. Well – be fair. The fashion to call everything Martini is analogue as the fashion to call everything Cocktail!

    A cocktail is not just a mixed drink! A Pi̱a Colada is not a cocktail Рor a Mojito!
    I like to name the things what they are – but also have some understanding for the guests (and less competent bartenders)!

    Even in specialist blogs – people call all mixed drinks cocktails! So why other people couldn’t be confused to call everything Martini?

    Actually I am fighting with myself to mix juices with Vermouth! I know, that some classic recipes do that like the Bronx – but there are only a few – and I do not see a point … to mix Scotch with blood orange juice, vermouth and cherry brandy – I like to see less of the construction of unique taste and more authenticy to the base spirit in a drink…

  2. Got me! Often as I’ve typed a post, I’ve had the nagging voice in the back of my head pointing out, “well, properly speaking, what you’re describing isn’t a cocktail.”

    And while saying “everybody else is doing it” is, in large part, passing the buck, the use of the word “cocktail” to describe the broader category of mixed drinks and everything related to them predates myself, my parents, and probably even my grandparents–otherwise we’d rest our drinks on “mixed drink napkins” while attending “mixed drink parties,” and meet up in “mixed drink lounges” with the ladies wearing “mixed drink dresses.” (Plus, “The Mixed Drink Chronicles” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.)

    While semantics are important, there was clearly a need for some kind of shorthand at some point. And it may be one more rationalization on my part (though, really, I’m not at fault for it), but I take solace that the word “cocktail” originally applied to a whole category of mixed drinks, which has gradually grown outward, while “martini” had a very specific meaning. Walk into a bar, especially in the old days, and order a “cocktail” and you’d be met with raised eyebrows–you need to be more specific. Order a “martini,” however, and the barman would have known exactly what you meant. Hence, while I wince at my own frequent use of the word “cocktail”, my frustration (widely shared) with the redefinition of “martini”.

  3. But how did the word ‘cocktail’ come about? How did ‘cock’ and ‘tail’ get incorporated?

  4. cocktails probably get their name from a corruption of the French word for egg cup, in which mixed brandy drinks were served to his lodge brothers by a New Orleans druggist named Peychaud (perhaps misspelled). The location, on Royal street in NOLA deserves, in my opinion, at least a commemorative plaque.

  5. […] story of the name of this cocktail is well known, you may read it here. But name of the creator keep in the dark. I use recipe from CocktailDB. One of my favorite […]

  6. In regards to the discussion of ratios used in this drink, I would have to say that as we’re not specifying the scotch /vermouth (many more of these emerging on the market) /cherry brandy (likewise, though I’m sure many will reach for Heering) and bearing in mind that OJ will vary massively from supplier to supplier or from orange to orange…
    As you might guess, what I’m driving at is that with such variable ingredients, why get too hung up on defining 5ml differences in measures. Why not not enjoy the fact that this is one of the few equal ratio cocktails out there, and focus instead on acknowledging that we will always have to slightly tweak our ratios (ooerr) depending on our choice of brand or how the orange crop was this year!
    Just my 5p’s worth 🙂

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