Monday, February 14, 2011

Mysteries of the Margarita

For my fellow writers amongst the audience, and especially those who cannot abide anachronisms, I learned something tonight that totally puts the kibosh on a key element of a novel I'm working on.

I share it now with you, fellow traveler, so you won't do like I done did:

The frozen margarita did not exist until 1971.

Does this factoid fuck with your head the way it does mine? I mean, I never really thought that hard about when mankind made that great breakthrough in tequila technology, but as it turns out, a feller named Mariano Martinez in Dallas, Texas got the mas brilliante idea to pour tequila and lime juice into a soft-serve ice cream machine, just to see what would happen. In the name of science and all its wonders.

This is even more paradigm-shattering to my fragile little mind than my recent discovery that Borkum Riff has only existed since the mid-1960s. I had romantic notions that pirates of prior centuries, or at least Victorian fishermen, smoked the Riff in their meerschaum or corncob pipes while reading Melville. I also had a vague unformed sense that frozen margaritas must have existed since at least the 1920s, and that perhaps flapper girls like Louise Meyers and burlesque queens like Treasure Chest West enjoyed a couple icy ones after a long night's day.

But no.

Compounding this stunning revelation is the fact that no one really seems to know where the margarita itself came from. There are many different versions of the tale, but none of them sound terribly compelling. From Wikipedia:

Barman "Willie" from Mexico City, 1934:
Marguerite Hemery lived in the Rio Grande Valley since the 1930s and went to a restaurant in Matamoros called Los Dos Republicas. She was friends with the owner and, as the story goes, his bartender composed a special drink for her.

Danny Negrete, 1936:
Ratios: 1:1:1 (33% tequila, 33% Triple Sec, 33% fresh lime juice).
According to Salvador Negrete, the son of Daniel Negrete, the family story goes that Daniel opened a bar at the Garci Crispo hotel with his brother, David. The day before David's marriage, Daniel presented the margarita as a wedding present to Margarita, his sister-in-law. It was a combination of one-third Triple Sec, one-third tequila and one-third squeezed Mexican lime juice. The drink was not blended and was served with hand-crushed ice.

Danny Herrera, 1938:
In Ensenada, Mexico, Danny Herrera, a renowned Mexican bartender who worked at the Riviera del Pacifico Hotel and Casino was completely in love with Marjorie King, an American actress who hated taking tequila pure. Tequila was also the only liquor that her body could tolerate. Thus, with the intention of wooing her, Herrera used his ingenuity to bring together flavors to meet Marjorie's tastes, until he finally found one of the world's most famous drinks.

Rita De La Rosa, 1938:
According to Jose Cuervo Margarita Mix, a beautiful showgirl in 1938 named Rita De La Rosa was a bartender and improvised the cocktail.

Don Carlos Orozco, October 1941:
He concocted the perfect mixture of equal parts tequila, Damiana (Cointreau is used now) and lime, served over ice in a salt-rimmed glass for Margarita Henkel, daughter of the German Ambassador to Mexico at Hussong's Cantina

Enrique Bastate Gutierrez, early 1940s:
Gutierrez, who lived in Tijuana, Mexico, boasted to have created the Margarita as a homage to actress Rita Hayworth, whose real name was Margarita Cansino.
Other versions of the story claim the Margarita was indeed named after the actress, but in the 1930s, before she adopted her screen name. As a teenager, Margarita Cansino worked as a dancer at the Foreign Club, in Tijuana, where she supposedly inspired a bartender.

Francisco "Pancho" Morales, 4 July 1942:
A bartender, Pancho Morales invented the margarita on July 4, 1942, at a Ciudad Juárez bar named Tommy's Place. Supposedly, a woman requested a Magnolia (brandy, Cointreau, and an egg yolk topped with Champagne). Morales was a little fuzzy on the recipe; he improvised and his ersatz creation was a big hit.

Santos Cruz, 1948:
According to the promotional flyer for the legendary Balinese Room in Galveston, Texas, head bartender Santos Cruz created the Margarita for singer Peggy (Margaret) Lee in 1948. The Balinese Room was opened in 1941 and was Texas's finest nightclub with A/C, casino gambling, superb food and drinks, and stellar entertainment until the Texas Rangers finally shut it down in 1957.

Margaret Sames, December 1948:
Ratios: 2:1:1 = 4:2:2 (50% tequila, 25% Cointreau, 25% fresh lime juice).
Sames, who created the drink at her Acapulco bar, gave the reason of being "close with a lot of famous hotel and restaurant people" in introducing the margarita.
Sames used one part Cointreau, two parts tequila and one part lime juice for her margarita. Knowing that most people drank tequila preceded by a lick of salt, she chose to garnish her cocktail with a rim of coarse salt. Sames moved to El Paso, Texas in 1958 where she was well known for her lavish parties.

Whew. Seems to me this here Margarita question is gonna take some studyin'. I might have to drive South of the border, down Mexico way, and do some research out in the field.

Further boggling my mind, while we're on the subject of tequila, is that it's not as intensely defined as some beverages like bourbon. Technically, any fermented and distilled spirit from Mexico can qualify as tequila if it contains 51% blue agave. The fancier stuff, of course, is 100%, and the closer you go down to the bottom shelf at the licka stow, towards Montezuma brand, the closer you get to that 51% line of demarcation.

So what's in the other 49% of the rotgut stuff? God only knows. Pressed waterdog, essence of slug trail, cobwebs, a pinch of grandfather's overcoat.

I once asked Jorge at Ernesto's what kind of tequila they use for their frozen margaritas. He lowered his eyes and said he didn't know. I asked Doug and he said he didn't know either, it already came mixed and ready to fill the tanks with by the time he arrives. In other words, don't ask, shut up and drink.

And I'm going to excuse myself now and go do just that. Ladies. Gentlemen. Be seeing you. Happy Valentine's Day.

- - JSH

No comments: