Even home winemakers need to take a break for a cocktail every once in awhile. National Margarita Day, celebrated annually on February 22, is as good an excuse as any. For the contemplative winemaker and wine enthusiast, be advised that there are several similarities between tequila and wine.
Aged tequila is stored in oak barrels to pick up color and flavor before bottling. Reposado tequila is aged for more than two months but less than one year. Añejo tequila is aged for more than one year, but less than three. Extra Añejo, a classification added to the tequila canon only recently, is a label reserved for tequila aged more than three years. Extra Añejo tequila is a far cry from the sour mix laden concoction of your spring break dreams (or nightmares).
The oak used to age tequila, typically white, comes from the United States, France, or Canada. Some producers char the wood to impart a smoky flavor. Some producers use barrels that were previously used to age different kinds of alcohol.
Some producers even use old wine barrels. AsomBroso La Rosa Reposado tequila is aged for three (or 11) months in French Oak barrels once used for vintage Bordeaux.
Much like bourbon, port, sherry, and champagne, tequila can only be made in Mexico, and for the same reasons. According to Mexican law, tequila must be made from 51 percent blue agave sugar. The other 49 percent can be corn or cane sugar. Due to this trifle, tequila touted as being made from 100 percent blue agave can be more expensive.
While the word “margarita” may summon an image of a 60 oz. cowboy boot glass pitcher filled to the brim with sweet boozy slush, the cocktail itself—traditionally consisting of tequila mixed with Cointreau and lime or lemon juice then served with salt on the rim—has been around since the 1940s.
Dozens of people claim that they invented the margarita. A bartender named Willie from Mexico City declares that he created the drink and named it for his friend, Marguerite Hemery.
One of the more widely accepted stories is that the margarita was invented in 1941 at Hussong’s Cantina in Ensenada, Mexico by bartender Don Carlos Orozco. Orozco was experimenting with mixing new drinks when Margarita Henkel, the daughter of a German ambassador, arrived on the scene. Orozco offered his experimental creation to Margarita, then named it after her.
Another popular legend is that Carlos “Danny” Herrera developed the drink at his restaurant in Tijuana in 1938 for Marjorie King, a customer who was allergic to hard alcohol except tequila but didn’t care for its sour taste.
Some say that Dallas socialite Margarita Sames mixed up the drink in 1948 for a house party. One of her guests was Tommy Hilton, who later added the drink to the bar menu at his hotels.
An alternative explanation, perhaps the most reasonable of all, is that the margarita is merely a popular drink from American history, the Daisy, remade with tequila instead of brandy. Tequila became popular during Prohibition, when people were sneaking across the border for alcohol.
While the date of conception and inventor may be a mystery, the popularity of the margarita is not. It will go down in history as one of the most ubiquitous mixed drinks of all time. Without a doubt, it is the most common tequila-based cocktail in the United States. Tequila, particularly hand-crafted tequila, is currently experiencing a growth rate that has outpaced both vodka and rum.
If you’d like to celebrate with a pitcher of homemade margaritas this evening, some experts recommend opting for less expensive silver (blanco or white) or gold (oro) tequila. A few argue that the delicate flavor of fine tequila gets muddled by the other ingredients. Tequila blanco or tequila oro is bottled immediately after distillation, or aged for less than two months before bottling. Tequila oro is simply tequila blanco that has been mixed with aged tequila or caramel coloring and sugar.
Others will tell you that, like any other drink, a margarita is only as good as its worst ingredient. As long as you’re using quality ingredients, you can expect success. Success usually means no pre-made margarita mixes, creating variations by swapping one citrus out for another, or choosing aged tequila. Margaritas can be infused with fruit purée, the glass can be rimmed with chipotle- or jalapeño-spiced salt, or you can incorporate spirits outside of standard margarita territory. A margarita can be served in a variety of glasses, ranging from the traditional margarita glass to a standard cocktail glass to an old-fashioned glass.
If you’re seeking something more festive, and want a professional to mix your cocktail for you, access a list of bars and restaurants in Baltimore where you can celebrate National Margarita Day here. We’ll be drinking at TEN TEN.