A Margarita Missive

Maureen and I LOVE margaritas. But, that statement comes with a long list of qualifiers. We’re talking about REAL margaritas here. The real deal. The genuine article. Before I talk about what makes a great margarita, I feel it’s critical to point out what DOESN’T make a great margarita:

  1. Bar mix – sweet and sour, margarita mix, some fluorescent limey, sugary syrup.
  2. Blended Ice – leave it for the Slush Puppies
  3. A glass the size of your forearm.
Wrong, wrong and wrong.

A real margarita is strong, tart, refreshing and, well, MANLY. Just like a daiquiri (don’t believe me? Look it up). It’s one of the simplest cocktail recipes out there. I’m really not sure why so many bartenders are so game to screw it up.

Here is the recipe for the real-deal Margarita, courtesy of Wikipedia:

1 ounce tequila
Dash of Triple Sec
Juice of 1/2 lime or lemon
Pour over ice, stir. Rub the rim of a stem glass with rind of lemon or lime, spin in salt—pour, and sip.

Got it? THAT’s a margarita. It comes in a small old-fashioned glass because there’s just not that much to it. It tastes of great tequila and fresh lime and just enough orange liqueur to take the edge of the bitterness of the lime and to provide a TOUCH of sweetness. It’s slightly paler than the colour of the pulp of the inside of a lime.

I can only imagine that a few of the party bars conspired to pervert the margarita as a party drink, to pad the volume with cheaper ingredients to justify higher prices. Of course, if most people ordered a margarita in a bar in Ottawa and a REAL margarita was put in front of them, they’d ask’ “What the hell is this?”, and I recognize that. It’s gotten to the point that many bartenders will argue that they make real margaritas, but when asked, “Does it have sweet and sour mix in it?”, they say “yes.” and when I make a face, they’ll say “…but not too much”, as valid a reply to this question as “Did you shoot the mailman?”

Funny story, and completely true: When traveling, we stopped at the hotel bar for a nightcap and asked the bartender to make us a couple of margaritas, but only if they had no sweet and sour mix in it. He proudly told us that they make their own mix, which was commendable but still wrong. I took a different approach and asked if he could make me one with an ounce of good tequila, a dash of Triple Sec and the juice of 1/2  a lime, on the rocks, no salt?

Oh, YES!

He told me that it would be awful and whipped one up and smugly presented it to me to prove his point. “You try this.” he said, implying that it was way off base. I took a sip and it was wonderful — and why wouldn’t it be? I told him so and he just looked confused. Then I read aloud the American Bartender’s Association recipe for a margarita, which was exactly what I asked him to make for me. He was humble and gracious and made one for Maureen and in fact, when we were about to leave he made us a “triple” margarita to bring up to our room to share on him.

Now, I don’t want to take away anyone’s favourite sugary, alien-fluorescent green faux margarita, but it has the same name. Can we fix that? Can we call it Margarit-ade?

I suppose I just have to keep doing what I’m doing now, which is to give bartenders the simple recipe to follow.

I really do have to go back to Guero’s in Austin where they know how to make real margaritas and the only variation is between ones with great tequila and ones with really great tequila.


One Reply to “A Margarita Missive”

  1. I have been told by good bar chefs to call what I want “a CLASSIC margarita”. Still crosses wires, but at least signals to the bartender that they should be doing something different.

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