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Beyond Margaritas

Beyond Margaritas

Mexican-style Cocktails From The Paloma To Re-Imagined Classic American Tipples

A classic Margarita is a delicious cocktail and one of the simplest drinks to make. Three ingredients—tequila, freshly squeezed lime juice and agave syrup—are the key to Mexico’s most popular alcoholic creation, but according to mixology experts, the average person isn’t exposed to Mexican-style cocktails beyond the Margarita.

There are a number of reasons why this happens, but it’s up to the bartender to introduce customers to something completely new. David Ravandi, founder of ultra-premium 123 Organic Tequila, urges those behind the bar to experiment as much as possible.

“I personally find blanco tequilas to work very well in place of gins or vodkas, and reposado and añejos in place of rums or whiskies,” he says. “As with any spirit, trial and error play a role in the final product, but we shouldn't be scared of thinking outside the box when it comes to playing with tequila.”

He believes his brand translates well when creating all sorts of cocktails because they’re aged in new American oak, which features vanilla and spice notes and a level of complexity. Those characteristics are generally not found in most tequilas, which are typically aged in bourbon barrels.

beyond margaritasTequila is such an important spirit now, he continues, that every cocktail-focused establishment should offer it in some form. The key to doing it correctly, of course, is education.

“I think restaurants that offer tequila tastings to their customers and staffers to better educate them are a fantastic idea and tool,” he says. “The more we educate and learn about tequila, the more we can grow this into a respected spirt category.”

Mezcaleria Las Flores’ Jay Schroeder says that one of the reasons why there is such a lack of knowledge about tequila-based cocktails is because tequila came to the United States long after the cocktail renaissance was over.

“It came onto the American scene in full force in the 1940s, and the renaissance took place in the 1930s and before, which is why bartenders have to get more inventive when it comes to agave spirit cocktails,” he says. He’s a true believer of swapping out whiskey for aged tequila in his Old Fashioned or Manhattan when he’s feeling festive.

The mezcal-focused cocktail menu at his Chicago hot spot, in fact, is burning up the Logan Square neighborhood. Mezcaleria Las Flores’ drinks, while innovative and esoteric with offbeat ingredients such as nutmeg oil and chile Tajin, introduce imbibers to the smoky agave spirit with much enthusiasm.

Tequila is such an important spirit now .... every cocktail-focused establishment should offer it in some form.

There’s no intimidation factor here as cocktails are presented in unique fashion, in diminutive clay cups and unique glasswear. But tequila enthusiasts will find only one tequila-based drink on the menu, and while it’s likely to be original, don’t be surprised if the Paloma makes an appearance. Schroeder says his would be made with high-quality grapefruit soda, honey, a salted rim and one of the few tequilas on premises.

At Masa y Agave in New York’s hip TriBeca neighborhood, John McCarthy doesn’t mince words when he’s trying to get patrons beyond drinking Margaritas.

“I simply say to them: ‘Here’s my margarita list,’ then give them a smaller list and then tell them: ‘This is what I think you should be drinking.’”

McCarthy is Masa y Agave’s cocktail director and he also considers himself an agave spirits expert. While his attempts to get staunch Margarita fans drinking something different are sometimes futile, at least they’ve moved beyond the cheesy renditions of the past, he says.

“I think for the longest time frozen margaritas with the sour mix were all we knew about tequila cocktails, but thankfully that mindset has changed,” he adds. “Even now at my fancy, underground New York City cocktail lounge I have to ensure customers that I am not using sour mix — that (my drinks are made with) fresh lime juice I made today.”

McCarthy works in many creative ways to get people drinking out of their comfort zones. His signature cocktails, which are always seasonal, are sometimes offered on draft. Customers find that intriguing.

He also chats up his latest discoveries, such as an agave spirit called raicilla out of the southwestern portion of the Mexican state of Jalisco. It pre-dates the arrival of Hispanic people in the country, and he uses it to make a different riff of the Negroni. And, of course, he recommends guests to order one of six agave flights, so they can learn about the spirits at their own pace.