It seems to me that, much like St. Patrick's Day, Cinco de Mayo is much more widely celebrated in the United States than it is in its country of origin. (And for the record, it's not Mexican Independence Day. That's September 16th.) Which is fine, as long as you steer clear of the whole sombreros-and-fake-mustaches thing. (Really, don't do that. It's very impolite.) Better to stick with tequila, which can and should be enjoyed by everyone. Undeniably Mexican in origin, tequila is now the fastest-growing spirit in the world. And the most popular tequila cocktail, the margarita, is often thought of as Mexican as well. The truth, though, isn't quite so simple.
I delved a little into the multiple origin stories in this article for Umami, but I wanted to talk here about the various classic cocktails from which the margarita might have evolved.
The drink that seems most closely related to the margarita is the daisy, which has been around since the 1870s. Basically a spirit, lemon juice, and orange liqueur, shaken with ice. Sounds a lot like a margarita, right? Add that to the fact that "margarita" means "daisy" in Spanish, and that there are plenty of menus from the early 20th century that list a "tequila daisy" as one of their drinks, and mystery solved! Except it's not. Because at that time, there were actually TWO versions of the daisy floating around: the original, and then an increasingly common one that swapped grenadine for orange and was served in a tall glass topped with soda. There's no way of knowing which daisy those menus are referring to.
And then there's the Sidecar: cognac, lemon juice, and orange liqueur. Often with a sugar rim. Starting to see a theme? If you were going to just swap out ingredients, it would be natural to replace the lemon with lime and the sugar with salt, since those are the traditional accompaniments to tequila shots.
There are other, specific examples of margarita clones popping up on menus as well. In 1937, London's Cafe Royal published a cocktail book featuring a "Picador," which was...tequila, lime, and triple sec! And then there's the "Tequila" from the Cotton Club in 1939, which is the exact same recipe as the Picador, except with a salt rim.
What seems clear is that when people found a good thing in the combination of tequila, lime, orange liqueur, and salt, they stuck with it. We may never know exactly where or how it happened, but I know we're all grateful that it did.
There are infinite margarita variations out there, but I wanted to try one with Solerno blood orange liqueur in place of agave or triple sec. And blood orange has a natural affinity for vanilla, so I added a tiny drop to the cocktail and mixed up some vanilla salt for the rim. Unlike a margarita made with blood orange juice, using the liquor gives it a sweet, warm note of the blood orange, rather than making a "flavored" margarita. It's tart and floral and perfect for Cinco de Mayo, or any other day.
Blood Orange-Vanilla Margarita
- 1.5 oz silver tequila (I used Milagro)
- .75 oz Solerno blood orange liqueur
- .75 oz lime juice
- 1 drop vanilla extract
- Vanilla salt for rim (recipe below)
Run a lime wedge around the rim of a rocks glass and dip it in the vanilla sugar.
Combine tequila, Solerno, lime, and vanilla extract in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake and strain into your glass.
- 1 vanilla bean
- 1/2 cup fine sea salt
Split one vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape out the seeds. Stir them into the salt until well-combined.