Using your favorite hot sauce to make El Guapo, a Tequila Cocktail

Using your favorite hot sauce to make El Guapo, a Tequila Cocktail
Courtesy of Red Barn Mercantile

Even though the dish is uglier than the name suggests, it is still plenty delicious regardless of its appearance.

You would be forgiven for thinking that the El Guapo cocktail is a joke the first time you see it, if you were to come across it for the first time.

As a matter of fact, in Spanish, the word "El Guapo" means "the handsome one." However, it is applied to one of the most ugly drinks in history in this case. When you see your nephew attempting to eat a palmful of sand, you call him "Einstein" and it's like referring to a big guy as Tiny or calling him "Einstein". As far as cocktails go, handsome may not be the best word to describe the El Guapo, which has pulpy lime husks, battered cucumber debris, and flecks of black pepper floating in it, but it is quite a lot to call it.

It is also named after El Guapo, the villain in the 1986 comedy Three Amigos, which is a cult classic that features Steve Martin, Chevy Chase and Martin Short at their most ridiculous and is basically one big joke in and of itself, a joke all of its own. I don't know exactly what connection this cocktail has to the film's antagonist, except that, with all due respect for the actor, it would make sense to apply either the title of El Guapo as a way of being mean to either of the other.

There is also the fact that this cocktail has a lot of spice in it, which sounds like a practical joke, but it tastes really good for that, and for that reason it has managed to survive all these years despite being otherwise a simple sour cocktail. There is nothing more popular than spicy drinks, especially spicy tequila drinks, and the El Guapo (essentially a spicy margarita) doesn't seem to be exactly a trailblazer at first glance.

You might expect the El Guapo spice to be the result of a sous-vide infusion, or muddled fresh pepper picked from a rooftop garden, or even seven drops of an artisanal ghost pepper tincture when you ask about what makes it so spicy—especially if you know that it was created by Sam Ross, one of the most celebrated living bartenders in the world. What makes the cocktail spicy is that you just grab a bottle of hot sauce and just throw a bunch of it in tin when you shake it.

My first reaction to El Guapo was to think it was crazy. Hot sauce? You take your first sip with a trepidation and then you are surprised and pleasantly surprised to find that yes, it's a little weird, but it's also amazing. Regardless of the spirit at hand, agave spirits lend themselves to savory cocktails as well, and the round vinegar bite of the hot sauce goes perfectly with both the vegetal and smoky characteristics of tequila and mezcal, respectively, and cucumber's broad coolness has a similar effect to an open fire hydrant on a summer sidewalk when combined with the tequila or mezcal.


There is something a bit more rustic and wild about El Guapo compared to your average cocktail, because the hot sauce's peppers, vinegar and a host of other flavors give this drink its feral quality. As a result, it is not as attractive as a clean chile infusion would give it that feral quality.

As a result of this, it is also important to keep the drink so ugly, to dump it into a glass rather than straining it over fresh ice. If you wanted to serve this in a coupe, there's no flavor-based reason you could not do so, but aesthetically, the rust-colored glass with ice shards and garden detritus is a perfect reflection of the upcoming party and earns the name El Guapo as a kind of final joke, although it does so ironically, as is the case with the character in Three Amigos.

He says he chose the name in a way that was free of irony, simply because he loved that movie growing up, and he thought they might have had some pretty good tequila and mezcal in the Mexican village where the movie takes place. Despite the fact that Jefe was one of his favorite villains in the movie, he admits that El Guapo was a much better name for it.

El Guapo

  • 2 oz. tequila or mezcal
  • Half a lime, quartered
  • 3-4 cucumber slices
  • 0.75 oz. simple syrup
  • 3-5 dashes (about 0.25 oz.) hot sauce

It is important to muddle lime pieces in the shaker tin, so that as much juice as possible can be extracted. After adding all the other ingredients, shake hard for about five to six seconds, and then pour into a large rocks glass, ice in and all. Taste for balance, and if necessary, add more lime juice to the glass. Add salt and black pepper to the drink as garnishes.


Courtesy of Cocktail Recipes

In the original recipe, tequila was used to make this drink, but I prefer mezcal because it has the fat smoke of mezcal, which emphasizes the drink's rustic quality. In terms of brands, you do not need to purchase anything special as the addition of hot sauce will take focus away from the spirit, so it is not so important. Both are great, you can use whatever you prefer.

As we were discussing when we talked about the Paloma, it is important to use 100% agave tequila or mezcal as a minimum standard, but there are plenty of good and inexpensive bottles that fall into this category. In terms of tequilas, I would recommend Cimarron, Olmeca Altos, or Real del Valle, while in terms of mezcal, Banhez, El Silencio, and Del Maguey Vida are all excellent, but there are plenty of great and affordable mixing spirits available.

Muddling limes is a bit of an issue with lime juice. Despite the fact that it presses the lime skins so you get more zest out of them, it is frustratingly inexact in terms of how much juice you will get from them. Almost always, you will have to tweak the balance post-shaking. In addition to using 0.75 oz. lime juice, it is equally acceptable to use just 0.75 oz. lime juice and be done with it. If you don't like it, you can cut or peel a small piece of lime skin, throw that in the drink and shake it.

As it turns out, Ross's original recipe does not include cucumber when making this drink, which I learned many years ago with cucumbers. Although there are cucumbers in a Gordon's Breakfast, a gin version of this drink that (I believe) slightly predates it, they are not present here, at least not traditionally. While you can omit it, you may wish to do so. I think its presence as a shock absorber for the spice is much appreciated, so feel free to do so.

This recipe calls for Cholula as the hot sauce, which is, in fact, an excellent choice in this case. As well as Tapatio, I have used Sriracha, and I've also added home-made smoked fresno hot sauce, and all have been excellent. In general, I did not like Tabasco as much, but I also do not like it as much across the board, so I suspect you will enjoy it just fine no matter what you use.

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