Reflections on the Margarita

23 February, 2023

A constantly evolving classic, the margarita continues to fire imaginations. Eleanor Yates gets to grips with its history and variations.

A cocktail for which it is hard to pinpoint the exact moment of creation, the Margarita is believed to have come to life in 1936, having evolved from a classic cocktail that was popular at the time, the Daisy.

This theory is backed by cocktail historian David Wondrich who, in his book Imbibe, says he believes people in Syracuse, New York, were ordering the old-school version of the Daisy at the time, which included tequila, orange liqueur, lime juice and maybe a splash of soda. It’s likely the name Margarita came about as it is the Spanish for “daisy”.

Ranked as the fourth bestselling classic cocktail in the Drinks International Global Bar Edition 2022, the Margarita today is typically made using tequila blanco, mixed with lime juice and orange liqueur, served in a glass with a salted rim, although many variations exist. Bars are seeing the popularity of the cocktail, and an interest from consumers in trying new variations.

Liana Oster, bar director of NoMad London, home to Mexico-inspired Side Hustle bar, says: “In general, we have seen a marked increase in Margarita sales alongside the growing popularity of agave spirits. Especially variations of the cocktail and our guests’ willingness to try something similar but different as well.”

A popular variation of the drinks is the Tommy’s Margarita, made with reposado tequila, lime juice and agave syrup, created by Julio Bermejo in the late 1980s at Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant, San Francisco. Bermejo told Class magazine, “Tequila had to be the focus of the cocktail. That was it. I was not in the business of selling triple sec or fancy French orange liqueurs. Because tequila is the most important component in the Margarita, one can enjoy it at any time of the day or night and at any time of the year.”

The cocktail

Looking at the classic cocktail in modern times, these variations and innovations are just as popular as ever. Deano Moncrieffe, co-founder of Mirror Margarita and London-based Hacha, says: “Over a busy weekend at Hacha Dalston and Hacha Brixton we will sell 300 or 400 margaritas alone, especially with the RTD category continuing to take off around the world. That will be a gateway for people to explore Margaritas, if they haven’t before, and encourage them to move on to on-trade locations and discover what it can be.”

Moncrieffe also believes the popularity of the cocktail is down to it being “such a simple drink” and one that “gives a really great balance of alcohol, sweet and sour, when executed perfectly”.

Not just a popular cocktail for drinkers, it is also a favourite among bartenders, as Moncrieffe adds: “Every bartender loves to put their own twist on classic cocktails and every venue will have its own version.”

But what makes a good Margarita? Moncrieffe attributes it to the quality of the tequila used in the cocktail. “The key to a good Margarita is a really quality, premium tequila, it just tastes completely different. The secret is to respect each ingredient, and the sour needs to be reflective of that base spirit. A lot of tequilas have citrus notes but citrus notes can be very different – some are more lemon, some more lime, others more grapefruit.”

Mirror Margarita was created with this in mind, with the challenge of extracting the maximum out of these ingredients to make a great cocktail. “I wanted to reimagine what a Margarita could be, a balanced reflection of the base spirit, which is what makes it so special and unique. The fact it isn’t that lime colour you expect, and is in fact perfectly clear, means you don’t expect that depth of flavour and yet it’s lighter than the classic and really refreshing,” Moncrieffe adds.

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