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The contested history of the Margarita

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The contested history of the Margarita

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Patrón Margarita of the year
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Like with most cocktails, the origin of the Margarita is hotly disputed. After all, to be the creator of a drink imbibed by socialites old and new the world over is something of a badge of honour.

One surprising claim comes from a British source. The Café Royal Cocktail Book, published in 1937 and compiled by William J. Tarling, is the go-to reference for cocktails developed in the 1920s and ‘30s, even though fewer than 25 copies were originally printed.

Tarling, president of the United Kingdom Bartenders Guild, and head bartender at Regent Street’s Café Royal collated the recipe book of more than 4,000 classics alongside pioneering new cocktails to encourage readers to experiment with their usual tipples. One such cocktail, the Picador, used tequila, Cointreau and lime juice in almost the exact same measurements as the modern Margarita.

Patrón Margarita of the Year
Passion Fruit Margarita Patrón Margarita of the Year

One year later, Carlos ‘Danny’ Herrera created a cocktail for regular customer and former Broadway dancer Marjorie King in the less surprising surroundings of his restaurant Rancho La Gloria in Mexico. This was supported by San Diego bartender Albert Hernandez in 1947, who said that the owner of his bar knew Herrera personally and that Marjorie King had been allergic to most spirits, but not tequila.

Or, the Margarita could have been invented a year after, in 1939, in Los Angeles bar Tail O’ The Cock.

Or, in 1941 back in Mexico at Hussong’s Cantina, by Don Carlos Orozco, who created it for the German ambassador’s daughter, Margarita Henkel.

Even Notimex, Mexico’s news agency, is involved in the argument, saying that, in fact, Francisco ‘Pancho’ Morales has the strongest claim as inventor, having mixed his version in Tommy’s Place Bar, Juárez, in 1942. The list of potential Margarita parents goes on, but iterations of the drink have been mixed since the early 20th Century, when Mexican bartenders adapted the New Yorker’s Whisky Daisy with a slug of tequila, renaming it Tequila Daisy, or Margarita.

Patrón Margarita of the Year
North End Margarita Patrón Margarita of the Year

No matter the origin of the Margarita - or Picador, for that matter - most are in agreement that since the spirit’s creation in 1989, it’s difficult to beat a Margarita made with Patrón Tequila. In the run-up to this year’s Cinco de Mayo celebrations, and for the fourth year running, Patrón is looking for the Margarita of the Year. Bartenders from seven cities across the world have been tasked with adding their own twist to the classic cocktail, using flavours and ingredients inspired by their local region. Contestants come from cities as wide-ranging as Seattle, Osaka and Barcelona, with the winner crowned on May 5th.

Recipe of the Mediterranean Margarita

As part of the celebrations, I was challenged to recreate the Mediterranean Margarita. Mixed by bartender extraordinaire Yanaida Prado, and inspired by her hometown of Barcelona, the Mediterranean Margarita mixes lime and lemon with sherry and marmalade to give Spring a bit of a kick.

Patrón Margarita of the Year
Mediterranean Margarita Patrón Margarita of the Year

Luckily for me, Ms Prado had already done the hard work, mixing the main ingredients, including agave nectar, Amontillado sherry and the flagship Patrón Reposado tequila, which gives deeper flavours of wood and mandarin to the lightness offered by the citrus and agave.

In spite of doing almost none of the preparation myself, there’s something mildly exciting about opening a small tub to find Tajín salt, to add to the rim of a freshly-chilled coupe glass, even if I’m doing so in my own kitchen and not in Barcelona’s Dry Martini bar. I’m sure that Ms Prado would have despaired as she saw my awful attempt at peeling the lime to garnish the drink, but garnished it was, and the resulting cocktail transported me from cold England to the warm beachside of La Barceloneta.

From Tarling’s Picador to the daughter of a German ambassador to a Broadway dancer, and all in between, whoever wins the title of Margarita of the Year will be the latest in a long line of Margarita pioneers. We can all drink to that.

Each recipe and instruction tutorials are available online at the Margarita of the Year website, or via patrontequila.com

Writer: David Taylor

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