I remember the first drink I had with juice from a blood orange. It was in Sydney, circa 2000, and it was mixed by the sure hands of my friend Ben Davidson—one of the finest barkeeps to emerge from Down Under.
The cocktail was a Blood Orange Margarita with just a whisper of Campari thrown into the mix, and it was nothing short of a revelation. So much so that I’ve, ahem, “borrowed” it for several different bar programs I’ve set up since. It’s the kind of drink I know that everyone will like; it’s that darn good.
The dark-crimson blood orange, a mutant variety of the familiar juice orange whose flesh produces extra anthocyanin pigments, is abundant in the winter months. Perhaps because they’re ripe for such a fleeting moment, blood oranges are among bartenders’ most sought-after and anticipated ingredients. It’s a sad day when the last one disappears from the market for the season.
While I’ve sometimes found regular oranges to be rather boring in cocktails, offering little in the way of character or body (yes, the Bronx is a boring drink—there, I said it), blood oranges, on the other hand, have a lovely richness and deeper flavor that lends itself to pairings with a wide range of spirits and liqueurs. The fruits often have subtle notes of raspberry, which means they marry beautifully with sparkling wine.
Blood oranges are the most common variety of orange grown in Italy (predominantly in Sicily) and are also very common throughout southern Spain and the US, notably in Texas and California. Depending on where they come from, blood orange season can last from November or December until the early spring.
The fruit’s flavor profile has become so popular, in fact, that William Grant & Sons introduced a blood orange liqueur from Sicily called Solerno a few years ago. And San Pellegrino’s Aranciata Rossa soda is absolutely delicious, especially with a big slug of your favorite gin.
But when it’s blood orange season, you need to use them fresh. These are some truly amazing recipes, many of them from the world’s top bartenders.
1. Blood Orange Margarita
Blood orange juice and Campari transform the classic Margarita formulation of tequila, triple sec, lime juice and simple syrup into what Naren Young declares "nothing short of a revelation."
2. Colletti Royale
This elegant and lightly sparkling cocktail from Julie Reiner tops a complex mix of tequila, Cointreau, St-Germain, orange bitters and lime and blood orange juices with rosé Champagne.
3. Le Sang et Sable
Created by Toby Cecchini, this combination of cognac, Dubonnet, cherry Heering and blood orange and lemon juices is a French take on the classic Scottish Blood & Sand.
In this drink from from Ted Haigh’s book “Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails,” gin combines with honey syrup and lemon and blood orange juices for a light, citrusy cocktail.
5. Make It Count
This red-hued cocktail created by Pamela Wiznitzer takes Campari's bitterness and mellows it out with honey syrup and sweet blood orange; soda water gives it some sparkle.
6. Fresh Berry Delicious
Charlotte Voisey's creation certainly delivers on its name, employing raspberry vodka, blood orange liqueur, strawberries, lemon juice and honey syrup.
7. Tart n' Sand
Also from Charlotte Voisey, this cocktail is another blood orange-infused twist on a Blood & Sand. This one combines scotch whisky with Lillet, blood orange liqueur, and pink grapefruit and lemon juices with muddled maraschino cherries.
8. Hot Blooded
Rye whiskey gets heated in this cocktail with Ancho Reyes liqueur and a few dashes of hot sauce, plus blood orange and lime juices and simple syrup.
9. Robin Redbreast
Like a vodka-based brother of the Blood Orange Margarita that Naren Young fell in love with, this drink by Kevin Denton combines blood orange juice with vodka, triple sec, and fresh lime juice.
10. Pom-Blood-Orange Old Fashioned
Bartender Nick Mautone created this cocktail that combines blood oranges and pomegranate in a format similar to that of a Wisconsin Old Fashioned, muddling the fruit with sugar and bitters before adding the spirit—vodka, in this case—and shaking it all together.
11. Blood Sage
Created by Portland, Oregon, bar pro (and co-founder of Aviation gin) Ryan Magarian, this fruity and herbaceous take on a classic Gin Sour starts by muddling two blood orange wedges with fresh sage leaves before adding the standard sour components of gin, lime juice, simple syrup and an egg white.
This scotch sour by San Francisco bartender Marco Dionysos nods to the classic Blood & Sand, with its combination of scotch, cherry Heering and orange juice, with a tip of the hat to the Bobby Burns and its use of scotch and Benedictine, veering from its two progenitors with the citrus it calls for: juice from both lemons and blood oranges. Garnish with a flamed blood orange twist and a cocktail cherry for a festive touch.