Olé! Happy National Tequila Day!
As the song goes, some people claim that there’s a woman to blame, but I prefer to blame the tequila. Or as my buddy Howard Livingston sings, “Blame It on the Margaritas.” And as reported by the crack news team at Drinking Made Easy, George Clooney is launching his own brand of tequila. So what better time to celebrate North America’s first indigenous distilled spirit than today, July 24 – National Tequila Day! Let’s talk tequila.
As we learned in Three Sheets: Tequila, Mexico, Tequila is distilled from the blue agave plant which grows in the red volcanic soils surrounding the city of Tequila in the state of Jalisco in Mexico. The Aztecs made a fermented beverage from the agave plant that they called octli or pulque long before the city of Tequila was even established in 1530. When the Spanish arrived, they brought along their own brandy, but when that ran out they too began to distill agave, which then became the spirit we are familiar with today. Currently Mexican law states that the only spirit that can be given the name “tequila” must be produced in the Mexican state of Jalisco, just like Champagne can only come from Champagne, France.
In 1758, Jose Antonio Montano y Cuervo purchased a tavern and an agave ranch and began the first legally registered tequila distillery in Mexico. In 1873, Don Cenobio Sauza, founder of Sauza Tequila, was the first person to export tequila to the United States, so those of you looking for someone to blame, it was his damn fault.
The agave plant is classified as a succulent, but is not a cactus, and there are over 300 species. The plant can take over 10 years to mature and are cultivated and harvested by special workers called jimadores. The part of the plant that used in distillation is the core or piña and master jimadores know just the right time to harvest it. Harvested piñas can weigh up to 200 lbs.
The 1958 song “Tequila” was actually a B-side to a recording of “Train to Nowhere” by a mostly instrumental group called The Champs. The song was a throwaway because they had space to fill on the album and recorded the song in three takes. The words “tequila” that are sung in the song were actually used to cover up holes where the band didn’t have any music written. While “Train to Nowhere” went nowhere on the Billboard charts, a DJ in Cleveland played the B-side and The Champs had a one-hit wonder. Although The Champs didn’t last for very long, several members when on to fame in the 60s and 70s including Jimmy Seals and Dash Crofts (Seals & Crofts), Daniel Flores aka Chuck Rio, and Glen Campbell (he joined the band later and did not perform on the recording).
The most common use for tequila is the Margarita cocktail. History is full of tales by bartenders who claim they created this legendary drink, but its formation was from simpler roots. The most likely story is the Margarita is actually a Mexican version of the Daisy, a popular US cocktail made with brandy before Prohibition. When Prohibition became law and people began traveling south of the border for spirits, the Tequila Daisy was the drink of choice. A 1936 newspaper article from Moville, Iowa (Pop. 975), related the story of the editor, James Graham, drinking this cocktail while on vacation in Tijuana, which pre-dates most Margarita creation myths from the 1940s. Margarita is also Spanish for the word Daisy. So while others try to stake a claim, the margarita came about by merely filling a void.
No matter how it was created, historians believe that whoever first made the margarita was procuring to Gringo tastes in liquor as people in Mexico simply did not make nor consume cocktails. They sipped tequila straight. However, there may be some truth to the creation story of Carlos “Danny” Herrera of Baja California. In the late 1930’s early 40s Herrera had a popular bar and restaurant, Rancho La Gloria, which was then occupied by rich and famous Southern Californians. Herrera would put shaved ice into his drinks to help the bar’s female patrons cool off on hot days, thus giving birth to the blended margarita. This version eventually migrated north of the border into San Diego and from there conquered the rest of the US.
The margarita glass is also peculiar. It comes from a variation of the Champagne coupe, a tall stem glass with a wide narrow bowl. Usually the blended version gets the tall glass while the “on the rocks” version is served in an old-fashioned glass. However, there are no set rules as to glass type for margaritas.
The margarita was Esquire Magazine’s “Drink of the Month” back in 1953. Here’s their recipe:
1 oz Tequila
Dash of Triple Sec
Juice of ½ lime or lemon.
Pour over crushed ice, stir. Rub the rim of a stem glass with rind of lemon or lime, spin in salt, pour and sip.
Here are some of my favorite tequila cocktail recipes:
1 ½ oz of gold tequila
½ oz Triple Sec
4 oz Lime Juice
Rim margarita glass with salt. Combine ingredients in a shaker, Shake and pour into glass with ice. Lime wedge to garnish. I prefer my margaritas with lime juice as sugary/syrupy mixes are loaded with calories and usually lead to nasty hangovers.
The Perfect Margarita
1 oz gold tequila
½ oz silver tequila
½ oz Triple Sec
½ oz orange Curacao
½ oz lime juice
2 lime wedges
Rim margarita glass with salt. Combine ingredients in a shaker filled with ice. Squeeze lime wedges over shaker and drop them in. Shake vigorously and pour into glass.
1 ½ oz gold tequila
4 ½ oz orange juice
½ oz Grenadine
Combine tequila and juice in a shaker. Shake and pour into glass filled with ice. Add Grenadine. Garnish with orange wedge.
2 ½ oz silver tequila
½ oz dry vermouth
Dash of Angostura bitters
Olive or lemon twist
Pour the tequila, dry vermouth and bitters into a shaker filled with ice. Shake well. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with olive or lemon twist.
According to Tequila.net, there are over one thousand brands of tequila on the market. Here is their list of 2011’s best tequila brands by category. Most people think that a shot of tequila involves a lick of salt, a quick gulp and sucking a lime wedge. Tequila.net says blame that one on Hollywood. True aficionados enjoy tequila the traditional way, sipping.