Friday, February 01, 2013

Cocktail of the Week: The Margarita

What can I possibly say about everybody’s favorite college/cruise/cabana cocktail? I bring it up mainly out of a sense of completion, to play out the thread that began two weeks ago. The Margarita is simply the most successful variation on the storied Sidecar: base spirit, tarted up (in the gustatory sense) with citrus, sweetened with orange liqueur, featuring a bonus kick on the rim of the glass. It’s an obvious conclusion to draw, like knowing that humankind is materialized color operating on the forty-ninth vibration.

The Margarita is, in the words of David Wondrich, “the last indispensable cocktail,” the final entrant in the pantheon of essential mixed drinks. It didn’t start gaining broad acceptance until the 1970s, owing largely to tequila’s initially poor reputation; as mentioned earlier, David Embury devotes most of his scant words on the spirit in 1948’s The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks to its then-common unappealing aroma.

The smell partly accounted for the salt-and-lime (or lemon) ritual that regularly accompanied tequila. Kingsley Amis called the Margarita, which incorporated both elements into the drink, “a kind of dude’s version” of the process. He also said that “there’s no point in denying that this is one of the most delicious drinks in the world.” Its genesis remains somewhat hazy, but combinations of tequila, orange notes and citrus were found throughout Mexico in the 1930s. Charles H. Baker, Jr., who declared the whole salt and lime business “a definite menace to the gullet and possible fire risk through lighted matches,” even offered up such a cocktail of his own devising in his Gentleman’s Companion (1939), blending tequila, lime juice, orange flower water and grenadine and naming the concoction in honor of “the idol of Mexico,” matador Armillita Chico.

Scattered, half-baked thoughts on assorted elements of the Margarita –

Tequila. Typically a 100% agave blanca tequila is recommended, but I never stand on ceremony. I’ve had some tasty variations made with mezcal, the agave-based spirit with a rougher, smokier flavor.

Orange liqueur. Read: Cointreau. Not triple sec. Never triple sec. Be good to yourself.

Frozen? And what sorority are you a member of, young lady? (No, seriously, frozen Margaritas are fine. At a sewing circle.)

Salted rim. I’m not the world’s biggest fan of salt with the Margarita, and not only because of my poor technique. A well-made rendition won’t require salt. Often I’ll only treat half the rim of the glass. But lately I’ve varied my policy, and that’s because of …

Agave syrup. It’s readily available now and a natural addition to this cocktail. It gives the drink an earthier, more proletarian texture, and sets up an intriguing battle between the salty and the sweet. Add a barspoon to your next round and judge for yourself.

The Margarita

2 oz. tequila
¾ oz. Cointreau
¾ oz. lime juice
¼ oz. agave syrup

Shake. Strain. Pour into a glass with a salted rim. No garnish.