Today is National Margarita Day, in case you were wondering. For a lot of people, this may not strike you as a particularly important holiday, but that might just be because you have had the good fortune to grow up in a place that allowed you to take them for granted.
I, on the other hand, grew up in the great state of Michigan, a state which, for all that there is to love about it, is not without its faults. One of those being that, particularly in mid-Michigan, the connections to Latino and Southwestern culture were tenuous at best. This was something my former Texan parents , would lament at great length. The fact that they were raising children who believed that Chi-Chi’s offered the best Mexican cuisine for the buck was a travesty to them. Yet,t options were somewhat limited in the Lansing area in the 1990s.
As such, moving to Los Angeles 10 years ago meant a range of culture shocks for someone raised in the great white North, ranging from “Sweet Christ, you guys put avocado on EVERYTHING” to “everything I’ve ever been told about the taco has been a dirty, rotten lie that kept me from experiencing true joy...and I want those years back.”
One BIG one, though, was the margarita.
The 7-11 Approach to Cocktails
Back in Michigan, I wasn’t completely unaware of the margarita. They were served at chain restaurants throughout mid-Michigan in a wide variety of bright colors and flavors, like strawberry and, God help us, blue raspberry. Always blended, of course, and served in MASSIVE quantities and available at steep discounts on either “Margarita Mondays” or “Taco Tuesdays,” depending on which alliterative themed night your establishment preferred. They were sort of an alcoholic Slurpee that was largely indistinguishable from the drinks that were masquerading as daiquiris save for them being served in a differently shape of absurdly massive glassware.
Fortunately, I, and even the Midwest as a whole, was not necessarily alone in failing to truly appreciate quality. Where once the difference between rum and tequila drinks was largely academic as they were so overloaded with sugary fruit flavors, the burgeoning new foodie culture has brought with it a new appreciation for things like fine tequila.
“Consumers see tequila in a much different light than five or 10 years ago," says Nikhil Bahadur, the Co-Founder and COO of Blue Nectar Tequila. "The margarita continues to be one of the most popular cocktails in the US, but the conversation has evolved from the lower quality mixto tequilas, which contain only 51% agave, and sour mix margaritas of past. People are drinking tequila neat and bartenders are using higher quality ingredients in tequila cocktails, and not just in margaritas. Tequila education for the trade and consumers, both of which we stress very heavily, and the introduction of premium tequilas that focus on quality production, have certainly elevated the growing appetite for tequila in the US.”
Of course, while understanding the joy of quality tequila may be a relatively new idea for people in Mid-Michigan, people living in the Southwest, even ten years ago, were a bit further along. My move to Los Angeles not long after I had reached legal drinking age resulted in a epiphany at a Mexican restaurant in Venice, CA that permanently reset my expectations. Instead of a ridiculous version of hard candy blended with ice, I got a simple drink, served over ice with fresh lime juice, that was utterly marvelous.
Suddenly, it became clear: The bright flavors of the citrus, the bite of the tequila, the salt on the rim punching both up marvelously. This was a drink to sip on a beautiful sunny day as you watched the world slide by.
I could hardly blame my fellow Michiganders. How were we to know? We have four, maybe five beautiful sunny days a year, and you don’t get to relax on those, you have to cram an entire year’s worth of outdoor activities into them. I’ll stack our beer up against anywhere in the world, but that’s because it’s the sort of drink to consume while huddled in a dank basement trying to feel your toes. We’ve got that down. But this? This was something entirely different.
A Drink, A Different State of Mind
Either way, a good margarita will absolutely make your day. It’s a subtle balance of flavors that I had greatly underestimated for most of my life, and one of the things about my new home in Los Angeles that I dearly love. If only someone could work out a way I could consume one while dealing with traffic, some sort of bus that serves drinks while you inch up the 405, Los Angeles would finally be the utopia it claims to be in the brochures.
So, on this, the OFFICIAL Margarita Monday, as it were, I think we should all take a moment and have one of these marvelous cocktails. Even if the massive blended sugar bombs I remember watching people suck down as a kid in Michigan are your thing, go ahead and have one. As far as it may have strayed, the origin remains the same.That said, I urge you to seek out the classic. This is one drink in which simplicity is best.