MargaritaMexico or London (1930s – 1940s)

No singular cocktail has more people claiming its invention than the Margarita. Seems they all want to grab some family blood from America’s most popular cocktail. And, if you ask me, America’s most abused cocktail.

But there’s some strong evidence the cocktail originated in London, of all places – as the “Picador” cocktail, a spin on the classic 2:1:1 Sour template, in a variation known as a Daisy (just a Sour with a liqueur instead of simple syrup). Funny coincidence, “margarita” is Spanish for “daisy”.

You might have to hit five or six bars and restaurants to find one that isn’t made with that god-awful sour mix, even in recipes calling themselves “Cadillac.” How hard can it be to squeeze some fresh citrus, people? Sheesh.

Many people are surprised when I tell them a Margarita (done properly) is one of my favorite cocktails. Many people are also surprised when they taste a proper one for the first time – far different from the frozen, blended version that came out of Dallas in 1971 and came to be the standard for the next forty years. With the rise of fine tequilas since 2000 or so, many bartenders have come to embrace the perfect balance of a well-crafted Margarita, and an appreciation for this fragile and misunderstood spirit. An unusual minor tweak to the standard sour template is the addition of just a teaspoon of rich simple syrup – the drink simply is not the same without it. The syrup adds body and cuts through a strange bitterness that can sometimes linger between the tequila and Cointreau, bringing perfect balance.

Done like a Sidecar, this beauty needs no Slurpee, no salt. Some prefer this one on the rocks instead of served up; Either way works. Sabor es lo primero.

THE KIT

Hardware: Shaker, Jigger
Ice: Ice cubes
Glassware: Cocktail glass or Old Fashioned glass
Spirits: Tequila (blanco or reposado – recommended: El Jimador, Espolón)
Mixers & Liqueurs: Triple sec (recommended: Cointreau)
Juices, Accents, & Garnishes: Lime juice, Lime wheel, Kosher salt (optional)

HOW TO

Chill a cocktail glass in the freezer at least ten minutes.

If you choose to salt the rim, sprinkle some kosher salt on a plate and moisten either the full rim or just half with your lime wheel garnish and lightly press the glass rim into the salt. Try to avoid getting salt on the interior glass surface.

In a shaker about a third-full with ice cubes, add:

oz tequila
oz triple sec
3/4 oz lime juice
tsp rich simple syrup

Shake well to blend and chill, then strain into the chilled glass. (As an option, serve over ice cubes in an Old Fashioned glass.) Garnish with a lime wheel.

Chicago (1914)

palmettoThere’s not much to say about the Palmetto. Except to say it’s delicious and mysteriously absent from most cocktail menus. If you ask for one from a bartender who returns a blank stare, just say “it’s a rum Manhattan” and their eyes will light up.

It’s possible this drink goes back to the 1870s vermouth craze in New York City, but the first documented recipe I’ve found is in Jacques Straub’s 1914 pocket-book Drinks. Straub was the son of a Swiss distiller, and worked as a wine steward at Louisville’s famed Pendennis Club before relocating to Chicago’s Blackstone Hotel. But, as David Wondrich notes in his foreword to the book, Straub was a tee-totaler. No wine, no booze. So what we have in Straub is a simple curator, a collector and distributor of data. His catalog of recipes must’ve been cribbed from the various bartenders he knew in Kentucky and Illinois – and for the most part, those recipes are still solid 100 years later.

Having said that, an adjustment to his spec of equal parts rum and Italian vermouth (1.5 oz each) to a 2:1 ratio prevents this from veering off balance. After all, the rum brings its own sweetness to the party – vermouth can take a small step back.

In the book, Straub calls for St. Croix rum; Cruzan Aged Dark Rum would be the closest widely-available version. But a tour of the Caribbean suggests even better options: try Appleton Estate V/X from Jamaica, El Dorado 8 from Guyana, or the fantastic Mount Gay Black Barrel from Barbados, which brings delicious cinnamon and vanilla notes to the drink.

THE KIT

Hardware: Mixing glass, Jigger, Barspoon, Cocktail pick, Hawthorne strainer, Fine-mesh strainer
Ice: Ice cubes, Cracked ice
Glassware: Cocktail glass
Spirits: Aged rum (recommended: Appleton Estate V/X, El Dorado 8, Mount Gay Black Barrel)
Mixers & Liqueurs: Italian vermouth (recommended: Dolin, Noilly Prat, Martini & Rossi, Carpano Antica)
Juices, Accents, & Garnishes: Orange bitters (recommended: Regan’s), orange twist

HOW TO

Chill a cocktail glass in the freezer at least ten minutes.

In a mixing glass, add:

2 1/4 oz aged rum
3/4 oz Italian vermouth
2 dashes orange bitters

Add a mix of ice cubes and cracked ice to cover well above the liquid level. Stir well to blend and chill, then double-strain (to catch small bits of ice) into the prepared, chilled glass. Pinch an orange twist over the drink to express oils onto its surface, then lightly brush the twist around the glass exterior. Garnish with the twist.

20th_centuryCafé Royal, London, England, 1937

Drinking seasonally just makes sense, and for my money in the winter months, there’s nothing like a brisk gin cocktail that matches the cold outside. Sure, hot drinks like Hot Buttered Rum, Irish Coffee, or Hot Toddy are comforting, but frosty-cold gin is reality-affirming in a weird way. Like walking through a snowy pine forest in shorts.

As the 19th century turned into the 20th, French aperitif wines known as quinquinas (say it “keen-keen-uz”) or kinas were all the rage. Similar to vermouths, they use cinchona bark (the source of quinine) for the bitter element in lieu of (or in addition to) vermouth’s wormwood. Quinine is the famous anti-malarial agent administered to British troops serving in India via healthy portions of Gin & Tonic (tonic being sparkling water spiked with a syrup of quinine and citrus peel). Although effective, bracing, and refreshing, the Gin & Tonic isn’t the friendliest flavor. Enter the kina: a sweet, citrusy aperitif wine delicious enough to enjoy on its own before dinner – with its sweetness tempered by just enough bitter quinine. The kina brand you choose will affect the sweetness of your finished cocktail: if you like it drier, go with Tempus Fugit’s Kina L’Avion d’Or. For a sweeter drink, try Lillet Blanc. Right down the center is Cocchi Americano. Like vermouths, keep kinas in the refrigerator after opening and use within a couple weeks. Also like vermouths, they’re great on the rocks before dinner.

This cocktail dates from the Café Royal Cocktail Book, published in 1937 – the height of the Art Deco movement. Apparently it was named by its creator, British bartender C.A. Tuck, for the luxurious 20th Century Limited passenger train that operated between New York City and Chicago. I can’t find any evidence the drink was actually served aboard the train as part of its cocktail program (it doesn’t appear on the dining car menus from the period), but it certainly would’ve fit. It’s similar to the Corpse Reviver #2 – sleek and mysterious, with a hint of chocolate on the back. Luxurious and sophisticated, I have yet to serve one to anyone who didn’t love it.

THE KIT

Hardware: Shaker, Jigger, Vegetable peeler
Ice: Ice cubes
Glassware: Cocktail glass
Spirit: London Dry Gin (recommended: Beefeater, Tanqueray)
Liqueurs: Kina (recommended: Kina L’Avion D’Or, Cocchi Americano, Lillet Blanc), Crème de Cacao (white) (recommended: Marie Brizard)
Juices, Accents, & Garnishes: Lemon juice, Lemon twist

THE KIT

Chill a cocktail glass in the freezer at least ten minutes.
In a shaker about a third-full with ice cubes, add:
1 1/2 oz London Dry gin
3/4 oz kina
3/4 oz lemon juice
1/2 oz crème de cacao (white)
Shake well to blend and chill, then strain into the chilled glass. Pinch a lemon twist over the drink to express oils onto its surface, then lightly brush the twist around the glass exterior. Garnish with the twist laid across the rim of the glass or placed into the drink.