A gentle devil: the El Diablo

How it got its name, one wonders, at least from today’s perspective. After all, the El Diablo cocktail is neither exceptionally alcoholic, nor does it stand out with any particular sharpness or acidity. In fact, it’s actually quite a mild affair. So the devil must be in the historical details.

Perhaps we’re missing the point, but why is a highball of tequila, lime, crème de cassis, and ginger ale called “El Diablo” or “the devil”? To put the first reason aside, it can’t really be the color. Sure, the drink is reddish to red, and by all accounts, so is the devil. But other drinks are red too, quite a lot of them in fact. A whole lot of absolutely devilish and not so devilish drinks.

But it gets interesting when you look at the ingredients. After all, we’re dealing with a generally quite accessible highball in the case of El Diablo, which presumably came out of historical obscurity in Germany primarily due to its listing on the early menus of the Boilerman Bar in Hamburg. Concise and quite characteristic depending on the tequila, but always with the necessary portion of fruit and sweetness – no plants with which come across as devilish from a sensory point of view.

El Diablo


5 cl Blanco Tequila (100% Agave)
1,5 cl Crème de Cassis (z.B. Merlet, Supercassis oder Gabriel Boudier)
2 Limettenviertel bzw. 1 cl frischer Limettensaft
5-6 cl Ginger Ale

El Diablo: the small, mild Tiki Devil

In fact, unlike many other drinks, El Diablo had something of a clear first appearance: the drink had its baptism of fire, if you want to stick with the image, in 1946/47 in Trader Vic’s Book of Food and Drink by the famous restaurateur and tiki idol Victor “Trader Vic” Bergeron. This was the conclusion reached a few years ago by both the research of US bar expert Camper English and that of MIXOLOGY author Armin Zimmermann on his blog “Bar Vademecum”. This is by no means to say that the combination of ingredients mentioned has not been prepared anywhere before, but Trader Vic provides the first source (not to be confused, by the way, with the “Diabolo” with brandy, curaçao and vermouth from the 1930s).

On the Olympus of Trader Vic

Based on the latter observation, the El Diablo cocktail is also a wonderful example of how much chance, as well as the renown of a sender at the right time, can lead to the establishment of a drink. That’s because Trader Vic kept the drink on his books until the 1970s. In 1946, the resourceful system caterer was still at the beginning of his career, and his first book may have had comparatively little reach. But the later volumes, in turn, reached a massive readership. It can be assumed that El Diablo – also referred to as the “Flamenco Dancer” by Esquire Magazine in the 1950s – has remained in people’s minds, at least in part due to Bergeron’s charisma, as that “other” tequila drink alongside the mega-sellers Margarita and Tequila Sunrise (to which it is certainly attested to be related).

The name of the El Diablo: rather statement than agenda

And here, too, may lie the riddle of the slightly inappropriate name mentioned at the beginning. Because, casually formulated: A Trader Vic has to do what a Trader Vic has to do. Anyone who has only had a basic look at the Tiki wave from the middle of the 20th century quickly learns that cocktail names don’t have to spill the beans, they have to be big. The drink may consist of the actually flattering components tequila (certainly a light mixto at the time), cassis, lime and ginger ale – but it still needs a cracking name. It doesn’t work any other way in Trader Vic’s universe. And men, especially, who drink a tangy highball with their Hawaiian barbecue at Trader Vic’s don’t want a Flamenco Dancer. They want an El Diablo, simply because it sounds better. And tequila serves as the base, so in this case the devil just has to speak Spanish. That’s how the scheme works.

So let’s remember: If we ever notice that someone is hesitant to order an El Diablo because of the name, we can confidently point out that names are sometimes just smoke and mirrors. Especially in Tiki heaven.


Foto: Sarah Swantje Fischer

Post a Comment