Saturday, February 21, 2015

National Margarita Day

The 1967 Señor Pico Cocktail menu

The Margarita

National Margarita Day is February 22.
In 2008, on average, Americans consumed 185,000 Margaritas per hour.
America is the world’s biggest consumer of tequila.

“Common” ratios for a margarita are:
2:1:1 = (50% tequila, 25% Triple Sec, 25% fresh lime or lemon juice)
3:2:1 = (50% tequila, 33% Triple Sec, 17% fresh lime or lemon juice)
3:1:1 = (60% tequila, 20% Triple Sec, 20% fresh lime or lemon juice)
1:1:1 = (33% tequila, 33% Triple Sec, 33% fresh lime or lemon juice)

……although the IBA (International Bartending Association Official list of Cocktails) standard is:
 7:4:3 = (50% tequila, 29% Triple Sec, 21% fresh lime or lemon juice)

While the Margarita cocktail may or may not have been invented in Mexico, because it is made with tequila, lime, and salt, it is considered by most to be the consummate Mexican cocktail. The Margarita is the world’s most popular and best-known cocktail. You should know that the Spanish word margarita is the Latinized version of the name Margaret or Marjorie. It also the Spanish word for the daisy.

There is no cocktail recipe with a more discombobulated provenance than the margarita. No less than eighteen different folks claim the birth of the drink, spanning three decades. It even includes one creator across the ocean in London.

The Sidecar, the progenitor of the Margarita, originated in Paris sometime between 1914 and 1918. A Sidecar is brandy, Cointreau, and lemon juice. Substitute the brandy with tequila, the lemon with lime, and you have a Margarita. According to David Embury in The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks (1948), the cocktail was created during WWI by a pal of his who went to his favorite bistro in Paris riding in the sidecar of a motorcycle; hence the name.

The famous Pegu Club Cocktail (gin, orange curaçao, and fresh lime juice) has been around since the 1920s, and probably goes back further than that. It was the signature cocktail of a bar that catered to foreigners outside of Rangoon, Burma; the bar was named after the Pegu River. The reported first printed mention is in Harry Craddock’s famous 1930 The Savoy Cocktail Book, where he contends that the cocktail was of worldwide renown at that time. Some contend it was published earlier in Barflies and Cocktails (1927) by Harry McElhone of the famous Harry's New York Bar in Paris. Craddock used orange curaçao in his Pegu, while others used Cointreau.

The Margarita is basically a Sour, and Sours are one of the earliest cocktails (the Brandy Sour dates to at least 1850). According to Master Mixologist Guru Gary Regan, there are three main categories of Sours: Classic, International and New Orleans. A Classic Sour is sweetened by a non-alcoholic product, such as sugar, a syrup, or a sweet fruit juice (Daiquiri, Whiskey Sour). Both International and New Orleans Sours, as defined by Regan, get their sweetness from a liqueur. International Sours call for a base liquor, lime or lemon juice, and are sweetened by a liqueur, another fruit juice, or both. Both the Sidecar and the Pegu Club Cocktail are forms of a New Orleans Sour, which is made from a base spirit, orange liqueur, and a sour citrus, lemon or lime. That recipe is sounding more and more like a Margarita.

The Slightly More Modern Margarita Timeline
All of the following have been credited with inventing the Margarita cocktail, at one time or another.

· Some allege that Margaritas were served in the bar at the Aqua Caliente Racetrack in Tijuana, Mexico in 1930; the track opened in 1929.

· Doña Bertha, 1930
Doña Bertha, the owner of Bertha's Bar, the oldest bar in Taxco, Mexico, might have created the precursor to the drink around 1930, although little is known of the tale. There are repeated literary references to a tequila and lemon cocktail called “The Bertha” that had a splash of red wine.

· Bartender “Willie” from Mexico City, who in 1934, while working for the Melguizo Family at Los Dos Republicas Restaurante, concocted the drink for Marguerite Hemery, who had lived since the early 1930s in the small ranching town of Lyford, Texas, in the Rio Grande Valley. She went to the restaurant in Matamoros, Mexico where she was friends with the owners. The barkeep, known only as “Willie”, composed a special drink for her that was essentially the Margarita, naming the cocktail in her honor.
· Danny Negrete, 1936, whose recipe was equal parts of tequila, triple sec, and lime juice, made with crushed ice. According to Danny Negrete’s son, Salvador, his father opened a bar at the Hotel Garci-Crespo in Tehuacán, Puebla, with his dad’s brother, David. The day before David's marriage, Daniel invented the margarita as a wedding present to Margarita, his future sister-in-law. His version was made using equal amounts of tequila, triple sec, and fresh lime juice, but had no salted rim.

· “Irish” Madden, at a nameless bar in Tijuana, 1936
In the summer of 1936, James Graham, owner and editor of the Moville, Iowa, newspaper took his wife to southern California on vacation. They ventured to Tijuana for drinks and their cabbie told them about a bar run by an Irish bartender named Madden, who was famous for a cocktail he created called the “Tequila Daisy.” Madden was not chatty, but after being pressed, admitted that the drink had been a mistake, “In mixing a drink, I grabbed the wrong bottle and the customer was so delighted that he called for another and spread the good news far and wide.” (One of the earliest known recipes for the brandy daisy was published in 1876 in the second edition of Jerry Thomas' The Bartenders Guide or How To Mix Drinks: The Bon-Vivants Companion. It was made with gum syrup, curaçao, lemon juice, brandy, and a dash of rum and seltzer. Through the decades, the liquors and liqueurs changed. By the release of the 1941 Old Mr. Boston’s De Luxe Official Bartender's Book the recipe had morphed into brandy, lemon juice, raspberry syrup or grenadine, and powdered sugar.)

· Syracuse Herald, 1936
Without noting a specific recipe or inventor, a drink called the Tequila Daisy was mentioned in the Syracuse Herald as early as 1936. Margarita is Spanish for “Daisy”, which is a nickname for Margaret. The first mention in print of a tequila Daisy was in The Movie Mall of July, 1936 where the editor commented on finding the drink popular in bars across the border in Aqua Caliente and Tijuana, Mexico.

Johnny Durlesser

· Johnny Durlesser, head barman at McHenry’s Tail o’ the Cock Restaurant, 1936-37
Durlesser told The Van Nuys News in January, 1955 that he invented the margarita in 1937. The August/September, 1966 issue of Bon Appetit Magazine also credits Durlesser with inventing the drink, but “in 1936 when... [Durlesser] was asked to duplicate a drink a lady customer had once tasted in Mexico. He put together a drink which pleased the lady, whose name was Margaret, and today his ‘duplication’ is well known as the Margarita cocktail.” The magazine also reports that Durlesser entered the drink “in a national competition of original drinks and it won third place.” This claim has never been confirmed. Tail O’ the Cock owner Shelton McHenry did later hang out socially with Margarita Sames.

· The Picador, 1937
A recipe called the Picador was invented in London in 1936, and was published in 1937 in W.J. Tarling's Cafe Royal Cocktail Book. Made of tequila, Cointreau, and lime juice, it lacked the salted rim. The Picador calls for ¼ fresh lime or lemon juice, ¼ Cointreau, ½ tequila, shaken and strained; the basic Margarita recipe. The Picador was only one of 15 tequila cocktails in the book, which shows how popular tequila was in Europe at the time. Of all of the contenders for heritage, this seems the earliest to the true Margarita.

Danny Herrera

· Danny Herrera, 1938
At the Riviera del Pacifico Hotel and Casino in Ensenada, Mexico, famed bartender Carlos “Danny” Herrera was hopelessly smitten with Marjorie King, an aspiring American actress. Supposedly, tequila was the only liquor that she could drink (some versions say she was allergic to all other booze), and she hated drinking it straight. He developed the drink to win her favor. Some accounts say this took place at his Tijuana-area restaurant at Rosarita Beach, Restaurante Rancho La Gloria. Legend says that he developed the drink based on the flavors of the typical accompaniment to a tequila shooter, lime and salt. He poured tequila over shaved ice then added lemon and triple sec, and translated Marjorie's name to its Spanish equivalent, Margarita.

· Rita De La Rosa, 1938
According to legend from advertising for Jose Cuervo Margarita Mix, an unamed bartender created the cocktail in 1938 in honor of the beautiful Mexican showgirl, Rita De La Rosa.

· Don Carlos Orozco, October 1941
Bartender Don Carlos Orozco concocted the mixture of equal parts tequila, Damiana, and lime, served over ice in a salt-rimmed glass for Margarita Henkel, daughter of the German Ambassador to Mexico, at Hussong’s Cantina in Ensenada, Mexico (established 1892). Damiana is a traditional Mexican liqueur made with the Damiana shrub, Turnera diffusa, a native of Baja and a reputed aphrodisiac. Its flavor is sweetly floral, hebaceously woody, and mellow.

Margarita Cansino, AKA "Rita Hayworth"

· Enrique Bastate Gutierrez, early 1940s
Gutierrez, a bartender in Tijuana, Mexico, boasted that he created the Margarita as an homage to actress Rita Hayworth, whose real name was Margarita Cansino. Other versions of the story claim the Margarita cocktail was indeed named after the actress, but in the 1930s, before she acquired her screen name. As a teenager, Margarita Cansino worked as a dancer at the Foreign Club, in Tijuana, where she supposedly inspired a bartender, while turning a lot of other mens heads. She also danced at the Aqua Caliente Racetrack in the early 1930s.

· Francisco “Pancho” Morales, July 4, 1942
One story has bartender Pancho Morales inventing the drink on July 4th at a bar in Juarez named Tommy’s Place. A woman came up to Morales and ordered a cocktail called a Magnolia, made with brandy, Cointreau, and an egg yolk, with a Champagne floater. Morales could only remember that the drink contained Cointreau, so he improvised. After mixing Cointreau with tequila, he named the new concoction after a different flower, the daisy.

· 1945
In Anthony Dias Blue’s The Complete Book of Spirits, the first importer of Jose Cuervo Tequila into the United States advertised with the tagline, “Margarita: it’s more than a girl’s name.” He contends that the drink must have already been fairly common for the advertising to make that reference. Vern Underwood,  president of Young’s Market Co., which had distributed Jose Cuervo tequila since the 1930s, asked Shelton McHenry, owner of Los Angeles’ Tail O’ the Cock restaurant, why they were ordering so many cases of Cuervo. After learning of the drink (see 1936 entry for Johnny Durlesser, above), Underwood came up with the tagline. McHenry was a close social friend of Margarita Sames, and Carlos "Danny" Herrera claimed to be good friends with the Mexican bartender at the Tail o' the Cock restaurant. The history gets convoluted quickly.

· Al Hernandez and Morris Locke, La Plaza Restaurant in La Jolla, California, 1947
Calling California Home, by Heather Waite, attributes bartender Al Hernandez and La Plaza owner Morris Locke as the inventors of the margarita. According to an article in the San Diego Union-Tribune, Hernandez invented the drink after Locke had tasted something similar at Danny Herrera’s Rancho La Gloria. Hernandez then experimented and came up with his own version. (Herrera's used lemon juice, Hernandez and Locke used lime juice.)

Peggy Lee

· Santos Cruz, 1948
The Balinese Room in Galveston, Texas, was a notorious illegal gambling casino built into the Gulf on a 600 foot pier, owned by Sicilian brothers Sam and Rosario Maceo. It was nationally known, with first rate performers (Sinatra, George Burns, Bob Hope, The Marx Brothers, etc.) and renowned for superb food and drinks. Head bartender Santos Cruz was said to have created the cocktail for singer Margaret “Peggy” Lee in 1948, naming the drink after her. The Texas Rangers (the law enforcement Rangers, not the professional baseball team) finally shut the joint down in 1957. It reopened in 2001, and was destroyed by Hurricane Ike in 2008.

shown here somewhat older than 35 years of age

· Margaret Sames, December 1948
Wealthy Dallas socialite Marguerite “Margarita” Sames loved to create drinks for her party guests using whatever she could find behind the bar. When she was 35 years old, during a 1948 Christmas party at a borrowed vacation home (hers was still under construction) in Acapulco, Mexico, she mixed 2 parts silver tequila with one part each of Cointreau and fresh lime juice, and being familiar with licking salt before taking a shot of tequila, she decided to lightly coat the rim with table salt. Over the years, Bill and Margarita served the drink to their guests, referring to it as “The Drink” or “Margarita's Drink.” After Bill presented Margarita with a set of champagne glasses with her name etched on them, the drink got its official name. Bill and Margarita ran in a powerful set, who all loved her cocktail, including hotelier Nick Hilton (who was also Elizabeth Taylor’s first husband), Tail O’ the Cock owner Shelton McHenry, Hotel Bel-Air owner Joseph Drown, movie stars Lana Turner and John Wayne, and other worldly guests and friends that later served the drink in their hotels and restaurants, spreading the drink around the globe. Sames moved to El Paso, Texas, in 1958 where she was well known for her lavish parties, and eventually settled in San Antonio in her golden years.

As was reported in the San Antonio Express-News in 1994, when they did a feature on her for the 45th anniversary of the cocktail: “Margarita and her husband, Bill, invited some friends from Dallas to visit them in Acapulco. Their cliffside hacienda was under construction, so they borrowed a home from a local friend, with luxurious grounds and a pool with a swimming bar. Sames wanted to make a refreshing drink that could be enjoyed poolside before lunch. ‘After all, a person can only drink so many beers or so many Bloody Marys, or screwdrivers or whatever,’ she said. ‘I wanted to make up a new drink.’
Margarita had initially tried to invent a rum drink, inspired by her visits to Cuba, but had no success. Tequila was her favorite spirit, so she turned there. Having tasted and enjoyed the orange-based French liqueur Cointreau, she decided to combine the two. At the time, she said, there were no mixed drinks using tequila, which was mostly served in classic style in a shot glass, with salt and a slice of lime. (There was a popular tequila cocktail called the Tequila Daisy, popular during World War II; a mix of tequila, citrus juice and grenadine served over shaved ice that was derived from the Brandy Daisy - MV) Mrs. Sames’ mixology attempts were not immediately successful. ‘I was pushed into the swimming pool quite a few times because some of those first drinks were so bad,’ she recalled. As she experimented with various combinations of tequila and Cointreau, they were either too sweet or too sour. Eventually she found a recipe that suited her, with lime juice used to balance the alcohol and a light dusting of salt on the glass rim to add pizzazz.”

Margarita Sames’ recipe and tips for making a good Margarita, from a talk show during the 1990’s: “First, you must use a good tequila—one that is authentic, made in Jalisco, Mexico. I prefer a white tequila, not any of this gold stuff. No blenders ever. Shake it or stir the drink in a pitcher. Do not strain. Use Cointreau, not the less expensive and less flavorful Triple Sec. The original Margarita recipe: 3 jiggers tequila, “or you can do 2,” 1 jigger Cointreau and 1 jigger lime juice. Serve over ice cubes, “not those little chips.” “Most people over-salt their Margarita glasses. I take a piece of lime and go all around the rim of the glass with it. Then I put regular kitchen salt on a paper towel. Just put the glass down into the salt and then pick it straight up.”

· Esquire Magazine, 1953
The first appearance in print of a drink actually called “Margarita” is the December, 1953 issue of Esquire Magazine, which helps support the notion that she invented it, and the recipe was spread around by her influential friends. Margarita Sames’ original Margarita recipe is featured on page 76 of that issue.

· Rusty Thompson, 1961
A later story is that the margarita was actually invented in October, 1961, at a party in Houston, Texas, by party guest Robert James “Rusty” Thomson while acting as bartender. He concocted a mixture of equal parts tequila, orange liqueur, lime, and crushed ice in a salt-rimmed glass. However, Thomson's recipe was made with Damiana liqueur, not Cointreau. Supposedly the idea was an experiment after running out of rum while making frozen daiquiris.

Of all of the possible origin stories listed here, Sames’ story seems the most plausible, but it is hard to discount the other stories, especially when you consider the complex interaction of the players involved. Truth be told, there were similar cocktails around for decades, but Sames seems to be the first to serve it with the proper proportions, in a glass with a salted rim.

Victor "Trader Vic" Bergeron

The person credited for really popularizing the Margarita was Victor “Trader Vic” Bergeron, who owned California’s Señor Pico chain of restaurants. In the 1960s he went to Mexico to do research on a cocktail containing tequila, but discovered that Mexicans drink tequila straight. So he collected recipes for tequila cocktails from other restaurants around the States, and settled on the Margarita. By 1973 his restaurants sold more tequila than any other restaurant in the world.

Mariano Martinez

Although I consider a frozen Margarita an abomination, I should probably mention that the world’s first frozen margarita machine was invented on May 11, 1971 by a Dallas restaurateur named Mariano Martinez. He modified a soft-serve ice cream machine into the first frozen margarita machine to create a consistent, mass produced beverage. He got his inspiration from a frozen slushee machine he saw at a convenience store. Frozen Margaritas and Piña Coladas were all the rage back then, but they had to be made in a blender, which was time consuming, loud, and didn’t make for a very consistent product. His invention popularized the bar and the frozen Margarita at his Dallas TexMex restaurant, El Charro, and the category of frozen drink machines has gotten ever more popular through the years. His original machine now resides in the Smithsonian Institute.

Margarita Rim Dust
I like to reinforce the flavors of the cocktail in the salt mixture that coats the rim of the glass.
1 part powdered lime
1 part powdered orange
1 part sea salt, finely ground
½ part superfine sugar
Mix all of the dust ingredients together and store in an airtight container. Place in a rimmed saucer to apply the dust to a glass rim. Dip the outside of the rim in saucer of a mixture of half triple sec and half lime juice to wet the rim before rolling the outside of the rim into the rim dust.

Well or House Margarita
2 ounces Alteño, Espolón, El Padrino, Olmeca Altos, or Milagro Blanco tequila
1 ounce Hiram Walker or Stirrings triple sec
½ to 1 ounce fresh lime juice, to taste

Shake with ice until well chilled, strain into a dust-rimmed flute for straight-up, or a dust-rimmed double rocks over ice. Garnish with a lime wheel and a lemon twist.

Top Shelf Margarita
2 ounces Siete Leguas, El Tesoro, Herencia, KAH, or Don Julio Blanco tequila
1 ounce Cointreau
½  to 1 ounce fresh lime juice, to taste

Shake with ice until well chilled, strain into a dust-rimmed flute for straight-up, or a dust-rimmed double rocks over ice. Garnish with a lime wheel and a lemon twist.

Prima Margarita

2 ounces El Tesoro Paradiso, Herradura Selección, Don Julio 1942, or Siete Leguas Reposado
1 ounce Grand Marnier Cuvee du Centenaire
½ to 1 ounce fresh Key lime juice, to taste

Shake with ice until well chilled, strain into a dust-rimmed wine flute for straight-up, or a dust-rimmed double rocks over ice. Garnish with a lime wheel and a lemon twist.

The classic Champagne coupe glass for a straight-up Margarita is a horrible choice. It exposes too much surface of the drink to the air, allowing the drink to warm up rapidly. The goal is to keep it chilled as long as possible. A Champagne flute is designed to keep Champagne chilled for a longer time by limiting air exposure, with a long stem preventing the hands from warming the bottom of the bowl portion of the glass. Fruit and vegetable powders used in making the rim dust are available online, or in some health food stores.

Mick Vann©

Excerpted from my upcoming eBook:

Favorite Dishes from Regional Mexico, Texas and the Border, and New Mexico