What no bartender knows is where the margarita originally came from. In fact, no one knows. But the stories that hover around the origins of the drink are pretty incredible. One of the most told ones is that a wealthy socialite from Texas names Margaret “Margarita” Sames created the drink in 1948 at a party she was throwing at her vacation home in Acapulco. She stepped behind the bar and started to experiment, and had her guests judge the results. The most popular one was the one that went on to bear her name. It is a great story, but it also ignores the fact that in 1945, Jose Cuervo had an advertisement with the phrase “Margarita: it’s more than a girl’s name”. A story that would fit that timeline is the one where it is created in the 1930’s for a woman named Marjorie King by a bartender named Carlos “Danny” Herrera. She was supposedly allergic to all forms of alcohol…except for tequila. This was made as her drink. Or, maybe a rock star bartender named Enrique Bastante Gutierrez made it for a little known actress named Margarita Cansino. Some bartenders think it was not named for a woman at all, but it is a variation of a classic drink named a Daisy, which in Spanish is margarita. The Daisy was a much more complex drink with a brandy base, and added simple syrup and soda water.
The margarita is a cocktail that comes from a much simpler background, probably relating a little closer to the sours popular in the late 19th century. When we go out, we look to get pitchers, fishbowls, 55 gallon drums, any large container full of a slightly sour, greenish/yellowish beverage. The original recipe is a little closer to this:
1.5 oz. tequila (I am a fan of El Espalon Reposado lately)
1 oz. orange liqueur (Triple sec, Grand Marnier, etc.)
.75 oz. lime juice
Combine the ingredients into a mixing glass over ice. Shake well, and then strain into a coupe glass with a salted rim.
To salt a rim, take a lime wedge and run it around the edge of the glass to add moisture. Then dip the edge into a plate with kosher salt covering it, pressing the salt into the edge. Lift the glass and tap the edge gently, knocking off any excess salt. You want the salt to be on the outside and edge of the glass, not the inside where salt may slide into and contaminate the drink.
Just over three ounces of liquid, which is much closer to what drinks looked like when it was created. Sour mix and other ingredients were added in the 70’s and 80’s so it would compete with the popular cocktails of the day in volume. It was about that time that the drink spread out of the Southern and Western United States, and move into the Midwest and East. Tequila gained some popularity during Prohibition, when it was smuggled into the U.S. for an extremely thirsty populace. That popularity waned when the U.S. ended its involvement in World War II, and alcohol producers could go back to producing drinking alcohol, not industrial. Then the spread of tequila, and tequila based drinks, went all over the country. The popularity of the margarita climbed as it spread through the nation, becoming the most ordered mixed drink in the U.S. in 2008, with Americans drinking 185,000 an hour at its peak. With its growing popularity, people started to experiment more with what they added to sweeten the mix, adding melon liqueur, strawberry liqueur, blue curacao, amaretto, as well as other spirits.
As mentioned earlier, Elsa’s is the undisputed champion of the margarita in Dayton. However, that is not to say there is not competition for the crown. Pepito’s in Kettering has been known to serve a delicious margarita or two. El Meson also has a tasty margarita to enjoy with some of the best food in town. And El Toro can also throw its hat in the ring, offering a wide variety of tequilas as well as variations on classic. There are plenty of places to go to celebrate National Margarita Day on Wednesday. Just remember this article if you have to work the next day. Cheers!