Beverage & Bar Features
Tasting Away In Margaritaville
By Pamela Slover Percival
The basic concoction of fresh lime juice, orange liqueur and tequila served in a salt-rimmed glass is now considered the classic margarita recipe for the drink. But people love to add their own twists, from frozen strawberry confections to blends made with everything from apricots to watermelon.
People who research such things often trace the beginnings of the Margarita back to a Mexican bartender in Juarez who, in 1942, answered a customer's request for a "magnolia" with a blend of French Cointreau and Mexican tequila. Texas Monthly magazine credits Dallas restaurateur Mariano Martinez, Jr. with inventing the frozen Margarita made with triple sec, an inexpensive orange liqueur, and transforming it into a drink for the for the masses.
What's in a margarita?
"Across the United States, gold tequila outsells white about 80 percent to 20 percent," said Keith Voswinkel of Terk Distributing in Abilene. "Gold gives a Margarita some color and makes it a more attractive drink. In some Margaritas where you're using a lot of limeade or other ingredients as mixers, I don't know if it matters which type of spirits you use. But if you're making the classic Margarita recipe, it becomes more important what you put in it."
As consumers become more interested in "boutique" or specialty tequilas like handmade, 100 percent agave, it becomes more important to consider what goes into that Margarita, according to some experts. "We are drinking less, but we are drinking better. We want more flavor for the punch," asserts Steven Olson, a New York City-based sommelier who teaches, lectures and writes about wine, beer and spirits and their cause and effect relationship with food.
To get the most desirable flavor, you might want to hold an informal, blind taste testing of all the separate ingredients for your favorite Margarita before sloshing them together. Line up small glasses of such items as packaged sweet-and-sour mix, fresh lime juice, Rose's Lime Juice, different brands and styles (silver or gold) of tequila, and different orange liqueurs like Grand Marnier, Cointreau and triple sec.
I was surprised after testing different tequilas.Taste these items a bit like you would taste wine - look at what's in the glass, smell it, then taste it by swishing it around in your mouth. With spirits, clear your palate by swishing the liquid around once, then spit it out and take another sip. Concentrate your senses on the second sip. The results of your taste test may be surprising. For example, I've always made Margaritas with triple sec, but my blind taste test of the spirit by itself surprised me. The triple sec tasted mostly like sugar with a slight artificial orange flavor. I found Cointreau a bit medicinal, and settled on Grand Marnier as my favorite, preferring its flavors of vanilla, cinnamon and cloves which come from its aging in oak barrels.
Similarly, I was surprised after testing different tequilas. I, like many consumers, had been taken in by marketing promotions that told me gold was better. I discovered that I really preferred the plata style of tequila. And fresh-squeezed lime juice beats canned frozen limeade anytime. (Plata is also a solid tequila to incorporate as an ingredient in dishes like Tequila Chicken.)
Of course, over the years people have tinkered with the basic Margarita recipe, creating all sorts of blends and flavors. Many people guard their secret Margarita recipes just as they would the recipe for their homemade chili. One of the most popular recipes around the state for homemade frozen Margaritas calls for emptying one 6-ounce can of frozen limeade concentrate into a blender. Measure 2/3 of that limeade can full of tequila and 1/3 can of orange liqueur into the blender. Add crushed ice until the blender is full and blend the mixture until smooth.
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