El Diablo

reddish cocktail with ice in tall ridged glass, with straw, on striped table cloth, bottle and plant in background

This is a classic tequila drink.

This time, I’ve substituted mezcal for tequila, because I have a really nice bottle of Siete Misterios that is making me very happy. Mezcal is in the same family as tequila and works nicely in this particular cocktail. In place of the traditional crème de cassis, I’ve used sloe gin. All of this is slightly beside the point, because the star player here, the lynchpin that holds everything together and keeps it from dissolving into a puddle of entropy, is the ginger beer.

If you are new to the world of ginger beer, you could be forgiven for supposing that it is more or less the same as ginger ale. “Beer/ale,” you might say to yourself, “Tomato/tomahto.”

This would be a mistake.

Ginger ale is what your mom brought you when you were sick, to help calm your stomach. It’s what you drink when you want a soda that doesn’t make any demands on you. It might be lovely, but it will always be mild and unassuming. That’s sort of its whole point.

A good ginger beer, on the other hand, is anything but mild. If you ever popped open a bottle of ginger beer thinking it was ginger ale and took a big gulp of it to cure your hiccups, you’d definitely get rid of them, and maybe make your heart seize up for a second.

Ginger beer is all about the ginger.

“OK,” I hear you say, “I like ginger snaps and gingerbread; I really don’t think this is a big deal.”

All right, the next time you go to a juice bar, ask the juice barista (or whatever the technical name for a juice jockey is) to give you a straight shot of ginger juice. She will raise her eyebrow but will do her thing behind the counter and hand you a shot glass with a milky, beige liquid in it. Don’t sip it. Throw that baby down your throat.

It will change your point of view so profoundly that you might quit your job and become a matador. (It’s delicious and very spicy.)

Really good Caribbean ginger beers will often add a little cayenne to intensify the experience a little bit. Do yourself a favor and go to a bodega and pick up a couple bottles of the good stuff for this drink. You’ll be glad you did.

1½ ounces good tequila or mezcal – right now I’m really enjoying Siete Misterios

½ ounce sloe gin

½ ounce fresh squeezed lime juice

3 to 4 ounces excellent ginger beer

Mix the mezcal, lime juice and sloe gin in a cocktail shaker with ice.

Shake for about 30 seconds, then strain into a Collins glass, over fresh ice.

Top off with excellent, just opened ginger beer. Stir with a chopstick.

The ginger beer really is the star of this show, with the mezcal or tequila playing a strong supporting role. The spiciness of the ginger stands up to the smokiness and bite of the tequila. The lime juice brings the acidity that this combination needs. The sloe gin adds color and the faintest hint of fruitiness.

This is the drink that you would be drinking all the time, if you had made some different life choices at a couple of critical times in your youth.

John Fladd is a veteran Hippo writer, a father, writer and cocktail enthusiast, living in New Hampshire.

Featured photo: El Diablo. Photo by John Fladd.

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