We're not quite sure who created National Margarita Day, held annually on February 22, but we need to buy them a drink. The annual ode to agave, rocks and lime is only growing in popularity and now, mezcal-philes are shaking up the drinking holiday a fresh twist.
While the margarita didn't get its name until the 1950s, the recipe itself has been traced to the early 1930s, when Prohibition sent thirsty Americans south of the border, where they began experimenting with mixed drinks using tequila instead of bathtub-concocted alcohol. The general consensus is that the margarita is probably just a variation of an American cocktail called the brandy daisy, the only difference being that it's made with tequila instead of brandy and rum. (According to Imbibe, margarita is Spanish for Daisy, which is a nickname for Margaret.)
Given that the margarita has its roots in improvisation, it's no surprise the cocktail continues to change and evolve over time. Today, the margarita is available in just about any flavor, with almost any kind of garnish—and with other spirits than tequila. Most recently, mixologists have been successfully experimenting with mezcal, which is currently the fastest-growing liquor in the U.S.
At this point, the hearts of the agave (or piñas) are roasted in underground pits with native mesquite and oak trees on a bed of volcanic rock. It can take up to six days to bake the piñas, after which the distillery crushes them using a horse-drawn stone wheel — the traditional method of making mezcal. After a few weeks of fermentation and double distillation, the mezcal is ready to be consumed.
Since mezcal is characteristically smoky, one can’t help but wonder how the distinctive flavor comes across in cocktails and mixed drinks. Surprisingly well, actually. At E.P. & L.P. in Los Angeles, master mixologist Sergio Gonzales has created El Tule, a variation of the margarita with mezcal, green apple puree, green chartreuse and a garnish of Thai basil seeds. Meanwhile, Charity Johnston of Toca Madera makes the Oaxacan Margarita by adding organic agave to the mezcal.
"Mezcal's unique smokiness provides a robust and bold alternative to your traditional margarita," says Natalia Garcia Bourke, brand manager of Mezcal El Silencio. "By substituting with mezcal you are creating a beautifully rounded cocktail with a layer of earthy, smoky base notes that celebrates a savory depth of flavor. It's a smoky twist on a classic." In the end, when it comes to margaritas, the possibilities are already limitless. Now, by substituting mezcal for tequila, the margarita is almost an entirely new cocktail. Almost. Here's a look at three versions from three of Los Angeles's hottest watering holes.
El Tule by E.P. & L.P. 's Sergio Gonzales
- 6 Thai basil leaves
- 4 dill sprigs
- 1.25 ounces Mezcal El Silencio Espadin
- 0.25 oz. Green Chartreuse
- 0.5 oz. Simple Syrup
- 0.75 oz. Lime Juice
- 0.5 oz. Green Apple Puree
- 2 dashes of celery bitters
Peeling a Little Old Fashioned by Laurel Hardware's James Huertas
- Mezcal El Silencio Espadin
- Sous vide bananas
- Bigallet China-China
- Californian Berries
Oaxacan Margarita by Toca Madera's Charity Johnston
- 2 ounces Mezcal El Silencio Espadin
- 1 ounce Lime juice
- 1 ounces Organic Agave
- Sal de Gusano and lime slice for garnish