What adult beverage says “having fun in New Mexico” more than a margarita, other than perhaps one infused with our state’s other classic, chile? While the margarita has its roots in the Borderland, it has gained worldwide popularity. In the United States, National Margarita Day is celebrated on February 22 and many a margarita is shaken or blended on Cinco de Mayo.
A Sip of the Past
The folks in New Mexico have consistently relished the ingeniously simple blend of sweet, sour, and salty that defines a classic margarita. Its origins, while contended by various sources, appear to trace back to the 1940s. At its heart, this drink combines fresh lime juice with an orange liqueur and either silver or blanco tequila.
Before the Spanish set foot in Mexico, native populations fermented agave plant juice, creating pulque. The Spanish introduction of their age-old distillation methods transformed pulque into mezcal. Within the broad mezcal family, tequila is a distinct member, much like how cognac stands within the brandy family. For a spirit to be christened as tequila, it must contain at least 51 percent of the unique blue Weber agave and be cultivated in one of Mexico’s five specified agricultural zones. While your cocktail doesn’t require a top-shelf tequila, it’s certainly best when crafted with 100 percent blue agave tequila.
The first margaritas were served on the rocks and blended margaritas gained popularity in the 1970s. At Mariano’s, a bustling Mexican bar and eatery frequented by the younger crowd in Dallas, the demand for blended margaritas was soaring. In the early days, the bar staff struggled to keep up with demand until Mariano Martinez, the owner, had a brainwave after spotting a Slurpee machine in a 7-Eleven. He adapted one of the machines to churn out the frozen version of their bestselling drink, a trend that other establishments soon adopted. You can now see that machine at the Smithsonian.
Customizing Your Margarita
Sure, you can make an acceptable margarita at home with commercial margarita mixes that utilize sweet-and-sour mixes. Or kick it up a notch and make one from scratch. Traditionally, they are made with lime juice, but a mix of lemon and lime or just lemon juice will work as well.
A balanced margarita typically combines 3 parts tequila with 1 part citrus and 1 to 2 parts of orange-based liqueur such as Triple Sec, Cointreau, or Grand Marnier. Shake it with ice and then pour it into a glass edged with salt, adding a couple of fresh ice cubes for those who prefer it “on the rocks.” For a blended margarita, mix your ingredients with some ice cubes in the blender, then pour into a rimmed glass.
Naturally, you can customize your margarita. Consider swapping the traditional salt edge for tajin seasoning, a vibrant blend of dried chili, lime powder, and salt. Popular variations include infusing fruity undertones like mango, strawberry, or prickly pear cactus. While most omit the salty garnish with these fruity versions, it’s not obligatory. You may want to experiment with a mix of coarse sugar and salt.
For a nostalgic twist, try blue curaçao as a substitute for the typical orange liqueur. During sweltering summer days, introducing pureed cucumber feels refreshingly apt. Elevate this further by integrating a hint of jalapeño or serrano chile. Adding a mezcal “float,” a drizzle of this smokier spirit, takes your margarita to the next level.