Drink of the Week: The Margarita

the margaritaYou may wonder why I waited so long to take on this most popular of cocktails. I may wonder why. No, it’s not cocktail snobbery, although it’s true that the margarita hasn’t always been admitted to the most exclusive cocktail clubs.

You see, a long time ago, I was a pretty ordinary occasional social drinker who never thought much about cocktails, though I’d sip the occasional vodka martini. (I love olives and figured Ian Fleming knew more about booze than I did). I certainly never thought much one way or the other about margaritas, which I associated with the blended, ultra-sweet, mix laden concoctions that are good for benders at Acapulcos.

Then, one night in Las Vegas, I and a friend were lured into the oddly deserted, and now long gone, Las Vegas branch of the famed Santa Fe eatery, Anasazi, with the promise of free drink with our dinner. I chose a prickly pear margarita on the rocks, because I wondered what prickly pear juice tasted like.

One day, I’ll have to see about recreating that eye-opening concoction, which first taught me that a cocktail could be a lot more than just booze and that blended margaritas were for the birds. The classic margarita made simply, however, is a thing of beauty it itself. Step away from the blender, abandon the mix, and make yourself an amazing drink.

The Margarita

2 ounces tequila (clear/silver)
1 ounce triple sec
1 ounce fresh squeezed lime juice
Salt (extremely necessary garnish to rim the glass)

Salt the rim by wetting the rim of your cocktail glass either with water or a bit of lime juice and placing the rim onto a plate covered in salt. Many recipes specify coarse or kosher salt; go for it if it’s handy and you want to go the classic route, but ordinary table salt works about as well. Place glass in the freezer for a minute or two at least (longer is better) to chill, if you haven’t already. Combine tequila, triple sec and lime juice in shaker with lots of ice. Shake like your life depends on it. Strain and pour into cocktail glass. As implied above, the margarita may also be made very respectably on the rocks and built in an old fashioned glass.

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Up to now, I haven’t had much luck with the brand of triple sec I’ve been using, but lime juice and tequila appears to be the perfect antidote to what ails my particular brand of this very sweet liqueur. I understand the drink will be even better with Cointreau (i.e., expensive triple sec) but it’s hard to imagine it getting that much better because this drink is amazing, especially considering how inexpensive its basic ingredients are, including the Sauza tequila I used.

If you really want to go the extra mile, however, try using the juice of several key limes, which are more sour and do an even better job of counteracting the ultra-sweet triple sec than standard fresh lime juice. Still, those key limes are tiny little buggers and a hassle to squeeze by hand.

Finally, since it seems mandatory to mention it, I should add that legend tell us that the margarita was developed somewhere in Baja California — either Ensenada or closer to Tijuana — and named after a young German or American woman whose name was either Margaret or Marjorie. Nobody seems to believe these stories very much, and the margarita is similar to so many other drinks that no such story is really necessary. I will say that whoever thought of salting the rim was pretty clever.

  

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Drink of the Week: The Canadian Cocktail

the Canadian CocktailLike the nation for which it is named and the spirit with which it is made, this week’s selection is often overlooked and highly underrated. Indeed, at least on the web, it’s almost unheralded among cocktails, classic or otherwise. Still, it’s a pretty delightful variation — I’d say improvement — on a whiskey sour with a bit of classic margarita thrown in.

As the name would indicate, the Canadian Cocktail is definitely an enjoyable way to enjoy Don Draper and Nucky Thompson’s underrated favorite, Canadian Club, or, if you’re feeling like something a bit more complex, the new Canadian Club Classic 12 (as in 12 years-old). It’s part of a new wave of high end Canadian whisky and a beverage we’ll be returning to elsewhere.

The Canadian Cocktail

1 1/2 ounces Canadian whisky
1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 ounce orange curacao or triple sec
1-2 dash bitters (Angostura or orange)
1 teaspoon superfine sugar (highly optional)
1 maraschino cherry (garnish, fairly optional)

Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker. If you’re adding sugar dissolve it. Add ice, shake like the dickens and strain into a chilled and preferably smallish rocks/old fashioned glass, perhaps one in which you’ve already tossed a maraschino cheery if you’ve skipped the sugar. Sip in a leisurely manner while watching a “Kids in the Hall” rerun or a Guy Maddin flick.

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There are other versions of this drink floating around the net. Some dispense with the lemon juice, which might work if you’re using a really good triple sec or a very small quantity of it. Some call for you to peel an entire orange rind to make a gigantic orange twist. I’m sure it’s a fine touch, but I haven’t learned to do that yet without threatening myself with major harm. I would, however, counsel cocktail cheapskates to use orange curacao, which should have a slight edge of bitterness. On the inexpensive end of the liqueur landscape, it brings a much more interesting and less insipid flavor to the drink.

  

Drink of the Week: The Sidecar

Sidecar cocktailAllegedly dating back to the days of World War I and Papa Hemingway’s favorite bar in Paris (that would be Harry’s, of course) and apparently invented either by or for a motorcycling serviceman with a sidecar on his vehicle, this is a drink that is being revived more and more often these days. As with most of the other classic cocktails, there is a pretty huge amount of variation in the proportions of what boils down to being a delightfully simple drink. However, after looking at a number of recipes from different sources, there are two basic variations.

The Sidecar (modern day)

2 ounces cognac or brandy
1 ounce Cointreau
1/2 – 1 ounce freshly squeezed lemon

Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker, shake very vigorously, and pour into a pre-chilled glass. Some bartenders garnish with a lemon twist. Others rim the glass with sugar by wetting the edge of the glass with lemon juice and placing the glass on plate of bowl of sugar. However, serving this drink garnish free in simply a chilled glass will do just fine.

Now, some recipes from less reputable sources might also suggest you could use any brand of triple sec — Cointreau is the relatively pricey “original” triple sec and is drier than the garden variety. After experimenting all week with a cut rate version using a decent but basic brand of the orange liqueur, I’m here to tell you that simply doesn’t work in the above recipe. Even with an entire ounce of lemon, it was way too insipidly sweet if I used the smaller amount of lemon juice for me, and I have more of a sweet tooth than most hardcore cocktail aficionados. Even with more of the super tart juice, however, the darn thing simply failed to come together, which I guess is why everybody in the booze world I respect implies it’s either Cointreau or the highway here.

However, there is an older version of the beverage which is an entirely different story and great news for us impoverished cocktail hounds

The Sidecar (original)

1 ounce brandy or Cognac
1 ounce Triple Sec or Cointreau
1 ounce fresh squeezed lemon juice

Again, this is prepared by simply shaking very vigorously and lengthily and pouring into a chilled martini glass.

While this is a bit less stiff than the drink above and in theory should be more sickeningly sweet, the cocktail alchemy seems to be entirely different and the arguably excessive sweetness of the triple sec and the tartness of the lemon juice counterbalance each other quite beautifully with the brandy acting as an effective moderator. I can’t wait to try this and the above recipe with Cointreau. Maybe somebody will send me a free bottle…

As for brandy vs. Cognac, I’ve had Cognacs that were not as good as the inexpensive French brandy (Raynal) I’ve had great luck with on other drinks, but just be aware that Cognac is simply a more expensive type of grape brandy made in a specific part of France. If anyone wants to send me some Cognac, they’re naturally welcome as well.

  

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