Educating Margarita: spicy twists on a classic cocktail
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Nothing screams what-the-hell quite like a Margarita. And if the world’s top cocktail lists are anything to go by, that’s the mood of many drinkers right now.
“It’s a drink that gives people permission to have a good time,” says Jeremy Blackmore of Sydney’s premier mezcaleria Cantina OK! “You could drink one in a tuxedo or a silly hat, or both. It doesn’t take itself too seriously.”
Spicy Margaritas are especially hot in the US. At Brooklyn’s Grand Army bar one of the bestsellers is a riff called the Johnny Blaze made with blanco tequila, lime, ginger and a habanero shrub that’s “like having your head ablaze”, says beverage director Robby Dow.
At Rita’s in London’s Soho, which opens this month, the agave-centric cocktail list leads with the Fresh Start, a twist on a Tommy’s Margarita made with sancho pepper-infused tequila and garnished with tongue-tingling electric daisies for an extra kick.
Mexican flavours are the inspiration behind the Margarita al Pastor at Licorería Limantour in Mexico City – a verdant twist with a mix of coriander, mint, basil, chilli and pineapple that’s more often found atop tacos al pastor.
At Cantina OK!, they like to serve their seasonal pineapple Margarita in a glass edged with fiery Japanese shichimi – a combination Blackmore describes as “close to perfection”.
Views on how to rim a glass differ wildly but there is one consensus: plain old table salt is passé. At Toca Madera LA they serve their Mezcal Margarita with sal de gusano – a mix of dried agave worm, chilli and salt – and their Amante Picante cocktail with Tajin salt, a paprika-coloured mix of chilli, sea salt and tangy dried lime. The more traditional Toca Margarita comes with jet-black lava salt.
At Coa in Hong Kong – holder of the top spot in Asia’s 50 Best Bars – the Margarita is served with three types of salt arranged around the rim of the glass. “You drink it clockwise, starting with sea salt, which is the most delicate, then grasshopper salt, and finishing with sal de gusano, which is the most flavourful,” explains co-founder Jay Khan.
It’s hard to imagine a Margarita without lime, but the team at Kol in London have done it – their smashable re-work is soured with verjus (tart, unripe grape juice) and yuzu sake instead. “Verjus has an amazing fruity acidity and the grape tannins give it an extra layer of complexity,” says bar manager Maxim Schulte.
Even more inspired is Hacha’s Mirror Margarita, a crystal-clear take that comes as a straight-up tequila twist and a mezcal version laced with kaffir lime, citrus and eucalyptus. “I wanted to create a multi-layered margarita that is like an HD version of the Espadin agave plant,” says creator Deano Moncrieffe. Time to give the Margarita another shot.