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So many things about cocktails are lost to the ages. They’re written down on napkins that become soggy or scribbled on matchbooks that wind up buried deep in the pocket of a forgotten coat—or worse, spoken aloud and left to the whims of storytelling over the ages.
But there are some things we do know about the Margarita, that classic combination of tequila, lime juice and orange liqueur. There’s no rule that says you can’t play around with the ingredients, but it’s hard to beat the classic recipe.
“The classic Margarita calls for one-and-a-half ounces of blanco tequila, a three-quarters ounce of fresh lime juice and one ounce of orange liqueur,” says bartender Kitty Bernardo of Two Sevens in Princeton, N.J. “The classic recipe pays closer attention to the way citrus plays with the tequila, giving you a two-toned drink balancing bright lime with sweet orange. It’s a solid recipe.” Sip on that, along with these half-dozen tequila-spiked facts.
1. There’s No Birth Certificate
It isn’t exactly possible to pin the invention of the Margarita to specific date. In all likelihood, the drink was an amalgam of moments and ingredient inspirations. Still, according to Emily Arseneau, a bartender and brand manager for Rémy-Cointreau’s Collectif 1806, the year 1948 seems to stick.
“There are plenty of stories about every cocktail’s mysterious origins, but a big one for the Margarita started in 1948 in Acapulco, Mexico, when a Dallas socialite was entertaining in her villa and mixed Cointreau, blanco tequila and limes together for her guests,” says Arseneau. “The story goes she was the first one to think of adding the salt rim. It was a massive hit, and today it’s one of the world’s most iconic cocktails.”
2. The Secret Is in the Name
The actual translation from Spanish to English of the word Margarita is Daisy. So while finding the exact moment of inspiration for the drink may be tricky (as is true with most cocktails), we can point to the category of cocktails with flowery finesse—a combo of spirit, sour and sweet (in this case, orange liqueur), plus a bit of sparkle in the form of club soda.
“I really think that Margarita means “Daisy”—a type of drink,” says Ivy Mix, a bartender and co-owner of Leyenda in Brooklyn, N.Y. “And I think that type of drink is made with orange liqueur.”
3. Not All Tequilas Are Created Equal
You probably already know this, but it bears repeating: There’s one kind of tequila you should be drinking, and it’s made from 100 percent blue agave. If it doesn’t say this on the label, it’s mixto—part roasted, crushed piñon of the agave plant and part mystery sugars. Served up, on the rocks or frozen, the former is the only thing that should ever, ever go into your cocktail. Amen.
4. Orange Liqueur or Agave Nectar—Pick a Side
When it comes to Margaritas, bartenders these days tend to be separated into two camps: classic devotees and Tommy’s Margarita disciples. The latter kneel to Julio Bermejo’s now-famed version of the cocktail, perfected at his San Francisco bar and restaurant. Bermejo’s lifelong adoration of Mexico’s native spirit lead to a renowned bar of hard-to-find tequilas, which he felt needed to be highlighted, not masked. Thus in the 1990s, the Tommy’s Margarita, a drink that eschews the traditional orange liqueur for agave nectar, was born.
5. The Margarita Is Frozen in Time
The birth of the Frozen Margarita was no accident. It was invented in 1971 by Mariano Martinez, a Dallas restaurateur who was inspired by 7-Eleven’s Slurpee. Martinez had the genius idea to tool around with an out-of-use soft-serve machine and turn it into the world’s first Frozen Margarita maker. That original creation of frosty Margarita goodness was acquired in 2005 by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., where today you can still marvel at Martinez’s entrepreneurial smarts.
6. There’s a $2,500 Margarita
Last February, to commemorate the Margarita’s very unofficial 70th birthday (and to celebrate National Tequila Day), Manhattan bartender Marco Antonio created the Silk Stocking Margarita at Selena Rosa. The cocktail made ample use of Clase Azul Ultra añejo tequila, which clocks in at a mere $1,500 a bottle, making the price per rare Mexican-salt-rimmed glass a cool $2,500. Salud!