Kelly J. Hayes: WineInk
Aspen Times Weekly
I’m sitting at a table inside a tall, rectangular, open-air stone structure perched atop a prominent rock in a place they call the Observatorio at the Imanta Resort on Mexico’s Pacific Coast.
To the west, over shimmering blue waters, the sun sets, changing color from orange to red, and finally to one that has no name. To the east a verdant jungle cascades down a series of hills to a perfectly coiffed white sand beach that has been manicured and smoothed over time by the constant force of the waves. To the north, cooling in my right hand is a glass rimmed with pepper flakes and filled with tequila, lime juice and a shot of Grand Marnier on ice.
I have come south. I am officially in Margaritaville.
Of all the world’s cocktails, none may be imbued with a more obvious connotation or subject to more varied concoctions than the venerable Margarita. It is a drink that infers a state of mind and one that comes in enough colors and flavors to suit the tastes of just about anyone inclined toward that state of mind.
Let’s start with the concoctions. Up, on the rocks, or frozen? With or without salt? With lime only or a touch of simple syrup? A Grand Marnier or Cointreau floater? Mango or cucumber? The myriad ways to make a Margarita could be, and have been, the subject of entire books. (See Kim Haasarud’s “101 Margaritas” or Al Lucero’s “The Great Margarita Book”.) Enter any Mexican restaurant, or just about any eatery for that matter, and how they construct their Margarita will be a good indicator of just how serious they are about service and quality.
Fresh is always best for a Margarita, as this cocktail gets it zest from limes and juices that are invariably better in their original form than from bottles or cans. Because of the popularity of the drink, there are any number of pre-made products and mixes. But if you start with real juice, from real limes, then the experience is far more likely to take you to the place where the sun once shined on those limes.
Also consider the type of tequila. Some prefer the purest form of the Agave plant, and choose tequila that is unaged and unadulterated. For these folks a Silver, or Blanco, Tequila makes the best drink. Others prefer the hint of wood in a Tequila Reposado or an even more extreme Anejo, which has been aged for at least one year, but less than three, in oak. Regardless, selection is the key to what the drink will taste like.
Aficionados will tell you the best Margaritas are the simplest. Last year the U.S. Bartenders Guild hosted a competition in New Orleans at the Tales of the Cocktail event. The winning entry in the People’s Choice category featured just four ingredients:
2 ounces Blanco Tequila (in this case Milagro)
3⁄4 ounce fresh lime juice
3⁄4 ounce Lavender simple syrup
5-6 mint leaves
Even this uncomplicated variation is probably too much kerfuffle for purists, who would rather use a plain simple syrup or substitute an orange liquor like Cointreau, Grand Marnier or Luxardo and leave out the syrup altogether.
The basic recipe is:
1 1⁄2 ounces Blanco Tequila
1⁄2 ounce Triple Sec or Orange Liquor
1 ounce fresh lime juice
Simply rinse the rim of a glass with lime juice, then turn the rim through salt to cover. Shake the ingredients together and strain into a glass.
Which brings us to the connotation part of the equation. A great drink is supposed to transport you someplace. It sets a mood, a tone, a feeling. Does anything say manana like a Margarita? Does anything signal the end of a day, the beginning of a trip, the start of a weekend like the salty, strong and just a touch sweet, first sip of a Margarita?
Some credit for that, of course, belongs to Jimmy Buffet and his cult of Parrotheads for making Margaritaville such a solid part of our cultural lexicon. The 1977 hit is timeless in its simplicity and makes most of us thirsty every time we hear it. Not just for the drink itself, but for the Islands and anyplace with a beach, a bar and no clock.
Yes, as I sit here under a sky that has now lost its sun and contemplate my second, no third, Margarita, I am thankful that this day ended in such a timeless manner.
That is the magic of the Margarita.