Why We Drink Margaritas The Way We Do
Learn the history of how margaritas evolved and why we drink them the way we do today.
Mar. 7, 2016
From the Margarita of the Year SeriesSee more
What comes to mind when you think of a margarita? Is it a fluffy frozen concoction served in a goblet as big as your head, or a refreshing, citrusy blend served on the rocks with a rim of salt? Over the years, the look of the margarita has certainly changed. As a matter of fact, the cocktail most of us know and love nowadays doesn’t look at all like the original creation.
Although the exact origin of the margarita is unclear – there are numerous accounts of the cocktail’s invention– we do have cocktail recipe books where it appears by name as far back as the 1950’s.
The 1956 Esquire Drink Book describes the margarita cocktail as one ounce of tequila, a dash of Triple Sec, and the juice of half a lime or lemon. Instructions indicate to rim a stem glass with salt, mix the ingredients over ice, stir, then pour into the glass. The recipe does not specify whether the drink should be strained. Same goes for the 1964 edition of the Old Mr. Boston Official Bartenders Guide, which calls for 1.5 oz. tequila, .5 oz. Triple Sec and the juice of a lime or lemon, stirred over ice and poured into a dainty 3 oz. cocktail glass.
Recipe citations throughout the 50s and 60s specify that the drink is served up. In John de Kuyper’s 1965 Complete Guide to Cordials, the ingredients are stirred over ice then strained into a salt-rimmed glass. By the early ‘70s margaritas were shaking, literally. 1971’s Playboy’s Host & Bar Book instructs to shake the ingredients over ice then strain into a salt- (traditional) or sugar-rimmed cocktail glass.
In his 1972 Bartender’s Guide, famous barman Victor “Trader Vic” Bergeron sets things straight, removing the lemon and instructing to shake ingredients with ice cubes and strain into a chilled saucer Champagne glass rimmed with coarse salt. However, in the same book he states: “I think that one of the nicest drinks I know how to make is a margarita on the rocks; it is a classic.”
The following year, in his Trader Vic’s Book of Mexican Cooking, he mentions buying amber-colored Mexican “bubble glass” coupes to serve the cocktail at his Señor Pico restaurants. “It was fun serving cocktails in these funny glasses that came in all sizes and heights and sometimes a little lopsided,” he says, lamenting the fact that they were expensive to import and broke quickly during service. “I still think the Mexican glass has more charm, but they just aren’t practical for restaurant use,” he concluded. Today, Mexican restaurants and bars commonly serve margaritas in cobalt-rimmed blown-glass vessels, both saucer and V-shaped, seeking to add authenticity and a touch of fiesta. But it is important to point out that these glasses make the margarita a much larger cocktail than the original was meant to be, this increase in portion size being just one of many changes the Margarita has undergone in the eighty or so years since its birth.
Claudia Alarcon, a native of Mexico City, is an Austin-based freelance writer.