Gold Spike Cocktail | Homage to Truckee’s history

The author and the cocktail’s co-inventor Greg Zirbel.

Picture two men, both passionate about Truckee history, surrounded by bottles of booze and mixers attempting to replicate a cocktail from the 1800s. That’s exactly what happened when Dave DePuy and Greg Zirbel were in the midst of planning for celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Transcontinental Railroad. They concocted the idea to create a cocktail to celebrate the event. Zirbel is the vice president of the Truckee-Donner Historical Society. DePuy is also a member of the historical society, as well as the Truckee Donner Railroad Society.

“I wanted a drink that stood up to the name of Gold Spike and also have a gold feel to it. It needed to be strong and stand up to Truckee’s history.”  –Dave DePuy

On May 10, 1869, in Promontory, Utah Territory, California Gov. Leland Stanford drove a gold spike into the spot where the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads met, connecting the tracks to make the transcontinental travel a reality. DePuy and Zirbel sought to make a cocktail that reflected the era.

Gold Spike Cocktail ingredients.

“I wanted a drink that stood up to the name of Gold Spike and also have a gold feel to it. It needed to be strong and stand up to Truckee’s history,” said DePuy.

Watch Greg Zirbel make the Gold Spike

They chose whiskey as the foundation for the drink.

“Greg and I went through nine variations of the drink and tried a bunch of different things,” said DePuy.

They settled on a cocktail of whiskey, margarita mix and a float of Galliano liquor to give the cocktail its golden hue. In addition, the men wanted to offer a non-alcoholic beverage for the celebration and created the Pyrite Spike made with a blend of passion fruit, orange and guava juice with a dash of grenadine.

According to DePuy, alcohol and Truckee have a long history: “During 1876 to 1893 the Boca Brewery built a huge brewery. They were making lager and pilsner made from ice from the Truckee River and spring water off the hill. They’d put it on the train and send it back east. It made it as far as the Wolfs Fair in Paris.”

On June 15, an Anchor Steam Brewery historian will offer a historical talk and serve free beer that recreates a California Lager that also reflects what was being made during that period at Donner State Park Museum Visitor Center. It is part of a number of activities planned to commemorate the 150th anniversary.

I met with Zirbel at the Redlight Historic Bunk Hotel and Speakeasy in downtown Truckee. The building has had many incarnations over the years including a brothel and lodging establishment. Zirbel thought it was the perfect place to mix up the Gold Spike Cocktail for the Redlight’s co-owner Abby Polus and myself to taste. Zirbel didn’t waste any time getting in character as he walked through the door with a pickaxe, dirty overalls, a red bandana and a brown suede hat. His beard lent itself to his crusty 19th Century persona.

“During prohibition Truckee was one place you could drink because the only way the Feds could get here was by train. The people of the town got warned if the Feds were on the train and got word to the people making alcohol so they could hide their stills,” said Zirbel, who has lived in Truckee all his life.

The Gold Spike.

He popped in his wacky false teeth adding to his gold-miner character and moseyed up to the Redlight’s bar to teach us how to make the Gold Spike. He filled up a few glasses with ice, added 1.5 ounces of rye whisky and 1.5 ounces of margarita mix, topped it off with a half-ounce float of Galliano and added a lemon twist.

“I think it’s tasty. It’s a strong drink, the margarita mix tempers it and gives it a smooth finish,” said Polus after sipping the cocktail. The lemon twist made the all the difference to me after trying it with and without it.

Gold Spike
1.5 oz. rye whisky
1.5 oz. Margarita mix
½ oz. float Galliano
Lemon Twist

Participating bars offering the Gold Spike Cocktail during the summer months of the Transcontinental Railroad celebration include: Bar of America, Best Pies, Blue Coyote Bar & Grill, Casa Baeza, Cottonwood Restaurant & Bar, Old 40 Bar and Grill at DSR, El Toro Bravo, La Bamba Mexican Restaurant, Moody’s Bistro, Bar & Beats, Old Town Tap, Pastime Club, Truckee Tavern & Grill, Tourist Club Bar and Zano’s Family Italian & Pizzaria.

People can vote on which bar makes the best Gold Spike Cocktail and the bar with the most votes will receive a trophy at the end of the celebration. |

For a list of summer activities that celebrate the sesquicentennial of the Transcontinental Railroad, visit and click on Transcontinental Railroad under the Explore Tahoe menu.