The El Capitan is a classic Pisco cocktail. Like the Manhatten, it includes a base spirit - Pisco -, sweet Vermouth, and bitters.
However, having Pisco instead of Whiskey turns the El Capitan into an entirely different drinking experience.
Ingredients of the El Capitan Cocktail
The El Capitan consists of three alcoholic ingredients. Consequently, it is quite a potent drink with an overall ABV of about 30%.
That also means you should use quality ingredients because there's nothing to hide and mask a harsh alcoholic bite from the Pisco or a subpar Vermouth.
Which Pisco for the El Capitan Cocktail?
Pisco is a grape-based spirit native to Peru and Chile. Both countries produce their own version of it.
Usually, they are similar enough for you to use them interchangeably in cocktails. But there are notable differences.
Since the El Capitan is a Peruvian creation, I like to stick to Peruvian Pisco when making it.
One of our favorites for this cocktail is Cuatro Gallos. However, it can be hard to get outside of Peru, so a bottle of BarSol works, as well. -Both brands produce under similar conditions in the Ica Valley, by the way.
Generally, Pisco from Peru is more fruity and aromatic than its counterpart from Chile. However, there are exceptions due to the different production regulations.
For more details about this and about why Chile and Peru fight over the origins of their national spirit, here's a guide on Pisco.
Which Vermouth for the El Capitan?
Vermouth is a particular type of fortified wine infused with various botanicals, mainly produced in Italy and France.
There are two versions of Vermouth: dry and sweet - one red and one white. But despite the apparently telling colors, both are made from white wine.
For the El Capitan Cocktail, you need the red, sweet version. I like to use Carpano's Antica Formula.
Adding bitters to the El Capitan is not a must, and the first versions certainly had been made without them. However, they do a beautiful job of bringing in complexity and balance.
The bitters of choice for the El Capitan are Angostura's Aromatic bitters. They go together with the grape-based Pisco perfectly and are the default choice for other drinks like the Pisco Sour.
History of the El Capitan Cocktail
Like the Pisco Punch and the Chilcano Cocktail, the El Capitan probably dates back to the late 1800s.
Officially, Vermouth arrived in Peru in 1859. It had been a company with the name la Casa Teodoro Hart that imported Cinzano Vermouth from Italy for the first time that year.
Historians believe that the El Capitan mix of Pisco and sweet Vermouth came up only shortly after that. -So it was there already before the Manhatten got invented.
However, the first written document that includes a reference to the El Capitan 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 with Vermouth, which eventually led to the cocktail being named after them.
The El Capitan had been a favorite cocktail in the 1950s but disappeared over time. But it resurfaced on an international scale with the rise of modern craft cocktails.
If you now want to try more Pisco drinks, here's an overview of our favorite cocktails made with Pisco.
- 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.
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