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Real Margaritas

One of the favorite beverages of tourists to Mexico (not including bottled water) is of course, the Margarita. Note, that I wrote “tourist”. Mexicans do not usually drink margaritas. Locals drink beer, brandy or mezcal and they like their tequila straight. Margaritas are the domain of gringos.

There are three popular legends about the origin of the cocktail. One is that a movie starlet named Marjorie King was staying at Rancho La Gloria on Baja in the late 1930’s. Marjorie was allergic to all alcohol – except tequila. The owner of the ranch, Danny Herrera concocted the margarita cocktail for Miss King.

Or, you can believe the margarita was created at Tommy’s Place in Juarez by Pancho Morales in 1942, when a patron asked for a Magnolia cocktail and Pancho was unfamiliar with the ingredients and came up with a tequila “daisy”. (The Spanish translation for daisy is margarita.)

The most credible story is that Dallas socialite, Margarita Sames, threw a big bash at her vacation home in Acapulco in 1948. Margarita served her guests a concoction of tequila, Cointreau and fresh lime juice. They liked it and this combination has been called a Margarita since.

No matter the derivation of the margarita, it is popular in Mexico beach resorts and one of the most popular cocktails in America. Every tourist destination happy hour bar offers the beverage – frozen or on the rocks. Countless cocktails are consumed on the beach, restaurants, ocean-side cafes and under thatched-roof palapas around the pool.

An entire tourist industry has emerged celebrating tequila. In Mexico, you can find margarita glasses, pitchers and serving sets, tequila shot glasses and don’t forget the tacky t-shirts with such memorable sayings as “One tequila, two tequila, three tequila, floor”. Don’t worry, if you drink enough margaritas, you will buy one of the shirts and wonder why the next morning.

Blue Agave

Tequila is made from the blue agave plant. (Tequila’s cousin, mezcal is also made from this plant.) The blue agave is also known as a maguey cactus, though the blue agave is not a cactus at all, but a member of the lily family and somewhat resembles a yucca. The Mexican Tequila Regulatory Council controls the quality of tequila and distillers must follow strict guidelines. Just as champagne must come from the Champagne region of France, tequila must come from five central Mexican states and must contain a minimum of 51% blue agave. The most expensive and highly-prized tequilas are made with 100% blue agave. Most tequila is produced in the town of Tequila in Jalisco State. (And forget about that worm in the bottom of the bottle – it is only a marketing gimmick for foreign tourists.)

Sadly, so many touristy margaritas are pretty bad – made with low quality ingredients and the cheapest clear tequilas. Sometimes the cocktail is even based on a powered mix. A patron must be careful to ask for a premium or “Cadillac” margarita to avoid being served a sweet, watered-down version of the classic cocktail – and it will still be difficult to avoid the dreaded sweet and sour mix.

To make your own margaritas, purchase a good bottle of gold or white tequila. Ask at the liquor store for a recommendation. The bottled margarita mixes usually contain high fructose corn syrup, dyes, preservatives and other things we probably shouldn’t be consuming. If you are going to have a margarita – have a real margarita!

For a perfect margarita remember our mathematical equation:
3-2-1

Three parts good-quality tequila
Two parts Cointreau (or other orange liquor)
One part freshly-squeezed lime juice

You will also need a lot of ice and additional lime wedges for garnish – and kosher salt if you prefer to salt the rim of your glass. Mix the margaritas in a small pitcher. Fill a margarita glass, a martini glass or an old-fashioned glass with ice and pour the margarita over. If you make a small pitcher using one cup tequila, 2/3 cup Cointreau and 1/3 cup freshly squeezed lime juice it will be enough for four to six cocktails. Seriously – these bebidas will sneak up on you, one is probably enough. Enjoy – responsibly, of course.

This recipe was updated July 2015