El Capitan – Classic Recipe

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El Capitán Cocktail

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Course: DrinksCuisine: American






Total time



The Classic Waldorf Astoria Recipe


  • 1.5 oz 45 ml Sweet Vermouth

  • 1.5 oz 45 ml Pisco


  • Technique: Simple Stir
  • Combine all ingredients in the mixing glass.
  • Add ice to the mixing glass.
  • Stir the ingredients for 10 – 15 seconds. Try to avoid over-diluting the drink.
  • Strain into a glass.
  • Garnish:
  • Maraschino cherry


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The History Of The El Capitan Cocktail.

Many online resources claim the El Capitan cocktail was invented in Peru during the early 1900s, but they offer evidence other than the fact that it has Pisco in it. The oldest recipe for the El Capitan I was able to find comes from the 1935 Old Waldorf Astoria cocktail book. Just because it has pisco doesn’t mean it came from Chile or Peru; for example, the pisco punch was invented in the 1890s in San Francisco. I’m willing to believe the El Capitan cocktail came from pre-prohibition New York. The Old Waldorf-Astoria book is the first record of it, and during that time, there were many variations on the Manhattan cocktail being made in New York City, which this drink resembles. Often, a romanticized history is made up when the exact origin of food or beverages is unknown.

The History Of The Original Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.

The original Waldorf Hotel was opened in 1893 by William Waldorf Astor of New York. Named after the town of Waldorf, Germany, the Astor Families’ ancestral home, the Waldorf was the apex of luxury New York hotels at its opening. A few years later, in 1897, as a bit of humorous rivalry, William’s cousin, John Jacob Astor IV, would open the Astoria Hotel right across the street. John built the Astoria in the same renaissance revival style and even commissioned the same architect, but made sure to make his hotel a little bit bigger than William’s Waldorf Hotel. Named after the town of Astoria, Oregon, The city founded by John Jacob Astor senior in 1811, the Astoria Hotel was an even more beautiful version of the Waldorf. Fun facts: Astoria, Oregon, is the oldest American settlement west of the Rocky Mountains and the location of the film Kindergartner Cop, starring the great Arnold Schwarzenegger. Also, John Jacob Astor IV helped develop early versions of the turbine engine, wrote sci-fi books, and was one of the most famous Americans to perish with the sinking of the Titanic in 1912.

The rivalry was short-lived, though, and the two hotels joined together almost immediately, forming the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in 1897. Opened on the Waldorf side of the hotel, the Waldorf-Astoria bar was one of the top bars in New York, serving wealthy socialites. From 1897 to 1919, the Waldorf-Astoria bar stood as a testament to the pre-prohibition elite bar scene and helped solidify many of the American classics we know today. With the closing of the bar in 1919 and many of the New York elites moving further north, the hotel’s image became dated, and its current structure and location needed to change too. In 1929 the company sold its hotel on 5th and 34th to Empire State Inc. and began constructing the more modern Waldorf-Astoria on Park Avenue. The original hotel was demolished and replaced by the Empire State Building. Hoping to preserve the legacy of the original hotel’s bar, the company’s publicist, Albert Crockett, managed to collect and publish most of the bar’s classic cocktail recipes in part IV section A of “The Old Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book.” He added popular present-day (1934) cocktails in Section B but maintained that section A of the book had all the original recipes from the hotel’s old days.

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