When you ask a bartender or cocktail nerd what the most essential classic cocktails are, you’ll generally get a list that looks like this:
Classics yes, but not all aged classics. The Margarita is the youngest of these as we know it today, but it has deep roots, as deep as any of the others.
There have been many stories about how this drink was invented, by particuar bartenders and/or named after particular ladies named Margarita. What seems to make the most sense, though, is that the Margarita is a version/descendant of one of the great classes of 19th Century drinks called a Daisy.
Generally speaking a Daisy consisted of spirit, lemon juice, Curaçao and a little sugar. It wasn’t carved in stone; sometimes maraschino was used with or instead of Curaçao, sometimes orgeat was added. But generally speaking, that was the definition of a daisy.
The typical ingredients for a real Margarita (as opposed to the kinds made with bottled Margarita mixes, which are not really Margaritas at all, but are crap) are tequila as the base spirit, Cointreau (an orange liqueur very much like Curaçao) and lime juice. Sounds a lot like a Daisy, doesn’t it? A Tequila Daisy, in fact. Such a thing would have been unheard of in Jerry Thomas’ time, as tequila hadn’t made it north of the border yet.
The biggest clue? Other than the nearly identical ingredients? The Spanish word for “daisy” … is margarita!
Works for me.
Rules of thumb — always use a quality, 100% agave tequila. I really like a good, spicy silver tequila in a Margarita. Reposados are fine for this too, but I think that an añejo’s talents are a bit wasted in a Margarita. Then again, garbage in garbage out — and your own mileage may vary.
“Mixto” tequilas are generally undesirable products consisting of 51% tequila and the rest cane or grain neutral spirits or Dios knows what else. Avoid them. A prime example of this would be josé Cuervo Gold, which I’d only use as insecticide or weed killer. Cuervo Gold is the reason people make a face when drinking tequila … they make that face because it tastes bad, and sadly they think Cuervo Gold is tequila. I surely did when I was in college, but now I know better.
Fresh squeezed lime juice only. No “margarita mixes.” Ever.
Proportions vary, but here’s the one a lot of my bartender friends use:
1-1/2 ounces silver tequila.
1 ounce Cointreau.
1-2 to 3/4 ounce fresh lime juice (to taste).
Shake and strain, up or over the rocks. A lot of people like a salted rim; I’m not a big fan of it. I’ll salt half the rim on mine.
To salt a rim, never use one of those moist-sponge thingys where you dip the rim into it and then into a dish of salt. Who wants salt on the INSIDE of their glass?! To do it properly, moisten the outside of the rim with a lime wedge, then dredge the outside of the glass in a small saucer of coarse (kosher) salt.
Let’s watch master New Orleans bartender Chris McMillian make one.