issue 09: the margarita

“I usually have margaritas on Thursdays, but since it’s Tuesday, I’ll make an exception.” – Chelsea Handler

I know this is more notice than you need, but National Margarita Day is February 22nd. So to prepare for that day… ahhh, who am I kidding, I’m just using that holiday as an excuse, I didn’t even know there was a National Margarita Day until I googled it. If I’m being honest, the margarita is just a damn fine drink and I just want one right now. So here’s a little something about the margarita – the sexiest and simplest slice of alcohol south of San Antonio.

If you want to chase a goose, here’s something you can do: see if you can figure out the origin of the margarita. There are more people claiming to be the inventor of this drink than there are variations on the drink itself. Christine Sismondo has a beautifully-written account of the various origin stories in her wonderful book Mondo Cocktail – a book which I highly recommend anyone and everyone picking up – and at the risk of being compared unfavourably to that insightful and witty and far better-written version, I’ll try to sum up some of the legends. For ambiance, feel free to throw on the soundtrack to Oliver Stone’s JFK in the background, just so that you can get the truly confusing feeling of wading through the threads and overlapping witnesses and contradicting versions of who did what, where, and when…

1930 – A tequila-based cocktail called the Tequila Daisy is mentioned in the Syracuse Herald. Although it doesn’t include a recipe, the Spanish name for daisy is margarita. Daisies, which are essentially cocktails mixed with a spirit/citrus/flavoured sweetener combination, were already popular in the United States.


1935 – A bartender at Las Dos Republicas in Matamoros, Mexico claims to have created the first margarita for a guest called Marguerite Hemery.


1936 – Iowa newspaper editor James Graham claims to enjoy a tequila cocktail called The Daisy while vacationing in Tijuana. He brings the account back and publishes it in his paper.


1936 – Danny Negrete, bartender at the Hotel Garci-Crespo in Puebla, Mexico, claims to invent the drink as a wedding present for his brother’s fiancé, Margarita. His version has equal parts tequila, triple sec, and lime juice, served over crushed ice.


1936 – Los Angeles bartender John Durlesser claims to have created the drink while working at McHenry’s Tail O’ the Cock. He says that he invented it in honour of his girlfriend who was killed in a hunting accident.

1937 – The Café Royal Cocktail Book contains a recipe for a drink called the Picador. It uses the same basic ingredients as what would become known as the margarita, calling for 2 oz tequila, 1 oz triple sec, and 1 oz lime juice. It’s important to note what it leaves out – salt, and any mention of applying it to the rim of the glass.


1938 – Carlos “Danny” Herrera claims to make the first margarita at his restaurant Rancho La Gloria, outside Tijuana in Mexico. His story is that he came up with the recipe while trying to satisfy one of his customers, Marjorie King, a dancer, who was allergic to many of the base spirits he had in his bar, but not to tequila.

1941 – Hussong’s Cantina in Ensenada, Mexico – Don Carlos Orozco says that he is the true inventor of the drink. He claims that he created and named it for Margarita Henkel – the daughter of the then-German ambassador to Mexico. In his version he mixes together equal parts tequila, lime juice, and a Mexican orange liqueur called Controy (also known as Naranja). Importantly, in his version of the drink the ingredients are mixed together and then poured into a salt-rimmed glass.


1942 – Francisco “Pancho” Morales claims to invent the drink while working at Tommy’s Place Bar in Juarez, Mexico. Someone orders a Magnolia and Morales doesn’t know the recipe, so he wings it, and inadvertently comes up with the “first” Margarita.


1945 – Jose Cuervo brand tequila runs a series of ads which include the tag line “Margarita: It’s More Than a Girl’s Name”. They claim to use the recipe from one invented in 1938 by an unnamed Mexican bartender who made it in honour of a local showgirl Rita de la Rosa.


1947 – Albert Hernandez claims to have really invented the drink in his restaurant La Plaza in San Diego, after being “inspired” during his visits to Mexico.

1948 – Dallas (your JFK soundtrack should get a little louder right about here) socialite Margaret “Margarita” Sames says she came up with the first version of the drink while entertaining guests at one of the garden parties she frequently throws at her Acapulco vacation home. One such soiree is attended by Tommy Hilton, the hotel magnate, who then takes the drink back to his chain of hotels and popularizes it around the world.


1948 – The Balinese Room in Galveston, Texas: head bartender Santos Cruz claims he creates the margarita for singer Peggy “Margaret” Lee, naming it after the Spanish version of her name.

1953 – Esquire publishes the first known printed recipe for the margarita, their version calling for 1 oz tequila, a dash of triple sec, and the juice of half a lime or lemon. They label it their Drink of the Month. “She’s from Mexico, Señores, and her name is the Margarita Cocktail—and she is lovely to look at, exciting and provocative.” Oh, the 50s.


1961 –Coming very late to the party, Texan Robert James “Rusty” Thomson claims to invent the margarita after running out of rum while making daiquiris. His recipe calls for equal parts tequila, lime juice, and Damiana, a Mexican herbal-based liqueur. He also calls for it to be mixed with crushed ice and poured into a salt-rimmed glass.


And these aren’t even all the theories, I’ve just included the most popular, so good luck figuring out just where, when, and with whom the margarita originated.

And just as there are countless origins for the margarita, there are also countless varieties. The classic recipe calls for lime juice, (or – rarely – lemon juice) to be the base citrus, but as the years have gone by since its creation, bartenders have thrown everything but the kitchen sink into the mix. Google “types of margarita” and you’ll get pineapple margaritas, cucumber margaritas, jalapeno-cilantro margaritas, margaritas made with aloe, apple, apricot, avocado, banana, basil, beet, blackberry, blood orange, blueberry, cantaloupe, caramel, carrot, chocolate, cilantro, coconut, cranberry, ginger, grape, guava, hibiscus, kale, kiwi, lavender, mango, matcha, mint, mirabelle, orange, peach, pear, pecan, peppermint, persimmon, pink grapefruit, plum, pomegranate, pumpkin, raspberry, red chile, rhubarb, rosemary, strawberry, thyme, vanilla, and watermelon*. Go ahead, pour yourself a strawberry sriracha margarita or a fucking caprese margarita (basil, tomato, balsamic vinegar anyone?), and watch everyone’s eyes roll.


* Hand to god: every single one of these recipes can be found, usually online, and usually created by someone for whom there is a special level of hell waiting.

Not content with messing with the fruit content of the drink, adventurous “bartenders” also feel the need to play around with the non-tequila alcohol ingredient as well. There’s long been discussions about which orange-based liqueur makes for the best flavour: some people argue in favour of Cointreau, others stick with Triple Sec, some choose Grand Marnier, traditionalists seek out Naranja, and some people go with plain old orange curacao. But the radicals out there go even further, substituting Chambord, or even beer, straying far (too far, if you ask me) from the traditional recipe and into whole new cocktail territory.


And why stop there? Let’s talk about sweetness. Should you use simple syrup or stick with agave? I like to use icing sugar, as it dissolves quickly, and it doesn’t water down the overall flavour. But I’ve also had very good margaritas made with straight up regular white sugar, and in Saint Martin I’ve had them made with demerara syrup, which added a slight but delicious smokiness to the drink.


But I think we can all agree that the one thing you can’t touch, shouldn’t touch, won’t touch – is the tequila. Dear God if you take that away as well, what’s left? Yes there’s a genuine discussion to be had as to which type and which brand is best, but here’s my small slice of opinion: use any good silver. You’re going to be masking a lot of the tequila flavour anyway so save your reposado’s and your anejo’s for other more tequila-forward cocktails. You could always use your reposado for that special day, your wedding day or the day you get hired for that new job; and your anejo on those very special occasions: your birthday or the day you lose that new job. But silver works just as well and, being less expensive, it’ll allow you to have many more drinks before you run out of cash. As for which brand to use – you’re on your own, but any higher grade tequila makes for a nice margarita. I’ve had them with probably thirty different brands and I’m yet to find one that screams out “I’M THE ONE!!”. I’d stay away from that seventy-five cent plastic mickey that your friend picked up on his honeymoon, but otherwise you really can’t go wrong.


I’m planning to do an entire issue on rimming (get your snickering our now, children), so for the purposes of this issue, let’s just stick to the basic salt rim. It’s easy to do, just apply some lime juice to the edge of the glass. You can either roll it along a plate of juice, or take a wedge of lime and just rub the inner part along the outer edge of the glass. Then roll the glass rim over a plate of coarse salt. Do not commit the cardinal sin of getting salt inside the glass. If any does fall in, make sure to remove it before you add that magical liquid.

So go ahead, put on your virtual sombrero and turn on the Ana Tijoux, and let the spirit of the mysterious and wonderful margarita take you back to a hot sticky beach or to your favourite patio or even to Avenida Alvaro Obregon in Mexico City, wherever you go just sit back and enjoy.


And now… the recipes


(click each to open in a new window)

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