Origins of the Margarita

by  Administrator on Mon Nov 4, 2013

    It was just after midday, the wind was blowing of the desert and with it came the sounds of a local Norteño band playing in one of the cantinas up in town. It was hot, real hot and my mouth was full of sand and salt from the Pacific Ocean, I had been waiting for my compadre and it felt like I had been waiting for a long time. I had thought about drinking all day.

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    This was an important day for me, I had things to do and people to see. I was in Mexico on research, Tequila research and that included Margaritas. I was meeting my good friend Tomas and he was going to take me to a place he considered, made the best Classic Margaritas in town, a place called Mamucas.

    My problem was, “that if I start drinking now, in this heat, I’ll have to keep drinking or else I will fall asleep”.

    I also wanted to have a virgin palate, ready for that first Margarita

    What makes a Margarita great you may as?

    Like most things in this life it comes down to personal taste, but I have a personal passion for this drink, something I inherited from my good friend and partner, Tomas

    Over a period of some 25 years, we travelled a lot together on various research trips to different countries, always tasting margaritas along the way, searching for that perfect Margarita, sometimes we would be in a world famous bar in London or Paris and say to each other “Man this is going to be it!” but would be disappointed as hell.

    On other occasions we may be in some little back street bar in Santa Anna or Cuernavaca and have the most amazing, exquisite Margarita that was so well balanced, so thirst quenching that we would drink a bunch of them and end up in a delirious state eating street tacos in a ditch. Wow!

    This had all the making of being another such day.

    There have been so many recipes and articles written about the Margarita it is hard to know where to start.

    The origins of the margarita are about as contradictory and confusing as asking for directions on a street corner in Mexico City.

    After doing hours of research on this, one of my favourite subjects, I have discovered a number of interesting and sometimes humours “FACTS? Or may be just rumours”.

    The source of this information was gathered from many different places and people over a period of years, these sources are either forgotten or to numerous to mention, but I give credit to all those who have helped in this journey. The following is a collection of what I have found, I leave it to you to decide which seems the most authentic and original:

    The Margarita was based on a popular cocktail of the 30’s originally known as the Sidecar, which is basically the same drink, using brandy in place of tequila and powdered sugar instead of salt on the rim.

    1. Danny Negrete, a Los Angeles bartender, created the drink in 1936 for his girlfriend, Margarita. It seems that this particular girl was addicted to salt, so Danny invented a drink with salt on the rim.

    2. It was invented in 1936 by Danny Negrete, the manager of the Crespo Hotel in Puebla, Mexico. He named the cocktail after his girlfriend, Margarita, who always liked to take a dab of salt with her drinks.

    3. Texas socialite Margarita Sames from Dallas created the drink to serve at one of the frequent cocktail parties. Margarita and William Sames were entertaining guests at their Acapulco vacation home over the Christmas holiday of 1948 when Mrs. Sames began experimenting with cocktails containing her two favourite spirits, tequila and Cointreau. This amateur mixologist noticed that her concoction, referred to simply as "the drink," kept her Christmas guests in a perpetually festive mood. Once Mrs. Sames had perfected the definitive euphoric recipe (two parts tequila, one part Cointreau, one part fresh lime juice), it was dubbed the "margarita" by Mr. Sames in honour of his wife. One of the Sames’ houseguests that year happened to be Conrad "Nicky" Hilton, heir to the Hilton hotel chain and owner of the Tail of the Cock restaurant in Los Angeles. which may explain how the drink spread north of the border.

    4. Sara Morales, a Mexican folklore expert, says that Doña Bertha created the drink, she was the owner-bartender of Bertha's Bar in Taxco, Mexico.

    5. Red Hinton, a bartender in Virginia City named it after his girlfriend, Margarita Mendez, who hit someone over the head with a whiskey bottle and died in the crossfire that pursued.

    6. In the early 1930's, an anonymous bartender created it at the Caliente Race Track in Tijuana.

    7. Sometime in the 1940's, Enrique Bastante Gutierez created this drink for Rita Hayworth, whose real name was Margarita.

    8. In 1948 Santos Cruz created it for singer Peggy Lee.

    in Galveston, Texas.

    9. In 1938 or 1939, Carlos Hererra invented this drink for Marjorie King, who apparently couldn't drink any hard liquor except Tequila without getting sick.

    10. The Margarita, was first concocted in 1938 by Danny Herrera, bartender at the Rancho La Gloria bar in Tijuana for aspiring actress Marjorie King. The starlet claimed to be allergic to all liquors except tequila, so Herrera used it to create a new drink for Marjorie and gave it her Spanish name, Margarita.

    11. On the 4th of July, in 1942 in Tommy's Bar in Ciudad Juarez, a nightspot popular with American soldiers from across the Texas state line. A customer asked Francisco "Pancho" Morales a bartender at Tommy’s, for a "Magnolia",he couldn't remember exactly how to make it, so he made something up, and named it not after a wife or girlfriend, but after a flower the "Daisy", which translates to Margarita in Spanish.

    12. In the early 1950's It was created at the "Tail o' the Cock" restaurant in Los Angeles in order to find a way to introduce Jose Cuervo tequila into the market.

    13. An anonymous post-World War II bartender at Los Angeles’ Tail o’ the Cock restaurant on La Cienega Boulevard created it. Legend has it that Vernon Underwood, head of the beverage company that held the distribution rights to the Jose Cuervo tequila brand, suddenly noticed a jump in the sales of Jose Cuervo. The normal trickle of tequila out of his warehouse had turned into a geyser. Underwood quickly tracked the sales spike to one of his accounts, the Tail o’ the Cock, where the barman recently had invented a wildly popular new drink consisting of Jose Cuervo tequila, orange liqueur, and lime juice. The bartender named the drink after his wife Margaret, translated into Spanish as Margarita.

    14. Bartender, Don Carlos Orozco, supposedly invented it at Hussong's Cantina, a famous bar in Ensenada, south of Tijuana, back in October 1941. He concocted the drink of equal parts tequila, Damiana (Controy a Mexican variant of Contreau is used now) and lime, served it over ice in a salt-rimmed glass. He named it after a lady he wanted to impress, Señorita Margarita Henkel, daughter of the German Ambassador to Mexico.

    15. The Margarita was created in Palm Springs, California, where Hollywood types used to gather in the late 1940s for a little RR&T (Rest, Relaxation, and Tequila). These guys took their tequila by the shot in the classic fashion, with a squeeze of lime and a lick of salt, but their wives insisted upon something more sophisticated. Someone got the idea of mixing the tequila and the limejuice, then adding orange liqueur for a dash of sweetness. The salt component was relegated to the rim of the glass, saving the ladies the embarrassment of slurping it off the back of their hands. This is a neat story, but it fails to explain just who "Margarita" was.

    16. Some say the margarita was invented in Palm Springs in the 1940s because the fancy pants boys visiting from Hollywood were not macho enough to deal with sipping tequila straight, although they pretended to enjoy it. Rumor has it they paid off a local bartender to create some sort of fruity, citrus drink mix that would take the edge off — and then act as if he made it up for the ladies because they couldn't handle the sting of straight tequila. Later that night, the anonymous bartender was sly enough to steal away with one of the Hollywood starlets after her drunken suitors passed out. The bartender and his new lady friend enjoyed the rest of the evening in her room so much that the bartender promised to name his new drink in her honour. He called it the "Margarita," which translates to "mechanical sex fiend" in Spanish.

    The bottom line is that with all these stories and recipes floating around, the Margarita, as with tequila is as mysterious and mythical as its creator.

    What few people mention is the fact that there are two important elements to making a good Classic Margarita, the quality of your basic ingredients and creating the correct balance of sweet and sour. Following a recipe will only work when you know what it is meant to taste like. It is always necessary to make it as described in the recipe, evaluate how it tastes, then re-adjust it to make it just right for you.

    Ingredients that are inconsistent such as lime or lemon juice are the things you need to take into consideration, for example the limes we get here in Australia are generally Tahitian limes, green both inside and out, they also tend to be very tart, unlike Mexican limes that are yellow on the outside and green inside, these are much sweeter. I have often used a dash of sugar syrup to compensate for the tartness. If you add for argument sake, more Cointreau to sweeten it, you throw the balance of the flavours out because of the influence of the orange. Sugar is more neutral.

    If you follow a recipe from the US or the UK, then where are their fruit and juices coming from? Israel, Spain, Mexico or the Caribbean. Who knows? It is important that you take these factors into account, then embrace it with the three most important qualities of any great drink.

    First it has to have the initial impact of first taste, does it have a Wow!

    Second it must have body and interest to the palate, some complexity of taste.

    Thirdly, it must finish in a manner that makes you want to drink another and another and another.

    Most Margaritas I have tried are usually too sweet, which makes them sickly, or to sour that you don’t even want to finish them.

    What it really comes down to is, it should be a balance of both sweet and sour at the same time. This makes it luscious, and you want to taste it again and again before you put it down from the first taste.

    It must have been around four thirty, the wind was stronger now, blowing off shore bringing the full heat of the afternoon, he arrived.

    I was in a deranged state by then, he almost didn’t recognize me.

    By the time we got there, they had already closed. They only open for lunch.

    The moral of the story is, if you’re going to drink something, or make a drink for someone, make it something good, make it legendary, like the Margarita.

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