In the 1986 slapstick comedy ¡Three Amigos!, Steve Martin’s character gives a rousing speech calling the citizens of a tiny Mexican village to arms against the villainous El Guapo (English translation: “The Handsome”).
“In a way, all of us have an El Guapo to face some day,” he said in the film. “For some, shyness might be their El Guapo. For others, a lack of education might be their El Guapo. For us, El Guapo is a big dangerous guy who wants to kill us.” For Christa Cotton, founder and CEO of New Orleans-based El Guapo —a craft bitters, syrup, and mixer brand—is a call to that well-aged NOLA expression, “Laissez les bons temps rouler,” or “Let the good times roll.”
El Guapo has made much headway since its 2014 establishment, courtesy of a love affair with New Orleans that was instilled in rural Georgia-born Cotton early on. “I traveled extensively as a child and spent a lot of time in New Orleans,” she recalled. “My mom would make my siblings and I memorize the streets of the French Quarter, and she’d give us street boundaries we couldn’t cross before allowing us to run wild without parental supervision. At night, my parents would take us to the most amazing dinners at Commander’s Palace, Brennan’s, and K-Paul’s, which, as a child, seemed larger than life. It was magical. I was adamant about attending Tulane for college since I loved New Orleans so much, but at the last minute I changed my mind and went to Auburn University because it was closer to home.”
But fate wouldn’t keep her from the cocktail capital for long. “I basically walked across the stage to receive my diploma and hopped into a U-Haul bound for Louisiana,” Cotton says. Once there, the skills she honed working for her family’s commercial real estate and craft distillery businesses set her up to turn the vision of a local bartender into creating a four-time Good Food Awards-winning product. Delicious, local flavors like Chicory Pecan Bitters and Sweet Potato Syrup, as well as historically authentic British Colonial Style Tonic Syrup, are but a few of the two dozen or so SKUs that rotate through the El Guapo stock list at any given time.
“El Guapo offers limited releases of hyper-seasonal products we can’t produce year-round because we source fresh, local ingredients,” Cotton says. “We only use ingredients you can pronounce. There are no dyes, no extracts, no added sugar, no GMOs—absolutely no chemical trickery happening in our kitchen. Many items available in the United States are made with terrible ingredients, but we set out to be the best and most genuine on the market. Everything is produced, bottled, and labeled in small batches.”
Cotton is “happiest inventing new recipes and sussing out the best ingredients.” She’s currently experimenting with satsuma, a citrus fruit that’s similar to mandarin. Next on the El Guapo agenda is a Bloody Mary mix and an event services division, replete with mobile cocktail bars made out of a converted 1972 Airstream Safari and a 1971 Citroen H van. We think that deserves a Three Amigos salute.
If you want to try out some of El Guapo’s cocktail products for yourself, check out this recipe for the Springfield 1795, a sparkling, bittersweet libation that utilizes the brand’s tonic syrup and Creole Pecan Orgeat Syrup.
- 1 oz. El Guapo British Style Colonial Tonic Syrup
- .75 oz. El Guapo Creole Pecan Orgeat Syrup
- 2 oz. ROXOR Gin
- .25 oz. CH-Dogma Rubin Bitter Grapefruit Liqueur
- 2 oz. William Chris Pétillant Naturel Sparkling Rosè (to Top)
- swath of Grapefruit Peel, Threaded with a Sprig of Thyme (for garnish)
Preparation: In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, add all of the ingredients except the sparkling rosè. Shake briskly and fine strain into a champagne flute. Slowly top with sparkling rosè. Stir gently and garnish with an expressed swath of grapefruit peel, which has been threaded with a sprig of thyme.