Margarita – part 1.

Hecho, let’s go!

The Margarita.

Without getting into the veritable maze of creation claims for the Margarita let’s just point out that this popular classic is surprisingly modern with no recipe appearing in print before 1953. Even in the (likely) case that there were older tequila/lime/orange liqueur cocktails, none of those were published prior to 1936 yet we know Americans were crossing the border into Mexico during prohibition (1920 – 1933) and it seems impossible that some kind of tequila sour wasn’t being offered to the thirsty gringos. The name of the drink is usually attributed to one lady or another who figured in the chosen creation story of the Margarita but there is another theory; The Margarita may well be based on an older style of drink called a daisy. The Spanish word for daisy is, yep, you guessed it, margarita.

The poor Margarita has become a bit of a train wreck in recent decades with the majority of those served being some sort of sour-mix slushy or fake fruit flavoured fiasco. Thankfully the idea that we are all children who can’t handle a drink that isn’t sweet, fruity and diluted has finally been overturned and we can at last see the Margarita for what it is: An honourable member of the sour family of cocktails which showcases one of the most interesting spirits in our cocktail arsenal. But then tequila itself has some issues that need to be dealt with first.

Tequila: The Low-down.

Tequila is a type of mezcal that is made from the agave plant (not cactus as is commonly believed) and whose production is highly regulated in terms of process and location. While mezcal can be made from any variety of agave, tequila can only be made from the blue (azul) agave species. It is vital to understand that there are two grades of tequila – “mixto” and 100% agave. The former is diluted with a “fuck-knows-what” neutral spirit but the latter is pure unadulturated agave deliciousness. Having rejected all mixto tequila on a life-is-too-short-for-inferior-tequila basis the remaining 100% agave tequila is sorted into three further types; white (aka silver, plata or blanco) is unaged, reposado is slightly aged (“rested”) and anejo is barrel aged for yet longer (at least one year). Tequila aficionados often suggest that blanco is the truest expression of the agave but I must admit to being more of a repo man – more of which later. So far, so good but one problem is that tequila is a very fragmented product. That is to say that there are a large number of competing products and that the selection varies considerably in different markets. Find a good 100% blanco or reposado that is available in your region but bear in mind that price isn’t always a good guide to quality in tequila and that personal tastes do vary. To get you started might I suggest that El Jimador is affordable, widely available and solid, if a bit on the dull side. If Espolon is available in your neck of the woods, go for it – it’s an excellent mid-price mixing tequila and as an added bonus has a picture of a skeleton riding a chicken on it.

Fixing the Margarita.

The best way to proceed with a drink that has been so horribly debased by The Dark Ages (1970 – 2000) is to forget everything we know about it and return to the source recipe. But which one? Well, it’s my belief that the starting point might well have been an equal parts (and how we love those) mixture of tequila, fresh lime juice and orange liqueur, shaken with ice and strained into a cocktail glass. With a salted rim? Probably not. Try that first and see if it lights your fire. If it does, one of the core reasons that is that orange liqueurs tend to be in the 35-40% zone – much higher than other liqueurs – and are working as a base as much as they are a sweetener. Stick this recipe in your belt as an easy to remember Ur-gerita and we’ll take a trip forward in time to the more modern “real” Margarita which generally follows a 2 tequila/1 Cointreau/1 lime juice formula. The first thing that strikes you is how tart either of these versions are compared to the Margarita’s you’ve had before. There’s a good reason for this; the Margarita is supposed to be tart. If you’re still unconvinced add a teaspoon or two of simple syrup (more orange liqueur would skew the flavour balance too far) until it suits your palate. Remember the balance will be somewhat dependent on the sourness of your limes and your choice of orange liqueur. Speaking of optional extras, a tiny pinch of rough sea salt over the finished drink is all the garnish that is needed.

You’ll see some recipes that call for a mix of lemon and lime juice but I’m pretty confident that the lemon component was simply a cost-saving modification that stuck – and that should be taken out the back and shot. However, serving either of these versions in a tumbler over ice wouldn’t qualify as a crime. We’re not done with the Margarita just yet so watch this space for a couple of interesting variations.

Margarita (original?)

1.25oz / 37ml tequila (100% agave, blanco)

1.25oz / 37ml fresh lime juice

1.25oz / 37ml orange liqueur (triple sec, Cointreau etc.)

1 teaspoon (5ml) of simple syrup (optional – see text).

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled champagne coupé.

Sprinkle with a pinch of sea salt (optional).

Margarita (modern).

2oz / 60ml tequila (100% agave, blanco)

1oz / 30ml fresh lime juice

1oz / 30ml orange liqueur (triple sec, Cointreau etc.)

1 teaspoon (5ml) of simple syrup (optional – see text).

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled champagne coupé.

Sprinkle with a pinch of sea salt (optional).

Toast Margarita, whoever she was.


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