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  • Writer's pictureJarnard Sutton

Behind the Stick with Austin McAdams of Humphreys Backstage Live

If you're looking for a tequila-based libation, head to Humphreys Backstage Live, located on Shelter Island, and try its El Diablo cocktail, which is a riff off the Vic Bergeron cocktail from the '40s, Mexican El Diablo. The lead mixologist of Humphreys Backstage Live, Austin McAdams, created this refreshing cocktail by utilizing fire water bitters, lime juice, Creme de cassis, housemade ginger beer and tequila. McAdams chats with us about the origin of this cocktail, how to make ginger beer and defines the perfect cocktail.

El Diablo


2 oz Fortaleza Blanco tequila

.75 oz Leja Crème de cassis

Dash of Fire Water Bitters

.50 oz squeeze lime juice

2 oz ginger beer

Garnish with orange peel

What’s the origin of El Diablo?

The El Diablo came from the Vic Bergeron cocktail from the '40s. It was originally named the Mexican El Diablo.

How would you describe the taste to someone who hasn’t had this before?

A cocktail with flavors of citrus, spice, agave, heat and dark fruit.

What would be the key component in this drink?

The Crème de cassis is what adds the richness to the cocktail.

When choosing a tequila, why did you go with Fortaleza Blanco?

It’s my favorite tequila. It has no additives or caramel coloring. Unadulterated tequila made the old fashioned way. To make a great cocktail you need great spirits.

What's the process of making in-house ginger beer?

Brewing your own ginger beer is easy and well worth the wait. We use four ingredients such as fresh ginger root, lemon, sugar and water. We then add wine yeast and let it sit in the closet for 48 hours. While it sits, the yeast begins the fermentation process, turning sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide. It is a tough task to keep this stocked behind the bar with the 48-hour delay between batches, but if you come by and taste our ginger beer, you will see why we go through the trouble. This ginger beer recipe has been borrowed from the published Oregon bartender, Jeffrey Morganthaller.

What are some good dishes to pair with this drink?

Start your dinner in the dining room with an El Diablo and the Butter Poached Lobster Tail or hang out in the lounge and listen to live music with an El Diablo and the Jumbo Lump Crab Cake.

What reactions do you get from customers when they try this cocktail for the first time?

You see their eyes widen. There are several exciting flavors in that glass that seem to waken their senses on the first sip.

Watch as Austin McAdams makes this citrus, tequila-based cocktail, El Diablo, for Behind the Stick.

What kind of experience can diners have at Humphreys?

We have multiple. You can sit by the pool and order a Mai Tai from the pool bar with poolside food options. You can eat a burger in the bar/lounge and work it off by dancing to any of our live performances held nightly at Humphreys Backstage Live. In addition, you can take a date to the dining room and enjoy an artfully executed delicious meal by Chef Nic Bour and his crew while enjoying a stunning view of sail boats and the setting sun.

About Austin McAdams

Are you from San Diego?

I am from Richmond, VA. I have enjoyed living here for the past four years.

How did you get into bartending?

I got my first job as a server at a beer burger joint when I was 20. I was in the right place at the right time. When I turned 21, two bartenders were fired and I was thrown to the happy hour wolves. 14 years later, I am still making a living at it.

What's your thought process when creating a new cocktail?

Many times it starts with a spirit I find delicious. I tend to use a few thought processes to build. I will think how it has been traditionally used in classic cocktails and build from there. I will think about where it is from, if it is French, then what other spirits, liqueurs or flavorings tend to come from that region. This process usually gives me a great start to begin mixing. After this, I always try to think how I can put my own unique twist on it.

Define the perfect cocktail.

Balance is the name of the game. All of the ingredients should come through as a tight unit of flavor that stands alone. You shouldn’t drink a cocktail and think, whoa gin, or whoa, sugar, or tart.

What's you're favorite cocktail to drink?

Negroni. I love the simplicity of the classics and for many years, this has been my go-to. I also find nothing more satisfying on a hot day than a well-made margarita.

What's the most difficult cocktail you had to make for a customer?

I can’t say I have made anything that I would consider difficult, except for the people who do not know what they want but they know they want it strong and sweet. That is not my favorite spring board for a cocktail.

Are you a tequila fan? If so, what's your favorite tequila cocktail?

Yes, I am. It's the El Diablo, of course. I usually prefer to get a nice tequila and sip on it neat.

What is one thing you wish people understood about bartending?

When calling out a high ball, you call the spirit first, and then the mixer. Example: whisky and Coke or gin and tonic. It is not cranberry and vodka! I hear cranberry and I start to grab a glass to make a cranberry juice.

What's your favorite drink to make behind the bar?

Any cocktail that is made for a guest that is excited to try something exciting, new or when the decision is left for me to create something special for them.

What's next for you?

Tiki menu. We will begin a Tiki Tuesday here in the lounge, so I am working on our new Tiki menu. We are a semi-tropical resort by the water, so there's no better backdrop for a delicious rum drink.

What should everyone stock in their home bar?

Your favorite spirits. Angostura Bitters, some form of sugar (white, brown, honey, agave), citrus, or maybe some French or Italian Vermouths (buy small bottles and refrigerate because vermouth has a shelf life). With these ingredients, you can make your standard classics such as an Old Fashioned, a Martini and a Manhattan. This is a good way to start and from there, you can begin to buy liqueurs that suit your fancy and expand flavors from the classics. Also, a good cocktail shaker and a bar spoon with a mixing glass. Learn to stir with a bar spoon and impress your friends.

What do you do in your spare time when you're not creating cocktails?

I have been working on furniture and product designs in my shop for several years and I will hopefully transition into a new career path in the near future. I have always enjoyed the fulfillment from creating and building something from my imagination. That is why creating cocktails has been a means to stay excited in the field of bartending.

Humphreys Backstage Live

Photo courtesy Jarnard Sutton

2241 Shelter Island Dr., Shelter Island. (619) 224-3577 or

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