Tequila

Beyond The Basic Margarita: Craft Cocktails In Mexico

26 May 2017

Chilenito cocktails at Auberge Chileno Bay

Mexico has many problems, but the lack of a national cocktail is not one of them. Everyone, in the U.S., at least, associates one cocktail, and one cocktail alone, with Mexico: the Margarita. (Only a pedant would argue for the Paloma.)

I imagined that I would be offered a non-stop parade of Margaritas in Mexico. Some might be made with mezcal, tequila’s smoky/spicy sibling, and some might incorporate mango juice or some such. But I expected that basically the cocktail lists at most restaurants and hotels wouldn’t differ much from that at the average Cesar’s.

To be honest, this prospect did not inspire within me feelings of unmixed disappointment. I love a good Margarita. I make them myself with some regularity. A good Margarita, to be clear, uses fresh lime juice (not chemical-green sour mix), silver tequila (or reposado, if you prefer a mellower flavor), orange liqueur like Cointreau or Triple Sec, and a dash of simple syrup or agave nectar. I serve it up, in a martini glass or coupe, and garnish it with nothing, not even salt. I’m a simple kind of guy, and simply kind of lazy.

It was quite a surprise, then, when my welcome cocktail at my first resort in Los Cabos incorporated mezcal, poblano pepper liqueur, fresh pineapple, fresh ginger and B&B bitters. It was called a Chilenito, and it was a delight: sweet, smokey, a little vegetal and a little spicy.

Cocktails with sophistication and complexity, I was soon to discover, are more the rule than the exception in Cabo’s finer bars and dining establishments. Baja has as much craft cocktail cred as Brooklyn these days. Consider the evidence, in both Margarita and non-Margarita form:

A Spritz Bay by the pool at Auberge Chileno Bay, a mix of Prosecco with strawberry, lime and ginger. A very refreshing sort of Mexican/Italian sangria, if you will. I certainly did!

*****

A Humo de Comal, at Comal, the main restaurant of Auberge Chileno Bay. It combines mezcal, purple chicha (fermented corn) and lime to great effect. The rim of tortilla ash is something you smell more than taste, its smoky note heralding the smokiness of the mezcal, which mixed beautifully with the hibiscus-like sweetness of the chicha.

*****

Flora Farm may call this a Margarita, but it’s unlike any I’ve ever had. This Ginger & Beet Margarita, as you might guess, mixed tequila, fresh beet juice and fresh ginger. It had excellent balance and an invigorating freshness. Beet and ginger, it seems, add quite the frisson of health to two ounces of tequila!

*****

Tamarind strikes me as a grossly underutilized cocktail ingredient. This Mezcalita at Esperanza‘s La Palapa restaurant mixed it with mezcal and lime, and wow. It moved from sweet to smoky to sour to paprika spice, in that order. Complex and delicious.

*****

Speaking of tamarind, this Tamarind Margarita at Los Tres Gallos in Cabo San Lucas ranks among the greatest Margaritas I’ve ever tasted. The sour notes positively popped in the mouth, tempered with precision by the sweetness of the tequila, orange liqueur and agave syrup. Magnificent.

*****

A Prickly Pear Margarita by the pool at Esperanza, with silver tequila, mango, grilled prickly pear (nopal) and lime. It might have been perfectly fine, this cocktail, with just the sweetness from the fresh mango and tartness from the fresh lime. But the grilled prickly pear gave the drink subtle earthy and vegetal notes, taking it to another level entirely.

*****

Rancho Pescadero on the coast just south of Todos Santos has an immense garden, and the bartender took full advantage of its bounty in this cocktail. I watched, amazed, as he grabbed great handfuls of mint, fennel fronds, basil, chervil and cilantro and muddled them together, mixing the resulting juice with lime, simple syrup and Hendrick’s Gin, topping it all off with tonic. This Herb Tonic cocktail tasted quite refreshing, of course, with bright herbaceous and citrus notes leavening the booziness (it looks like healthy green juice, but this was a seriously strong cocktail).

As wonderful as it was to consume these drinks in beautiful Mexico, you don’t have to brave the incipient border wall to enjoy creative cocktails made with tequila and mezcal. There’s no reason you can make a delicious drink yourself at home.

A formula with which to experiment: 2 parts tequila or mezcal, 1 part liqueur, 1-2 parts fresh juice (sugar syrup and/or fresh herbs optional). For example, right now, I’m loving a concoction of mezcal, fresh lemon juice and Stirrings Ginger liqueur. Sweet, citrusy, a little smoky, and a little spicy from the ginger.

I would love to hear what you come up with — if you discover a delicious and unusual tequila- or mezcal-based cocktail, please don’t hesitate to share the recipe!

Lemon Ginger Margaritas For Taco Night

3 April 2013

Lemon Ginger MargaritaAs much as I enjoy drinking unusual wines, spirits and cocktails, sometimes I drink them out of simple necessity. Last Saturday evening, for example, I just wanted to make myself a simple margarita to drink with the tacos we prepared for dinner (see my favorite traditional margarita recipe here). Unfortunately, Whole Foods was under Easter siege during our shopping trip, and in my haste to escape, I neglected to buy any limes. All we had was a solitary lemon. If I wanted a margarita, it would have to be an unusual one.

As the saying goes, when life gives you lemons, make Lemon Ginger Margaritas. I had lemon and ginger on my mind in the wake of my experimentation with Koval Ginger Liqueur. Produced in a distillery just down the street, this liqueur worked well with vodka, bourbon, and cognac, so why not tequila? And fortunately, it tasted delicious with lemon as well.

The recipe of tequila, lemon juice, and ginger liqueur followed a classic mixology trinity: One Spirit, One Liqueur, One Juice. That gave me some hope. But lemon with tequila? Surely it’s been tried before, and surely it’s failed. After all, it’s not that hard to find strawberry, raspberry, mango, and even banana margaritas, but when is the last time you saw lemon? I felt less than optimistic, and I prayed this wouldn’t be a repeat of the Chimayó debacle.

I juiced the lemon, combined the ingredients in the shaker, and shook with fingers crossed. The result looked appealing, and it had a pleasantly citrusy smell. I took a sip, and it actually tasted quite good! The cocktail started off sweet, then moved to juicy citrus, a tight tartness, some smoke from the tequila, and finally an aftertaste of ginger. Paired with the tacos (actually tostadas topped with beans, beef, cheese, onions, guacamole, salsa and cilantro), the cocktail gained some zesty spiciness.

It’s a very fun drink, with a very easy recipe:

LEMON GINGER MARGARITA

–2 parts Tequila (I used El Jimador Reposado, but any decent reposado or gold tequila should do the trick.)

–1.5 parts Ginger Liqueur (If you can’t find Koval‘s organic ginger liqueur, Stirrings makes a perfectly fine substitute.)

–1 part Freshly Squeezed Lemon Juice (There’s no substitute for this. Use bottled juice or sour mix at your peril.)

–Splash of Simple Syrup (Available bottled, or make it yourself: simmer a cup of water, dissolve a cup of sugar in it, and let cool.)

Juice a whole lemon, and use the amount of juice you get as the measure of one part. Combine the lemon juice, tequila and ginger liqueur in a shaker with ice. I recommend adding the splash of simple syrup as well. The sugar enhances the flavors and rounds them out. You can make this cocktail without the simple syrup and it will taste fine, but a small splash really does wake it up. Shake vigorously, and strain into a large martini glass. Garnish, if you’re feeling fancy, with a slice of lemon or a strip of fresh ginger.

Cheers!

Simple, Fresh, And Bloody

25 February 2012

Eating seasonally has come back into fashion, and there’s no reason we can’t drink seasonally as well. Certain cocktails are simply impossible to make at certain times of the year, making them taste all the sweeter when we can.

Right now, we’ve reached the peak season of blood oranges, also known as moros. These wonderful winter citrus fruits have some orange-colored cells as well as many deeply red cells, and their juice has a surprisingly bright magenta tinge. The peel may or may not also have a blush of red (don’t shy away from blood oranges with no hint of “blood” on their exterior).

Fresh-squeezed blood orange juice makes for a marvelous cocktail mixer, with a beautiful magenta color and a tart flavor that can substitute well for a number of other more common citrus fruits. Blood orange mimosas look gorgeous and taste great — add three parts Prosecco (my favorite), Cava or Champagne to a champagne flute, top with one part fresh-squeezed blood orange juice, and you’ve got a deep-pink (but deliciously dry and adult) drink sure to delight your brunch guests.

If, for some reason, you prefer to drink only in the evening, consider instead one of these simple, fresh and bloody recipes:

BLOODY MARGARITA:

–1 part fresh-squeezed blood orange juice

–1 part tequila (I used gold, but silver could also be tasty)

–1/2 part triple sec

To get the proportions right, squeeze the blood orange first. Whatever amount of juice you recover from the blood orange can be your standard “part”. Usually one blood orange provides enough juice for about one cocktail.

Combine all the ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake vigorously and strain into a martini or margarita glass. Garnish with a twist if you like.

This light cocktail tastes tart, but the sweetness from the triple sec balanced it enough for my palate. The telltale flavor of the tequila still came through, and there was just a touch of bite from the blood orange.

BLOODY SIDECAR:

–1 part fresh-squeezed blood orange juice

–1 part Cognac

–1/4 to 1/3 part crème de cassis, to taste

Combine all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake vigorously and strain into a martini glass. Garnish with a twist if you like. Easy!

I liked this cocktail even a little better, though its color wasn’t quite as brilliant as the margarita’s. Again, it tasted sweet and tart, but the Cognac added an intriguing woodsy note, a little bite and a satisfying caramel finish. The crème de cassis, a French blackcurrant liqueur, adds additional sweetness and roundness to the drink.

Cheers!

 

Sometimes You Just Need A Margarita

27 May 2011

As I put the finishing touches on a giant pile of enchiladas, I mentally catalogued my wine inventory, trying to decide what might make a good pairing.

The enchiladas were a little complicated. I stuffed corn tortillas with brown rice, red peppers, caramelized onions and chorizo, and topped them with Chihuahua cheese and a homemade salsa of tomatillos, toasted pepitos, garlic, jalapeño and fresh epazote.

I’m sure I could have come up with something that would have worked, but as I stuffed my 14th tortilla, I decided the heck with it. I’m making a margarita.

A margarita, of course, could hardly be considered unusual or obscure, especially when made with distressingly fluorescent “sour mix,” a chemical concoction of corn syrup and alien-green food dye. What, then, would make for an Odd Bacchus-worthy version of the cocktail?

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