The origin of the margarita, one of the most popular drinks here in L.A. and around the world, is shrouded in mystery. According to Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails by Ted “Dr. Cocktail” Haigh, the margarita developed from the Sidecar, one of the most popular Prohibition libations (which itself likely evolved from the Brandy Crusta, listed in the first cocktail book, The Bar-Tender’s Guide, published in 1862 by Jerry Thomas, long a public domain reference for mixologists). Doc Haigh compares the DNA of the Sidecar and Margarita, and finds a common ancestor in the Brandy Crusta.
Ryan Kelly, the Tequila Examiner, has a very thorough entry on the history of the margarita here.
We can debate the true genealogy for ages. In the meantime, here’s a basic margarita recipe using three different ages of the agave spirit, courtesy of 1921 Tequila.
Blanco 1921 Tequila
2 oz. 1921 Tequila (more on the type below)
¾ oz. orange liqueur (more on this below)
½ oz. lime juice
¼ oz. agave nectar or simple syrup
Run a lime slice around the edge of the margarita glass. Twirl the wet rim on a plate of rock salt to get a nice crunchy lip. Add all ingredients in a shaker with ice, shake vigorously, pour, ice and all, into the glass.
I’m a big fan of agave nectar: it’s sweet without being cloying, dissolves easy in other liquids, and pairs well with the distilled and fermented agave juice, a.k.a tequila. Nectar is also popular with vegans, as it’s not processed sugar. But if your local market doesn’t carry it (Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods both do in LA County), simple syrup (boil equal parts sugar and water, cool, and store) will do.
There are many types of orange liqueur, Grand Marnier and Cointreau are top brands; Triple Sec, which comes in a cheap generic variety, is near the bottom. However, Eben Klemm, in his book The Cocktail Primer, writes “…Triple Sec makes a better secondary spirit in a margarita than do higher-end liqueurs…a “better” secondary liquor is apt to overpower the [tequila] and mask the herb and fruit aromatics that make tequila one of the world’s great spirits.”
Most margaritas made here in the Lab use Patron Citronge Extra Fine Orange Liqueur, from Trader Joe’s (about $25), but Klemm’s advice is sound: don’t ruin the tequila with oranges. He also recommended using ¼ oz. lemon juice in the mix as well, for a bit more bite.
Finally, the tequila. They come in three basic types, or “ages”; blanco or plata, meaning not aged at all (came straight from still to bottle) or aged less than three months in stainless steel or neutral barrels; reposado (“rested”), which spent more than two months but less than a year in an oak barrel; and añejo, “aged,” at one to three years in a barrel. Like whisky, tequila takes on a caramel color the longer it has been in the barrel, and more flavor characteristics. Añejos are often very good drunk straight.
In almost all cases, use tequila that has the label “100% agave” on it. Anything else has unknown additives lurking within.
Reposado, or rested, 1921 Tequila
1921 Tequila graciously sent me samples of their line, so I was able to try three different margaritas using the exact same recipe utilizing three maturities of tequila from the same brand. It made a difference.
A plata margarita is young, fun and happy to mix with the other ingredients at a party.
The 1921 reposado was fuller and tasted better. With a seductive taste of experience, it said to me, “I know what you want, even if you don’t.”
For the añejo, I confess I reduced the agave nectar a bit. Tequila of this generation demands the spotlight. The resulting margarita didn’t say anything to me. It didn’t need to. There was a “comfortable silence” between Rita and me. A drink to return to, again and again.
However, the hand dripped wax seal on each bottle of 1921 Tequila was a pain in the ass. If you use it, make sure you’re sober before shivving the bottle open.
Your favorite margarita recipe may vary, but that’s the fun of discovery. Start with the basic recipe and then adjust using different tequila ages from the same brand (like 1921), then tweaking the other ingredients, until you find a mix you like. Continue altering until you find the perfect formula for yourself.
Update: Tequila Examiner Ryan Kelly pointed out that there are lawsuits about red wax seals on tequila. Read more here.
Disclosure: 1921 Tequila sent me four 2 oz. sample bottles of their tequila ages, plus a tequila crema.
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