Kelly J. Hayes: WineInk | AspenTimes.com
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Kelly J. Hayes: WineInk

Kelly J. Hayes
Aspen Times Weekly

Occasionally, I’ll get a compliment or two from people who enjoy this column. But for some reason, last week’s piece on my salty margarita sipped in the setting sun on the Nayarit Riviera brought more than its fair share of “attaboys.”

I’m guessing it’s the time of year and the desire most folks in these parts have for a tropical getaway that triggered the comments. That is totally understandable after a long winter that deserves to be punctuated by a day at the beach; if the margarita serves as a replacement for such, then so be it.

But one person raised a question about “that frozen concoction that helps me hang on.” Those of you who know the Jimmy Buffett tune “Margaritaville” will instantly recognize the reference. The line is crooned by the song’s protagonist, who is strumming his six-string while making frozen margaritas with the “booze in the blender” to help him survive a lost love.

Partially due to the song, one of the most popular in the great American songbook, the frozen margarita has become one of the most popular of all American cocktails. Easy to drink, even easier to order, the frozen concoction has launched more weekends than the five o’clock whistle. And while the margarita has surely helped salve some broken hearts, the bet here is that it has successfully launched many more relationships.

The origins of the original margarita are as murky as a four-drink bender, but the explosion of the frozen margarita can be traced to Dallas. The year was 1971 and one Mariano Martinez had just opened an eponymous restaurant. He grew up in the business and watched his father occasionally pull out a blender and make a true frozen Mexican margarita for special guests. Looking for something unique and special to set his place apart, Mariano began serving frozen margaritas, made by his bartenders individually in blenders. The problem was they couldn’t keep up with the demand. The ice would melt, the drinks were not consistent. Surely there had to be a better way.

Mariano serendipitously found a way to solve his problem. One day in the local 7-11 he spied a Slurpee machine spinning out a frozen, well, Slurpee. Inspired by the consistency and simplicity of the machine, Mariano found and bought an old soft serve, ice-cream machine. With a little modification he began to produce perfectly blended, perfectly cold, frozen margaritas. Sales soared, and while Mariano never patented his product, it launched a cocktail that would go on to dwarf even the Slurpee as a global icon.

In recognition of the powerful nature of that frozen concoction, Mariano’s margarita machine now has a permanent home in the Smithsonian Institution. Last September, in fact, for National Inventors Month, a blog on the subject listed Mariano’s machine as number 10 on the “Top Ten Inventions from the National Museum of American History’s Collections.”

While just about any tourist-oriented bar or cantina in Mexico will be able to serve you a soft-serve margarita, there is another concoction that is equally, if not more popular, with the locals down south. That honor belongs to the michelada, a salty, spicy combination that pairs a 12-ounce beer, a little lime juice, a coupla’ dashes of good Mexican hot sauce like Cholula, and a similar amount of Worcestershire sauce or Maggi seasoning.

Served on the rocks in a highball glass with a salty rim, the michelada is kind of the poor man’s, low-alcohol margarita with the brew replacing the blue agave tequila as the featured player. But it packs a hit of spice, and the heat, coupled with the cool cubes in the glass, makes for a satisfying refresher on a warm day at the beach. It is not unlike pouring a beer chaser into your glass after you’ve downed a margarita on the rocks.

On the rocks, up, or frozen, a well-made margarita is the right drink at this time of year. And if you have not availed yourself of the south-of-the-border favorite, the michelada, try one next time you stop in say, The Cantina, La Palapa, Su Casa or El Korita. Any of those spots will hook you up.

And don’t forget, Cinco de Mayo is just a couple of weeks away.


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