This morning I left the house without a coat, beanie, or scarf. While savoring the fresh air and sunshine I realized Spring had arrived early to the party, and DJ Mother Nature (who’s the one throwing the shindig) was shouting, “Let’s get this party started!” Well Big Mama, I thought you’d never ask.
A party like this one calls for tequila, and one of my favorite tequila cocktails is a lesser-known classic called El Diablo. Although I wasn’t able to pin down the history of this drink with absolute certainty, the weight of the evidence points to the king of summer drinks, Trader Vic, as its creator. Trader Vic is of course most famous for creating the Mai Tai, and—along with Don the Beachcomber—credited with pioneering the Tiki drink culture that swept this country in the 1940s and 50s.
The drink makes its first appearance in 1946 in Trader Vic’s Book of Food and Drink, where he calls it a Mexican El Diablo. Since there were no other drinks known as El Diablo before this one, the “Mexican” part of the name is pretty superfluous, and Trader Vic probably concluded the same, because he eventually dropped it in his later publications and simply called it El Diablo.
1 ½ oz Tequila blanco (aka silver tequila; I used Partida)
½ oz Crème de Cassis (I used Mathilde)
½ oz lime juice
Ginger ale/beer to top (Reed’s is a bold choice)
Tools: shaker, strainer
Place everything except ginger beer in an ice-filled shaker. Shake the devil out of it and strain into a highball glass filled with ice. Top with ginger beer and give it a light stir.
The recipe above is actually a slightly updated version of Trader Vic’s original recipe. Originally Vic called for a 1 ounce pour of tequila, which I’ve increased to 1 ½ ounces in order to balance out the acidity of the lime and the sweetness of the liqueur a little better.
It’s always important to use a good quality spirit when making drinks. When it comes to your tequila, you should always choose one that’s made with 100% agave. It’ll always state it right on the bottle, as this is a badge of honor, and if it doesn’t state it then you know to steer clear of it.
The same goes for your choice of liqueur. I stay away from anything artificially flavored, and drop a few more dollars for something flavored with the fruit itself—in this case blackcurrants forming the essence of Crème de Cassis—which will make a universe of difference.
As for the ginger ale or ginger beer, use a brand that’s not shy in its ginger flavor. The main difference these days is that ginger beer tends to have a bolder, spicier, ginger-ier flavor than most ginger ales, and tastes much more like what would Vic would have used in his time. You want the spicy bite of ginger here, as it plays up rather well with the other ingredients in this drink. It's really worth avoiding the fake ginger flavored soda hawked by Canada Dry and Schweppes. You’ll know the difference when you try a quality brand, as it completely upgrades the drink.
This drink is a perfect example of why Trader Vic is considered such a pioneer in the world of boozology. He deserves credit for his creative use of less commonly known ingredients—using orgeat in a Mai Tai, and in this case, using a Mexican spirit most Americans had at best heard of but not tried, tequila. And I bet the man knew how to throw one hell of a party.
Speaking of which, let’s get this party started.
*Got a cocktail question? Hit me on twitter @paystyle, email me at payman(at)lifesacocktail(dot)com, or simply drop me a comment below.