margarita.jpg
On the rocks, salted rim, no artificial coloring. A margarita as it should be.
While many might consider Cinco de Mayo the best day for

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Viva la Margarita Day

margarita.jpg
On the rocks, salted rim, no artificial coloring. A margarita as it should be.
While many might consider Cinco de Mayo the best day for drinking margaritas, February 22 is in fact National Margarita Day. Why? Who cares! It's time to start thinking about margaritas. This classic drink dates back to at least the 1940s, if not much earlier. Maybe it's Mexican, maybe it's Tex-Mex. Either way, it's about as deliciously simple as it gets--tequila, Cointreau and lime juice. So why do so many bars, restaurants and even home bartenders mess it up?

The margarita is simply a sour--a traditional family of cocktails, as described in How to Mix Drinks by Jerry Thomas. The sidecar is another example of a sour. Follow this simple formula to make a sour: Mix a base liquor (like whiskey or bourbon for a whiskey sour), lemon or lime juice, egg white, and a sweetener (such as triple sec, simple syrup or grenadine). The quality of each ingredient has a direct correlation on the quality of the end result. Use cheap tequila and you may regret it in the morning. Upgrade the sweetener to Cointreau, and your taste buds will be rewarded. Cheap out and use anything other than fresh limes and the Gods will strike down upon thee!

Convenience and price are probably the most common reasons bad things happen to good cocktails. I've resorted to using triple sec in a margarita more times than I care to admit, because it's about half the price of Cointreau. In a blind tasting of the two however, triple sec has a metallic and artificial aftertaste. Cointreau is a higher quality product, and on it's own it tastes mildly boozy, pleasantly sweet and even a little bitter. When I can, I splurge on the good stuff. Substituting for something other than fresh lime juice is another shortcut, but I don't know why anyone would think it's cheaper to buy the stuff in the little plastic squeeze bottle.

And then there is the tequila, a topic we need to dive into deeper here someday soon. All you need to know for now is that you should buy 100% agave tequila. If that is not printed prominently on the label, it's not 100% agave. Sauza makes a well-priced 100% agave tequila, good for mixing, so do El Jimador and Familia Camarena. Silver or blanco tequilas are not aged and work well in a margarita. I save the reposados, and definitely the anejos, for sipping. If it's not 100% agave, it is usually a blend of distillates, with only 51% agave required by law. If you had a bad experience with tequila in your younger days, it was probably a mixto. The good stuff won't wreck you. Unless of course you drink too much of it...

For a recipe, it doesn't get much simpler, or much more delicious, than this one by David Wondrich: Mix 2 ounces silver tequila, 1 ounce Cointreau and 1 ounce lime juice. Shake well with cracked ice, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass that has had its rim rubbed with lime juice and dipped in coarse salt.

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