Vodka pays the bills, barkeeps like to say, and margaritas probably are a close second. Monday is National Margarita Day, so do you know what that means? It's also a chance to support your favorite bar even more.
The margarita is among the most hotly debated of all cocktails, with several tales of origin claiming authenticity. Was it the Dallas socialite entertaining guests at her Acapulco vacation home? The L.A. bartender trying to duplicate a drink a customer had in Mexico? The Ensenada bartender whipping up a little something for the German ambassador's daughter? Or was it Colonel Mustard with the dagger in the conservatory?
None of that really matters on National Margarita Day.
The ubiquitous medley of tequila, lime and orange liqueur is one of the world's most popular cocktails, a staple of Mexican restaurants and a no-brainer for bartenders, and the far ripples of the craft-cocktail renaissance have raised their quality across the board. And come on, who doesn't like margaritas?
"It's pretty rare nowadays to find crappy margaritas," said Daniel Guillen of TBD Kitchen in Castle Hills.
While he prefers a Cuba Libre, the Peruvian-born Guillen does get a hankering for a margarita now and then; at TBD, his excellent, chamoy-accented Margarita Pa'Llevar ("margarita to-go") is a twist on the South American street tradition of to-go beverages sold in plastic bags with a straw.
Freshly squeezed lime juice and quality orange liqueurs do wonders for margaritas, and some bartenders consider sweetener a fourth basic piece of the puzzle. Austin Millspaugh of Smoke, in Oak Cliff, uses a hint of agave in the house version, made with cedar-infused reposado tequila (one that has been slightly aged).
Dallas barman Carlo Duncan also prefers using reposado for its smoother quality. Last fall, at his sadly short-lived Tippling Lair in the Design District, he cranked out luscious avocado margaritas nightly. But it's the lime juice that might be most important; freshness is paramount and the more tangy or bitter it is, the less the tequila will shine.
"If you're using a cone juicer, you'll get just the juice," Duncan says. "However, if you use the Mexican lime squeezer, you'll reap the rewards of the oils in the skin."
When he can, Smoke's Millspaugh also tends to eschew tequila for other agave spirits like sotol or mezcal, which add smoky and/or vegetal elements to the drink. He might also get crazy with an orange acid instead of lime, which mimics the acidity while adding sweetness. "You always want to try something new to provide a different experience for your guest," he says.
"Both rustically simple and extraordinarily versatile."-- David Alan, Patron's manager of trade education and mixology, describing the Margarita
David Alan, manager of trade education and mixology for Patrón, calls the margarita "both rustically simple and extraordinarily versatile." "It's been exciting to see how the margarita has been reimagined and interpreted in so many ways over the years," he said.
The tequila brand giant is using this national day of refreshment to launch its "Search for 2016's Margarita of the Year." Dallas' Stephen Halpin, of Parliament in Uptown, is among a handful of U.S. and Mexican bartenders brand-picked to create a Patrón-based margarita in one of the drink's seven variations -- herbal, spicy, smoky, savory, modern, tropical and classic. The winner will be announced in mid-April, naturally just in time for Cinco de Mayo. (If you'd like to vote in the national contest, log in here through April 15 to give a nod to your favorite.)
Here's Halpin's recipe, if you'd like to try this at home. Or you can just leave it to the pros.
Smoked Mangonada Margarita
- 2 oz Patrón Reposado
- .75 oz Smoked Patrón Citrónge Mango*
- .75 oz mango puree*
- .75 oz fresh lime juice
Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker and shake with ice to chill. Strain over fresh ice into into an ice-filled double old fashioned glass that has been rimmed with Tajin (a chili lime salt). Garnish with a slice of fresh mango.
*To make the Smoked Patrón Citrónge Mango:
Pour 6 oz of Patrón Citrónge Mango into a large empty bottle. Using a smoking gun, fill the bottle with smoke and swirl to combine for 20 seconds. It is now ready to be used as needed.
*To make the mango puree:
Peel and pit one ripe mango and cut into pieces. In a food processor, purée mango with 1.5 tablespoons sugar and 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice until smooth.