30 July 2014

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History of Margarita


In Square Meal’s ongoing series looking at the world’s best-loved cocktails, Fiona Sims puts the number-one Tequila-based cocktail, the margarita, under the spotlight

The margarita is one of the most enduring cocktails of the last century and hasn’t been off any self-respecting bar’s cocktail list since the 1950s. Legend has it that it was created for Margarita Sames, an American socialite of the 1940s, who liked to serve it at her parties in Acapulco, although some references to the drink can be found a decade or so earlier. But, whoever first came up with the drink, it was certainly the first cocktail made from Tequila.

Margarita Cocktail In the 1970s and 80s, it was knocked back with abandon, thanks to the explosion of Tex-Mex restaurants in the UK and the rise of foreign holidays to Mexico and the US – jugs of margaritas have ruined more than the odd day by the pool for many of us.

The real McCoy, of course, bears no resemblance to the watered down, sweetened slush puppy served in plastic jugs at less reputable Tex-Mex joints. It’s a thing of beauty – palate sharpening, appetite stimulating and arrestingly aromatic.

And, best of all, it’s incredibly simple to make, so you can recreate it at home. It uses just a handful of ingredients; traditionally, it was a blend of Tequila, triple sec, and freshly squeezed lime juice, shaken and strained over ice, then served in a salt-rimmed glass, although it has recently been adapted to suit modern tastes.

So just how do you make the perfect margarita? Myles Davies, bar manager at Hoxton’s feted Mexican bar and restaurant Green & Red, is the perfect person to ask as he makes at least 50 a night. He uses agave syrup as a sweetener instead of triple sec (you can buy this from health food shops). And he always uses a 100 per cent blue agave Tequila – as do all good bartenders these days. The limes he uses are freshly squeezed, of course, and Davies also serves his margaritas over rocks rather than crushed ice.

‘We don’t salt the rim either, although if people ask us to, we give them one to try with a salted rim, and another to try without the salt. We think salt masks the taste of the Tequila,’ he says. ‘And ours is a much healthier margarita than the old version; the agave syrup results in a much purer drink, and the flavour of the Tequila comes through far more clearly.’

But do drinkers ask for specific brands of Tequila for their margaritas, like they do with gin? ‘The British don’t so much, but Americans do – they ask for Don Julio a lot,’ replies Davies.

And most Tequilas will work well in a margarita, he confirms, as long as it’s made from 100 per cent agave Tequila, such as basic silver or reposado. Other recommended brands include Jose Cuervo, Siete Leguas, Arette and Gran Centenario.

So, why does Davies think the margarita has stayed in the public eye for so long? ‘Tequila has a macho, bad boy image and there’s a romance and mystery surrounding it,’ he thinks.

Spike Marchant, trainer at top bar consultancy The Gorgeous Group, agrees. ‘It’s one of the most fascinating cocktails there is,’ he says. ‘People are drawn to sours, which is what this is really. It excites so many different areas of our palate. And Tequila is a great spirit – it has a fresh, vibrant character and hints of spice when it’s well made.’

Marchant also prefers to use agave syrup rather than a triple sec. ‘Tequila is wonderfully forgiving, you can play with it a bit,’ he says.

Take the limes, for example. In Mexico, margaritas are generally made with the small, thin-skinned Mexican limes (key limes), while in the US, thicker-skinned Persian limes are more the norm. Freshly squeezed lemon juice can also be used, in combination with limes, or on its own.

Enough already. Time to get shaking and drinking. In just a few seconds, you can make the recipe shown here. Alternatively, head to one of the recommended bars (see panel) and get someone else to make one for you. Either way, you’re in for the most sensational of cocktails.


50ml Tequila (make sure it’s 100 per cent agave Tequila) 20ml freshly squeezed lime juice

15ml agave syrup

Shake and strain into a glass filled with rocks, rather than crushed ice.


Cactus Blue 86 Fulham Road, SW3 Tel: 020 7823 7858

Cafe Pacifico 5 Langley Street, WC2 Tel: 020 7379 7728

Green & Red 51 Bethnal Green Road, E1 Tel: 020 7749 9670

La Perla 11 Charlotte Street, W1 Tel: 020 7436 1744

Lonsdale 48 Lonsdale Road, W11 Tel: 020 7727 4080

Trailer Happiness 177 Portobello Road, W11 Tel: 020 7727 2700

Editorial feature from Square Meal Lifestyle Magazine Autumn 2007

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