The El Capitan is a classic Pisco Cocktail with a similar formula as the Manhattan. However, having pisco instead of whiskey turns the El Capitan into an entirely different drinking experience.
Quick Facts El Capitan Cocktail
- Method: stirred
- Flavor profile: boozy, dry
- How to serve it: straight up
- Best glassware: coupe glass
- Alcohol content: ~ 27% ABV, 24 grams of alcohol per serving
- 1 Mixing glass
- 1 Bar spoon
- 2 oz Peruvian Pisco
- 1 oz Sweet Vermouth
- 2 dashes Angostura Bitters
- Add all ingredients together with plenty of ice into a mixing glass.2 oz Peruvian Pisco, 1 oz Sweet Vermouth, 2 dashes Angostura Bitters
- Stir well, and strain into a chilled couple glass.
Ingredients of the El Capitan Cocktail
The El Capitan consists of only alcoholic ingredients. Thus, it is quite a potent drink with no way of hiding low-quality products. You cannot mask a harsh alcoholic bite or the funky task of a subpar vermouth. Quality is crucial. So, here are our recommendations:
Best Pisco for the El Capitan Cocktail
There's pisco from Peru and pisco from Chile, and you can taste the difference. Since the El Capitan Cockail is a Peruvian creation, I like to stick to the Peruvian version.
One of our favorites for this cocktail is Cuatro Gallos. It can be hard to get outside of Peru, but we found a bottle of the more readily available BarSol is great, too. Both brands produce under similar conditions in the Ica Valley.
Generally speaking, pisco from Peru is more fruity and aromatic than its counterpart from Chile. If you want to know more about this, including why Chile and Peru fight over the origins of their national spirit, here's a guide on pisco.
Which Vermouth Should You Use?
Vermouth is a fortified wine infused with herbs and spices, mainly produced in Italy and France. There are two versions: sweet and dry - one red-colored, the other white.
For the El Capitan Cocktail, you need the red, sweet version. I like to use Carpano's Antica Formula. It's a great product with an elegant taste and the perfect balance of flavor. It's super versatile too, and a staple in every home bar.
Bitters in the El Capitan Cocktail
Adding bitters to the El Capitan is optional, and early versions of this cocktail recipe were made without. Nonetheless, they do a beautiful job of bringing in complexity and balance.
Our bitters of choice for the El Capitan remains classic - Angostura's Aromatic bitters. They go together beautifully with the grape-based pisco and are the standard choice for other drinks like the Pisco Sour Cocktail.
Tips for Mixing
Cocktails that contain alcoholic ingredients are stirred, not shaken. Since these drinks usually have a high alcohol content, you want to get the dilution right. So, to get the best El Capitan Cocktail, stick to these best practices:
- Chill the ingredients and the glass in the fridge before mixing.
- Use plenty of ice cubes. Add them to your mixing glass and stir for about 20 seconds (50 rounds) with your bar spoon. That guarantees the perfect dilution from the melting ice.
- This drink is served straight up. Use a glass with a stem, so you won't warm up your drink while holding the glass.
History of the El Capitan Cocktail
The recipe of the El Capitan Cocktail probably dates back to the late 1800s:
Officially, vermouth arrived in Peru in 1859. A company with the name la Casa Teodoro Hart imported Cinzano Vermouth from Italy for the first time that year.
Historians believe the mix of pisco and sweet vermouth came up shortly after that. -That would mean, the drink would have been invented even before the first Manhattan saw the light of day.
Putting aside these speculations, the first written document referencing the El Capitan Cocktail is from 1924. It is the register of the Morris Bar in Lima - the place that also claims to have invented the Pisco Sour.
The name El Capitan goes back to the highlands surrounding Puno. When military captains made their nightly rounds on horseback, they often asked for a glass of pisco mixed with vermouth. Allegedly, that eventually led to the cocktail being named after them.
The El Capitan had been a favorite cocktail in the 1950s but disappeared shortly after. It only resurfaced in bars outside of Peru's borders with the rise of modern craft cocktails.
If you want to try more Pisco drinks, here's an overview of our favorite cocktails made with pisco. It includes recipes for