There’s something soulful about good food, good friends — and good margaritas.
And Cinco de Mayo, which marks Mexico’s 1862 triumph over the French, is the perfect time to pause and raise a hefty salt-rimmed glass to the world’s favorite export from down south.
But where did this not-so-distant cousin of the Moscow Mule get its start?
While the exact origin of this refreshing boozy beverage is still a bit fuzzy, a quick scour of the internet brings up a multitude of possibilities.
One that floats to the top is Tijuana bartender Carlos “Danny” Hererra, who is said to have created the cocktail in 1938 for a customer who was allergic to many spirits, but not tequila.
Another version of that story says Hererra crafted the cocktail as a gift for his girlfriend, Margarita, who liked to put salt in her drinks.
Others say it was a Texas socialite who first served the beverage in 1948 at a house party in Mexico.
Some insist it was a clever marketing ploy by a particular tequila manufacturer to sell more product.
And the list of stories goes on.
But regardless of which tale you believe, the margarita has made its way into American culture and is here to stay.
One drink, many personalities
Like most things that come to this country, the traditional margarita has endured the gamut of American experimentation.
From a simple, three-ingredient recipe served in a humble salt-gilded glass to those flavored fussy frozen concoctions with exotic names, this beverage is genuinely one that can be easily engineered to match a mood.
Isabel Cañas, also a favorite ‘import,’ according to customers who frequent her Las Palmas I restaurant, located on the east side of Golden, agrees.
She’s spent more than 25 years in the restaurant business as a manager and server and, along the way, has made thousands of margaritas.
Her house margarita is a perfect example.
While Cañas admits she respects tradition, she also says she likes to mess with it.
She said she created her recipe in protest to everything she disliked about bad margaritas, a closely guarded secret known only to her staff.
“I make my own mix from learning from different places I’ve worked,” she said. “All the people that work here, they have to know the recipe — they have to follow my recipe.”
Follow your own recipe, indeed.
Some rules of engagement
So this Cinco de Mayo, whether you’re a beginner or a pro, there’s a lot more making and enjoying margaritas than just the story. While the key is always to enjoy yourself responsibly, here are a few suggestions curated from area barkeeps to put you in the know.
- Bottled lime juice. Don’t do it. Fresh limes are non-negotiable. Concentrated lime juice or anything else that comes off a grocery store shelf can be far too sweet. Although any fresh lime is better than something from a bottle or frozen can, mixologists insist key limes taste best.
- About that salt. It’s hard to deny. Salt is the ultimate margarita accessory. But like jewelry, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. Pros say salt only a portion of the rim and only on the outside. Over-salted glasses yield a mouthful of salt.
- About the tequila. It’s all a matter of taste, right? A Blanco tequila is minimally aged and thus doesn’t have the darker, golden color of its Resposado cousin, aged in oak barrels. Instead, bartenders prefer the Blanco tequila for its more zingy agave flavor.
- Agave nectar or orange liquor. Your choice may be fightin’ words. Some folks swear by the orange cognac-like liquor and its fruity, slightly bitter notes. Others prefer agave for a sweeter stride across the palate.
- On the fence about on the rocks? Caña insists frozen margaritas are fund, but they hide the flavor, and because of that, her frozen margs tend to get a little more tequila. A well-mixed margarita, on the rocks can be a delightful option—without the brain freeze.
- Bond was right. Not stirred. Local bartenders say a solid martini shaker and the right amount of ice properly mixes and chills the beverage and give it that signature, cloudy appearance.
- Ice, ice baby. And while on the subject of ice, use fresh, clear ice cubes and not crushed ice. Ice cubes that have been in the fridge too long can absorb other flavors and add a funky taste. Crushed ice tends to melt and add extra water. No bueno.
- Ditch the lime garnish. While it’s pretty, a slice of fresh lime is best reserved for the next round.