THE STORY OF THE MARGARITA
If Pina Coladas are about getting caught in the rain, then Margaritas are for lazing about on a hot terrain – preferably somewhere in Northern Mexico.
The history of one of the world’s favourite drinks is as about as clear as the cocktail itself, but today we look at some of the claims around this summer sipper before sharing some recipes – including two riffs that don’t call for tequila blanco.
NO SABES NADA, JUAN NIEVE
One of the world’s most popular, and timeless, cocktails – the Margarita (or ‘the daisy’ in Spanish) – is a citrus-driven, tequila classic that has endured generations due to the marriage of its core flavours and simplistic composition.
Fresh lime, triple sec, (optional) salt and, the star of the show, tequila, come together for a betrothed dance of balanced sharpness and salinity.
But whilst the recipe may be straightforward, like most cocktails, the origins of the Margarita are a little more muddled.
WHERE THE DRINK LIKELY ORIGINATED
Like it’s frosty cousin, the Moscow Mule, the creation of the Margarita is often attributed to some crafty marketing moves from industry folk, specifically tequila manufacturers, around the 1940s.
In truth though, we’ll never really know. The provenance of this drink can never be truly verified – but it’s likely it was a product of the US/ Mexico border regions between the 1930’s and 1950. If you’ve ever been to Texas or Northern Mexico, you’ll appreciate how it appears suited to be the birthplace of a cocktail like the Margarita.
Whilst there’s plenty of tall tales around the origins of our agave-citric sipper, we’ve handpicked the a few of our favourites to share with friends or guests the next time you’re serving up some salted rims.
LAST CHRISTMAS, AGAVE YOU MY HEART
The first recorded print mention of the Margarita was in Esquire in 1953, yet the ‘Picador’ (calling for tequila, lime juice and triple sec) predates this by at least 20 or 30 years. Naren Young, of NYC’s Dante, posits that a Margarita is simply a tequila-driven Sidecar that calls for lime instead of lemon – and the popularity of the Sidecar revved and roared through the 1920s.
Most stories that claim to shed light on the cocktail’s creation are centred around a devoted bartender crafting a highly personal drink for an individual who was fussy, or allergic, to what was already on offer.
One story goes that bartender Danny Negrete crafted the drink as a wedding gift in 1936. Danny and his brother, David, opened a bar at the Garci Crispo hotel in Puebla, Mexico, and the recipe (calling for triple sec, fresh lime juice and tequila blanco over crushed ice) was dreamt up for his soon to be sister-in-law, Margarita.
Another tale that gets shared a lot is awarding the creation to Carlos ‘Danny’ Herrera in Tijuana circa 1938. One of the regulars at his bar, Rancho La Gloria, was a showgirl (Marjorie King) who was allegedly allergic to all spirits but tequila. However, Marjorie wasn’t too fond of drinking it neat, which forced Danny to get creative.
DRINKING MISS DAISY
Whilst both of these origin tales are believable, some are a little harder to swallow. Like the one about Margaret Sames, a socialite from Dallas who claims to have concocted the classic at one of her house parties in Acapulco in 1948. Apparently, the guest roster was filled with influential ‘hotel and restaurant people’ who quickly introduced wider society to the cocktail. Unfortunately, history tells us that large tequila brands were rolling out Margarita ad campaigns years before this – meaning unless Ms Sames went for limes with Doc Brown in his DeLorean, there’s not much likelihood that the drink emanates from affluent Americans socialising in Acapulco.
What’s more likely, according to cocktail historian David Wondrich, is that the drink was an evolution of the widely popular Daisy cocktails that were enjoyed in the 1930s. A mix of a base spirit, curacao and citrus generally constituted a ‘daisy’ (whisky and gin daisies were popular, too). Margarita is Spanish for ‘daisy’ and this was a nod to the tequila-based daisy that’s been enjoyed for nearly 100 years. We think.
The Margarita blueprint is a classic for a reason: it combines bright citrus notes with sweet agave flavours, accentuated by the optional inclusion of salt – it just works. But what happens when we swap out our tequila for a different base spirit?
To determine changes and nuances in our riffs, let’s start with the original.
- 40ml Don Julio Blanco
- 20ml Orange liqueur
- 20ml Fresh lime juice
- Add all ingredients to shaker
- Fill shaker with ice and shake hard
- Double strain into chilled martini glass
- Garnish with a lime wedge.
(Alcohol content: 15.9g per serve)
Like many classics, the best recipe (and base spirit) is quite subjective and open to interpretation. Blanco tequila has been the star of the show for many years for the fresh agave character it brings to the drink (arguably, rightly so) but using other types of tequila – or even spirit – can explore the DNA of the Margarita to reveal complexities and new depths.
Swapping the Blanco for Don Julio Reposado will introduce some softer vanilla notes and spice from the barrels to your Margarita, stepping back from the sharp acidity of the original to deliver a more autumnal cocktail that’s equal parts bold and smooth.
- 45ml Don Julio Reposado Tequila
- 25ml Fresh lime juice
- 25ml Agave nectar
- Crushed ice
- 1 Lime wedge
- 1 Tsp coarse salt
- Rub rim of a chilled rocks glass with lime and dip glass into salt to coat
- Add ingredients to shaker with ice
- Shake and strain drink into the rocks glass filled with ice
- Garnish with a lime wedge and a pinch of nutmeg.
(Alcohol content: 13.5g per serve)
Reverting to the Daisy blueprint, we can swap out our tequila for whiskey to see what all the fuss was about circa 1935. To stand up amongst such bold flavours, we’ll opt for something with character that can hold its own: Bulleit Rye.
The inclusion of Bulleit, with fresh orange and lemon juice, draws out sweet and peppery notes. The Captain Morgan brings vanilla and a softness to a finish that’s big on warm fruits and spices – not your typical Margarita.
- Add all ingredients to shaker with ice
- Shake and strain into a highball or margarita glass
- Garnish with orange zest and peel.
(Alcohol content: 11.93g per serve)
Keep up with all the bar lingo, tips and tricks @diageobarac on Instagram.
Recommended for you:
LOW ABV COCKTAILS
Tim Philips-Johansson looks at the changing cocktail culture and asks: just how low will we go?
GIN IT TO WIN IT
To celebrate 250 years of Gordon’s gin, we reflect on a quarter century of gin excellence – we trace the beginnings of the Genever spirit in mainland Europe through to the rumblings of a juniper-led revolution in London.
MEASURING THE INTANGIBLES – BEYOND FOOD & DRINK
Anything worth doing can be measured. Far too often businesses measure too many things and forget to measure the things that determine success or failure.
10 TIPS FOR LOOKING AFTER YOUR BAR TOOLS
Bar tools are as important as charm in the bar game, readily arming us to make great drinks consistently; taking care of them ensures they perform and help us produce our desired drinks.