5 Favorite Tequila Cocktails to Try
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For whatever reason, Americans seem to celebrate the national holidays of other countries with as much fervor as citizens of the origin countries do. One only has to look at the St. Patrick’s Day parade in New York City or Cinco de Mayo celebrations in numerous cities around the United States to know this to be true.
As far as the latter holiday is concerned, many believe the day honors Mexican Independence Day. In actual fact, however, it recognizes the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, when the Mexican army — led by General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguín — won an unlikely victory over the French.
In any event, the day has become one where America’s favorite cocktail, the margarita, flows like a river from the thousands of Mexican bars and restaurants that now dot the landscape of every city in America. Some may be blended, others shaken. Some may be neon-colored while others may come directly from the soda gun. Please don’t drink these.
And while a perfectly made margarita is a thing of beauty, tequila is one of the most versatile spirits in existence. If you find yourself a little stuck, with nowhere to take your mixological prowess beyond the humble margarita, then here are a few more suggestions to help you get through that bottle of tequila. (Which, for the record, should only ever say 100 percent agave on the label. Anything else should be avoided at all costs.)
Long before agave nectar became the trendy cocktail ingredient it is today, Julio Bermejo was shaking this delicious, honey-like syrup into the house margarita served at his parents’ modest Mexican restaurant, Tommy’s, on the outskirts of San Francisco. The Tommy’s Margarita — named for his late father — has become the stuff of legend, listed on menus across the globe and now the standard recipe for hundreds of bars. Bermejo's version is a simple of mix of 100 percent agave tequila (usually a reposado), fresh lime juice (they squeeze them to order at Tommy’s), and organic agave nectar that is diluted with equal parts water. Give it a quick shake and pour into a glass sans salt rim and what you have is the most perfectly balanced and freshest margarita to be found on planet earth. Period.
Contrary to popular belief, you will never see Mexicans in Mexico drinking margaritas. In fact, you will rarely see them in a bar at all unless popularized by foreigners. Mexico is not a cocktail mecca at all. What you will see in abundance, however, is the Paloma, a very modest mix of tequila and Squirt, which is essentially a very sweet grapefruit-flavored soda, poured over ice into a salt-rimmed glass. You could get similar, and better, results by using the delicious grapefruit soda made by Jarritos, which is fairly common across the country. Or, even better, rim a tall glass with high-grade salt such as Maldon, fill it with obscene amounts of ice, and add your favorite 100 percent agave tequila. Add fresh grapefruit juice (and I do mean freshly squeezed) and top off with some club soda. Add a huge slice of grapefruit for extra effect and what you have is one of the most refreshing highballs you will ever put to your lips. You’re welcome.
Don Javier Delgado has been tending bar at La Capilla ("the chapel") for 73 years. No, that is not a misprint. He is now 88. This quiet, gracious, and humble man has turned his legendary bar into a place of pilgrimage for many tequila aficionados. Not because they have a large selection of agave spirits (they don’t) or because you can get a plethora of finely crafted cocktails here (you can’t). In fact, you can only get one mixed drink at all at this no-nonsense, working man’s cantina: La Batanga. No one really knows what it translates to, but it is a session drink to be sure (isn’t that what we want on Cinco de Mayo anyway?). Into a tall glass (again rimmed with salt) goes the juice of lime (squeezed by hand of course), ice, a good slug of whatever tequila is close at hand, and topped off with icy Coca-Cola. He stirs it with a large steak knife and there you have it, simplicity personified. Don Javier, we salute you!
Another thing you won’t see many Mexicans doing in Mexico is knocking back shots of tequila. Sure, they drink more tequila than any other country besides the United States, but it’s rarely downed in one shot like many of us across the border choose to do. Much of it is sipped slowly from a tall, thin shot glass called a caballito ("little horse") or a small snifter. This is usually accompanied by a plate of salt and a few wedges of lime. It’s a civilized and enjoyable way to appreciate your tequila. Or you might find a side of sangrita (not to be confused with sangria), a delicious and addictive accompaniment that changes from town to town, bar to bar, house to house. The most common recipes call for tomato juice, orange juice, and lime juice, seasoned with salt and pepper, spiced with hot sauce or fresh chiles, and then from there, the world is your proverbial oyster. Chopped scallions? Why not. BBQ sauce? Sure. I’ve even seen amazing green versions using tomatillos and cilantro. Make sure it's well chilled and take a small sip after every sip of tequila.
Watermelon Margarita Popsicles
Who doesn’t love a popsicle on a hot day? I mean, seriously. But one with alcohol? Oh, my! You could almost put anything into a frozen booze-fuelled popsicle and it will taste good. Fact. Take almost any classic recipe that calls for a decent amount of juice (straight spirits won’t freeze of course) and it will translate into a delicious frozen treat. Take this Frozen Watermelon Margarita as a case study. You take a small amount of 100 percent agave blanco tequila, add some watermelon juice (that you’ve blended and strained), some fresh lime juice, and dash of agave nectar to taste. Pop in the freezer and bring them out at high noon to your unsuspecting guests. This party just got started!
Naren Young is an award winning food, spirits, and cocktail writer who has also built a career as a widely traveled and respected bartender. You can currently find him behind the stick at Saxon + Parole in Manhattan’s East Village. Or follow him on twitter: @forkandshaker.
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