A lot of folklore, misgivings and untruths surround the origin of the Margarita.
This Mexican import, which means “Daisy” in English, has a whole backstory worthy of a documentary series on Netflix or Hulu. Most begin in Mexico and end with the drink being named after a beautiful woman. There’s even a version of the story that begins with a popular cocktail from the 1930s similar to the Margarita named Daisy, that is made with Brandy instead of tequila. While several people claim to be the originators of the drink, the general consensus is that lime, tequila, triple sec, sugar and salt are all it takes to create the classic drink.
Saturday is National Margarita Day.
The date may seem arbitrary to us commoners, but it actually serves as an opportunity for bars and restaurants to showcase their cocktail programs and line the rims with salt. On a mission to find the most interesting Margaritas in the Triad, I found that this lime and tequila-forward beverage has morphed into an eclectic, creative cocktail that is a far cry from its 1930s origins. Traditionally, the classic Margarita is served in a coupe glass that looks like a long-stemmed champagne flute with an extra compartment on the bottom for holding more drink. These glasses are more apt to hold shrimp cocktail than an actual liquid cocktail these days. Modern mixology eschews these classic pieces of stemware and utilizes pint glasses, glass canning jars and repurposed jam jars more often than not.
Before the Porch Kitchen and Cantina opened in Winston-Salem, owner Claire Calvin had a Margarita party and invited her friends and neighbors to the empty restaurant space in order to decide the components of the new restaurant’s signature drink. Fresh squeezed lime juice, cilantro leaves and agave with the omission of triple sec won out over sugar and the addition of other liquors. It was unanimous amongst the guests that this combo was the most interesting one.
“It’s balanced,” Calvin said. “I think the agave opens up the taste of the tequila and you can really taste it in the drink.”
At Alma Mexicana, Calvin’s other restaurant, the house Margarita is a mix of Espolon Blanco tequila, Gran Gala (an orange liqueur), fresh orange juice, lime and orange bitters. The lesser-known, but equally fresh fraternal sister of the Margarita, the Paloma, is also served at the restaurant. This straightforward alternative choice has fresh grapefruit juice and soda water to complete the tequila family photo.
At Foothills Brewing, bar manager, Nicole LaCarrubba goes beyond the draft list and infuses liquors and spirits to produce one-of-a-kind, off-menu options for those longtime patrons “in the know.” The pepper-infused Margarita is made with mezcal (derived from the agave plant, just like tequila but it’s cooked, giving the final product a smoky aroma and flavor), dried heirloom hot paper-lantern peppers and lemon-drop peppers. A smoked salt rim finishes it off. Very spicy and teetering on the line of savory and sweet, it pairs well with many of the menu selections at the Camel City’s oldest brewpub.
At Crafted, the Art of the Taco, the signature Margarita has an added citrus flair with fresh orange juice in addition to the fresh lime. The cumin/sea salt rim offers a unique and spicy take on the classic rim garnish.
Tipsy’z Urban Cantina in High Point is less than a week old, but already has a full Margarita menu to pair with its tacos, rice bowls and burritos. Their Margarita uses pineapple-infused tequila with vanilla bean, house sour mix, a chili/lime salted rim and a fresh pineapple wedge for garnish. The Haba-nother Margarita is the cantina’s signature and showcases habanero- infused tequila, Domaine de Canton, muddled ginger, agave, pineapple juice and a spicy salt rim. This is the only Margarita I found to be served in the classic coupe glass. The ingredients are anything but traditional but the presentation brings back nostalgia.
However you choose to commemorate National Margarita Day, on the rocks and pepper-infused or stirred with top shelf mezcal, the drink is a bar staple that can be customized to fit you and your taste.