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Nelson’s Blood

On Valentine’s Day earlier this month, I picked up a bottle of rather cheap champagne to serve before, during and after dinner. Seeing as how my fascination with mixing drinks is still in its fever pitch stages, I took this opportunity to try out a few cocktails that I’ve never had the chance to taste before. While scouring the internet for interesting recipes, I came across something that was, if anything, interestingly named. The recipe for Nelson’s Blood was simple, champagne topped off with tawny port, but the taste was better than I would have ever expected. Luckily, I just so happened to have a bottle of Christian Brothers Port on hand. The initial opening of that bottle of port was the first time I’ve ever actually tasted this particular type of fortified wine. I’m not sure this goes for all brands, but the port I had on hand was a bit too sweet to drink by itself. Adding some brandy to the port, per suggestions from a number of sources, tempered the sweetness a bit; but it was adding it to a glass of sparkling wine that became by favorite port cocktail of all.

Two wines, a flute and a lot of bubbles.

Nelson’s Blood


4 parts champagne or sparkling wine
1 part ruby port
Pour champagne into a champagne flute, top off with port.

The unusual name of this cocktail is derived from Horatio Nelson, a 18th and 19th century British naval admiral. How did a modern day cocktail get named after the blood of a 200 year old British naval officer you ask? Well let me explain. In 1805, during the Napoleonic wars, Admiral Nelson led his fleet into the battle of Trafalgar. In what was considered one of the great naval victories of all time, Nelson led the English to victory despite being well outnumbered by French and Spanish ships. Sadly though, Nelson wound up perishing during the battle and, per his wishes, was entombed in a cask of rum (or brandy depending on what account you read) so that he could be preserved and allowed to be buried in his home country. As the story goes, during the journey home, sailors had punctured a hole in the rum barrel so that they could drink from the bloody rum concoction. Some say the sailors did this so that they could possibly inherit some of Nelson’s talents or good luck, others think they were just drunken sailors who needed a fix. Regardless, the story found its way mainland and another term for grog (or adulterated rum) became Nelson’s Blood.

“Please place me in a cask of distilled spirits so that I can become a famous cocktail.”

Bartenders in England couldn’t very well serve real bloody rum in their pubs though, so cocktails commemorating the great admiral and the story of his journey home began to spring up. Most of these contained port wine, which was a great item for turning drinks the alluring color of blood red. Though the recipe that I provided above is the most popular surviving Nelson’s Blood concoction, it is most certainly not the only one. From what I hear, British sailors to this day still use the term Nelson’s Blood when consuming rum while at sea.

Though Nelson’s Blood may not seem like it would make the best Valentine’s Day cocktail, it was certainly me and my wife’s favorite drink of the night.  Though, in retrospect, it may have been better to mix up and write about this drink closer to Halloween.

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