Saturday, February 22 is National Margarita Day. If you’re at least middle-aged and the date sounds vaguely familiar, it used to be celebrated as Washington’s birthday. Nowadays we commemorate our first president on the third Monday in February, and clear the decks for serious drinking on his actual birth date.
Like many other famous cocktails, the origin of the margarita is shrouded in mystery. One version places its invention in Ensenada, Mexico in 1941, when bartender Don Carlos Orozco first served the drink to Margarita Henkel, the daughter of a German diplomat. Another story claims that it was devised a few years earlier by Carlos Herrera, who created it for a former showgirl named Marjorie King. Yet another commonly accepted tale insists that it was first concocted by a Dallas socialite named Margaret “Margarita” Somes.
Spurred on by Jimmy Buffett, the margarita has become the most popular tequila cocktail in America. It is likely descended from the Daisy, a long drink consisting of a base spirit (tequila, whiskey or gin) combined with lemon juice, sugar and grenadine. Except for visiting American tourists, the appeal of the margarita stops at the border. In Mexico, the most frequently consumed tequila cocktail is the Paloma, a blend of blanco tequila, lime juice and grapefruit soda or fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice.
Cocktail purists may scoff at the frozen margarita, and with good reason. The heyday of the frozen drink occurred in the 1960s and 1970s, before the advent of premium spirits. In particular, tequila was rough stuff back then, and it’s likely that the enthusiasm for the frozen margarita was traceable to the fact that the flavorings masked the taste of the booze. The U.S. tequila market was irrevocably transformed by the launch of Patrón in the late 1980s, and a wave of upscale tequila followed. While you’re certainly within your rights to dump your Patrón, Partida or Casa Noble into a blender, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to do so—those spirits are best enjoyed in a classic margarita, or sipped on their own.
In general, when making a margarita, two things are important:
• Do not use mix! Go to the grocery store, buy a few limes and squeeze them—it’s not difficult.
• Use Cointreau rather than generic Triple Sec. Low-grade Triple Sec is responsible for far more hangovers than tequila.
Some versions call for sugar or simple syrup to balance the tartness of the lime juice, but the Cointreau probably makes this unnecessary; using lemon juice in place of the lime will result in a softer drink. As with all cocktails, feel free to experiment until you find a version that works for you.
Lime juice and salt (for rimming)
1.5 oz. tequila
.5 oz. Cointreau
1 oz. freshly squeezed lime or lemon juice
1 slice of lime (for garnish)
Rub the rim of the glass with lime juice, and coat with salt. Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice, shake briskly, and strain over ice into the glass, taking care not to dissolve the salt. Garnish with the lime slice.
Note: The “official” version from the IBA (International Bartenders Association) calls for seven parts tequila, four parts Cointreau and three parts lime juice.
ABOUT THE BOOK: Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History, by Mark Spivak, will be published in November by Lyons press (Globe Pequot). Writing in an engaging and appealing style, Spivak chronicles the untold tales of 12 spirits that changed the world and forged the cocktail culture. While some are categories and others are specific brans, they are “the best kinds of stories—the type a writer could never make up.”
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Mark Spivak is an award-winning writer specializing in wine, spirits, food, restaurants and culinary travel. He was the wine writer for the Palm Beach Post from 1994-1999, and since 2001 has been the Wine and Spirits Editor for the Palm Beach Media Group, as well as the restaurant critic for Palm Beach Illustrated. His work has appeared in National Geographic Traveler, Robb Report, Ritz-Carlton, Continental, Art & Antiques, Newsmax, Dream of Italy and Arizona Highways. From 1999-2011 he hosted Uncorked! Radio, a highly successful wine talk show on the Palm Beach affiliate of National Public Radio.
Mark began writing Iconic Spirits after becoming fascinated with the untold stories behind the world’s greatest liquors. As a writer, he’s always searching for the unknown details that make his subject compelling and unique.
You can learn more about Mark at http://www.iconicspirits.net/index.htm