In this edition of un verre du vin, I provide the recipes and stories for three cocktails that were once served to some of the world’s most well-known finance magnates.
At the peak of my bartending career, I ran one of three elite beverage programs for an ultra-luxurious Napa Valley resort. Nestled within a redwood forest at the base of the Mayacamas mountains, this prestigious wine country resort frequently hosted some of the world’s most wealthy and famous people.
Lodging at the exclusive retreat easily exceeds $1,000 per night, and the cuisine program has for over a decade been run by the chef of a three Michelin-starred restaurant located on the resort property.
I have a lot of crazy stories from my time working there, such as the time I made 65 high-quality French Martinis in just under 12 minutes, or when I was caught in the middle of a feud between the celebrity chef and one of the most renowned hoteliers in the business, or one of my personal favorites, when I went on an outrageous shopping spree with a large moving truck and a billionaires credit card.
One time, we hosted a private concert held by some of the world’s most legendary songwriters, and another time I witnessed the sale of the world’s most expensive wine, a 20-vintage tasting of Harlan Estate for eight people that was priced at an incredible $800,000!
Out of all of my experiences at that resort, the one of that really stands out is the night that I worked an event for the top 40 executives of Goldman Sachs.
It was just a few years after the financial collapse of 2008, and the chiefs of Goldman Sachs were both celebrated and infamous for their use of government bailout money. The result was that Goldman Sachs was able to undercut their competition and establish their dominance as the second largest investment bank in the world. At a time when many people were suffering, Goldman Sachs actually experienced massive growth as a result of the sub-prime mortgage crisis, and the ensuing recession.
It should be mentioned that Goldman Sachs did, in fact, pay back the government in full, and with a generous 23% interest rate, however, this did little to sway the negative public opinion. Today, Goldman Sachs manages over $900 billion of assets around the world, and its officers are considered to be globally powerful and influential.
The event that I worked was for the top brass of Goldman, and both Lloyd Blankfein, Goldman Sachs CEO, and Gary Cohn, Goldman Sachs COO, were front and center that night. Both Blankfein and Cohn hovered around my bar for much of the evening, however, neither of them tried any of the cocktails that I made. In fact, both of them only drank exclusively red wine, and from where I was standing, it looked like they each held the same glass of wine the entire night.
The event itself was actually held at a wine reserve, a place where the extremely wealthy store their private selections of wine that they have custom made by some of the industry’s top winemakers. The focus of the event was wine and dinner, however, my cocktails were offered during the welcome cocktail hour and after dinner when the event became a party.
The event was held in 2013, and afterward, Blankfein continued to run Goldman Sachs until 2018, while Gary Cohn went on to be Donald Trump’s chief economic advisor, before resigning after a year into the role.
But this article isn’t about Goldman Sachs, it’s about the cocktails that were served to them.
I featured two cocktails that evening and made a third on a special request. All three cocktails have in common that they were made using the same obscure, yet widely accessible ingredient, Damiana Liqueur.
Known simply as Damiana, the liqueur is made from an ancient recipe that uses an herb of the same name. To honor the origins of this spirit, the bottle for Damiana is modeled after an Incan Goddess, who happens to be naked.
Of the three Damiana cocktails that I made that evening, the most widely recognized is the Margarita, however, the cocktail that received the most acclaim from the Goldman crowd is one of my original recipes, known simply as Papalo.
Papalo is essentially a variation of the Margarita, albeit one that makes the drink largely unrecognizable. My highly discerning boss loved the cocktail so much that he wanted it passed around on a tray for the Goldman execs, however, the recipe calls for rare ingredients, and requires a multi-step process, so making these for tray passing was no simple feat.
The last recipe is for a drink that is truly one of kind because I only made one. The key ingredient for that recipe is actually bourbon recovered from an underwater shipwreck, and so I have come to call that cocktail the Shipwreck Old Fashioned.
All three of these cocktails were very well received by all who had them, and now I will share them with you, but first, let’s start with the basics and dive into a little history of the Margarita.
The history of the Margarita is debated, and there are several widespread theories regarding the origins of this prolific cocktail. The most widely accepted and logical story is that the Margarita was invented in 1941 by Don Carlos Orozco, a bartender at Hussong’s Cantina in the coastal city of Ensenada, Mexico.
Legend states that Don Carlos created the drink for the daughter of a German Ambassador who liked to eat her salt straight from the dish at the bar. Perhaps Don Carlos was afraid to scold the daughter of an Ambassador, or perhaps he fancied her, but either way, he devised a plan to prevent her from continuing to eat all the salt left out for tequila drinkers, and so he made her a drink with salt on the rim of the glass.
The drink that Don Carlos made for her was no doubt his adaptation of a popular American Drink known simply as the “Daisy Cocktail.” The Daisy was made using brandy, Cointreau, and lemon, however, in 1941 Mexico, Don Carlos would not have had access to these ingredients.
Originally created in Baja California in Mexico, Damiana was once used to treat sexual problems, and today it is still widely considered to be an aphrodisiac. We cannot know for sure if Don Carlos was motivated to use Damiana out of necessity, or if it was because he wanted to serve the Ambassador’s daughter an aphrodisiac. It is possible however that both reasons are why the first ever Margarita was created using this unique liqueur.
The origins of the name for the drink that we now call the Margarita is also a matter of some dispute. Some people argue that the name of the Ambassador’s daughter was Margarita Henkel, which certainly is an uncommon name for a German, however not entirely implausible if her mother was actually Mexican. The other theory is that Margarita is the literal Spanish translation for daisy and that Don Carlos simply referred to the drink in his native tongue. The third theory is that it was both reasons and that Don Carlos made a variation of the Daisy cocktail for Margarita since it was her namesake.
We may never know for certain the true origins of the exceptionally famous cocktail, however, what we do know is that in Baja California in 1941, they would not have had access to Cointreau or Persian limes, and therefore we know that Damiana and Mexican lime must have been what was used in the original Margarita cocktail.
There is a profound difference between the popularized Margarita of today that uses triple sec and a sour mix juice, and that of the original classic recipe. First, the original drink is much stronger than the modern version, and it’s also just hands down better. Technically, the Margarita is a classic cocktail, but only if it is made in its original form.
Below is my recipe for the original Margarita cocktail, as it would have been made at Hussong’s Cantina in 1941:
It’s important to note that this drink would have been poured into a stemmed cocktail glass, however, it is not known if the original drink was separated from the ice, or if it was poured into the glass with it. I recommend trying both methods and seeing which you prefer. Also, note that key lime and Mexican lime are interchangeable names for the same citrus fruit; in much of America, the term key lime is more widely used.
To rim the glass with salt, Don Carlos certainly would have used a small wedge of lime to wet the exterior of the rim, and he would have then rolled the glass gently in the salt dish. It is verboten to get salt inside the cocktail, so it’s vitally important to make sure you don’t get any on the inside of the rim.
I made a few of these Margaritas for the Goldman crowd after they tried Papalo, and I explained to several of them the process of creating it based on the original Margarita recipe. Both drinks were very well received, however, Papalo was the clear queen that evening.
Papalo Pineapple Margarita
The first person to ever drink Papalo was my boss, and his response was so positive that I thought I was going to be promoted. I wasn’t, however, I was granted access to the private garden that provided the rare herbs and vegetables for the onsight three-Michelin starred restaurant. This move by my boss created a bit of a power struggle between the chef and my boss, but I was able to procure the needed ingredients to successfully make the drink.
Similar to the Classic Margarita, the key ingredients here are Tequila, Damiana and fresh squeezed key lime juice, however, the addition of caramelized pineapple and unique herbs are what makes this drink so special. Next, let’s go through the key points about how to make this drink.
First, the Tequila used at the Goldman event was Reposado, meaning that it was rested in oak barrels for a few months. This process mellows the liquor and imparts some oaky notes, however, it doesn’t reduce the vegetal bite of the Tequila so much that it’s undetectable.
Second, lime basil is difficult to find, but not hard to grow. This ingredient adds a slight tanginess to the cocktail that otherwise wouldn’t be there, and it’s difficult to substitute with something else.
Third, caramelized pineapple purée is needed in order to make this drink anything at all. Trying to use pineapple juice won’t work, however, the good news is that carmelized pineapple purée can be made easily in just about any kitchen.
It is important to purée the pineapple in a blender before using it, but it doesn’t make much difference if the purée is near frozen or room temperature, just as long as you can accurately measure it in a jigger.
Forth, you need egg white, however, it can be from either a fresh egg or store-bought in a carton. When I made this drink for the Goldman event, I used store-bought egg white, because I simply didn’t have time to crack open 60 eggs for a drink that was being tray passed during a cocktail hour.
In order to use the egg white, the cocktail must be reverse dry shaken, which essentially means that you first make the cocktail without the egg, then separate the liquid from the ice, and shake the heck out of it with the egg white.
Finally, and most importantly, Papalo. Papalo is very similar to cilantro, the leaves of the coriander plant, however, Papalo imparts much deeper and earthier tones than its lively cousin. Papalo is hard to find, but the seeds can be ordered online from a number of places, and in some areas, specialty grocers will actually sell the leaves.
The recipe for the Papalo Pineapple Margarita is as follows:
This drink should not be served on ice, especially if you use egg white. That said, there are a couple of variations of this cocktail that won’t be as delicious, but will still be very enjoyable, and not as strong.
The first option is to substitute the lime basil for regular basil, and this is actually a good idea if you use standard cilantro leaves instead of Papalo.
Another variation is to disregard the egg white entirely, and instead use a comparable amount of pineapple juice, or additional purée to substitute. Since this cocktail was tray passed to forty powerful and wealthy people with extremely high standards, we wanted to ensure that the foam was both consistent and stable while servers were passing around the drinks. The egg white made that possible, which is why we used it. If you decide to leave out the egg, bump up the lime juice to half an ounce to balance the sweetness.
Perhaps the most obvious variation for this drink is to use Tequila Blanco, or silver, instead of Reposado. This is certainly acceptable, however, using silver tequila will give a sharper bite to an already strong cocktail, while reducing the overall complexity of the flavor.
Another option is to convert this recipe into a frozen version:
While the frozen version of this drink will be quite tasty, it won’t be near as complex and interesting as the standard recipe, however, it also won’t be as dangerous. Following the recipe above, you will be drinking half the amount of alcohol per drink, therefore it will take twice as many to get drunk.
Shipwreck Old Fashioned
Late in the evening after everyone had finished dinner, I was approached by a member of the Goldman crew, who had with him a glass of bourbon. I knew what it was because earlier that evening some of the server staff had been talking about the bottle of 100-year-old bourbon recovered from an underwater shipwreck. One of the guests had apparently bought it at an auction, and brought it with them to share with their colleagues.
Aged liquor or wine recovered from underwater shipwrecks can actually be of excellent quality, as long as they remain intact. The temperature and humidity of the ocean can make for optimal conditions for aging bourbon, as long as the shipwreck isn’t too deep. The result can be an extremely mellow and dynamic spirit, that is literally one of a kind.
The history of bourbon whiskey is a rich one, and it is likely a bourbon cocktail that was the first legitimate cocktail that was accepted by high society.
The first documented use of the word “cocktail” was in a letter to the editor in the May 6, 1806, issue of The Balance and Columbia Repository in Hudson, New York. The letter was asking the editor if he knew what a cocktail was. A few days later, the paper’s editor responded by explaining that a cocktail was a “potent concoction of spirits, bitters, water, and sugar.” The editor further referred to it as a “bittered sling.”
The Whiskey Old-Fashioned cocktail that is popular today is almost definitely the very first cocktail to ever be created using any type of Whiskey, and an Old-Fashioned is actually the first form of cocktail ever created at all.
We’ll never know if the very first cocktail was made with whiskey or not, but we do know that the first cocktail worth drinking was probably made with either bourbon or rye whiskey.
The term Whiskey Old-Fashioned is first seen in an 1882 article from the Chicago Tribune, and other mentions around that time show up in articles from a gentleman’s club in Louisville Kentucky, and the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City. It’s important to note that in 1882, this cocktail was already considered to be a classic.
The early Whiskey Old-Fashioned was made with a variety of ingredients, however, the most celebrated bartenders such as Jerry Thomas and Harry Craddock used dashes of maraschino and orange liqueurs, such as Luxardo or Curacao. These dashes later evolved into actual cherries and oranges finding their way into the cocktail, however, that didn’t happen until well into the 20th century.
At the Goldman event, the man with the glass of Bourbon asked me if I knew how to make an old-fashioned, which was definitely an insulting question, however, I could tell by his face that he didn’t mean it to be. He was excited to taste this extremely rare whiskey and wanted to have a true old-fashioned with actual bourbon from a century prior.
Never one to back down from a challenge, or an opportunity to straw taste 100-year-old bourbon, I got to work with the ingredients I had on hand:
While the gentleman was expecting me to use fruit, I explained to him that the original version would only have used some sort of fruity liqueur, such as Damiana. He watched in anticipation as I made his drink, eagerly waiting to visit a period of time before automation and antibiotics.
While I, of course, was not afforded the opportunity to take a full sip of the shipwreck bourbon, the smile on the gentleman’s face told me that I had just made him one of the best drinks he ever had.
In closing, I’ve provided three unique recipes to make with Damiana Liqueur, all of which open up the possibility to play with variations and try new things. Damiana can be tried in just about any cocktail that calls for triple sec, Cointreau or Curacao, and it can also be mixed with all types of base spirits, including Gin.
Damiana can usually be found at specialty liquor shops, and can almost always be obtained via special order. At around $30 a bottle, Damiana is not too expensive, and one bottle will go a very long way. Enjoy!