A Cook's Diary

In Search Of the Real Margarita

Margarita, of course, is a rather common Spanish name. And it has always intrigued me who the Margarita was that the drink was named for. Was she as refreshing, as colorful and as pretty as the drink? Was her personality just as complex as the layers of flavor in the cocktail? Did her personality kick as much as the drink?

Curiously enough, no one really seems to know where the “Margarita” originated. And we’re talking of two layers of origin here — the origin of the cocktail mix itself and its name. The stories and theories about the drink and its name are interesting and amusing.

Mango MargaritaThe Nibble believes that, despite many claimants, the prevailing credit goes to Dallas socialite Margaret “Margarita” Sames who, the story goes, over the Christmas holiday in 1948 in Acapulco, wanted to make a new drink that could be enjoyed on the poolside. She started with rum, failed, shifted to tequila and combined it with Cointreau. After some failed attempts, she finally got the formula that she liked.

Over the years, Bill and Margarita served the drink to their guests, referring to it as “The Drink” or “Margarita’s Drink.” After Bill gave Margarita a set of champagne glasses etched with her name, the drink got its final name. The cocktail recipe was spread by some of the couple’s friends and guests, who included hotelier Nick Hilton, Tail O’ the Cock owner Shelton McHenry, Hotel Bel-Air owner Joseph Drown, movie stars Lana Turner and John Wayne, and other world travelers who subsequently served the drink in their hotels and restaurants. [Read more: Margarita History & Facts]

Watermelon MargaritaAnother story claims that long before it was called the Margarita, the cocktail drink made with tequila, citrus juice and grenadine was already around but was known as Tequila Daisy. Eric Felten of Tucson Citizen refers to a book published in 1939 that mentions a (fictitious?) professor named J. Abner Peddiwell whose lectures at a Tijuana bar turned more loquacious after downing a number of Tequila Daisy. Felten claims that, despite many other stories and theories, the Tequila Daisy might just be the margarita because “margarita” is Spanish for “daisy” and the change in name might be a case of getting lost in translation. The problem with this theory is that grenadine is not an ingredient of the margarita. The tequila-citrus juice-grenadine combination is what we know as Tequila Sunrise.

Pineapple MargaritaFelten cites more “evidence” that the margarita drink pre-dates the Dallas socialite’s concoction by, perhaps, more than ten years. One of these is worth mentioning while the rest, I’d prefer to dismiss outright. The one worth mentioning is the “Cafe Royal Cocktail Book” published in London in 1937 which includes in its lineup the tequila-Cointreau-lime juice drink called the Picador (the same book is mentioned in an article in Imbibe). If you want to check out the other claims, the ones I consider too preposterous to ponder on, read Felten’s and Imbibe‘s articles in full.

Margarita CocktailTo add even more to the mystery, the Food & Think blog at The Smithsonian website points to The Complete Book of Spirits by Anthony Dias Blue which claims that “the first importer of Jose Cuervo in the United States advertised with the tagline, ‘Margarita: it’s more than a girl’s name,’ in 1945, three years before Sames claimed to have invented the drink.”

If you prefer pre-1945 stakes, there’s the story about the Irishman Madden who is said to have been mixing the Tequila Daisy in Iowa as early as 1936 — three years prior to the publication of the book mentioned in Felten’s article.

Then, there’s the tale about Pancho Morales, bartender at Tommy’s Place in Juarez, Mexico who faked a Magnolia cocktail because he couldn’t remember what it contained, mixed a totally new drink with tequila and Cointreau and named it after the daisy (Margarita in Spanish, remember?).

So, there. And so much for stories, legends and claims to fame already. After all that has been told and written, it all boils down to being able to mix a good margarita. Take your pick.

1. Classic Margarita
2. Pineapple margarita
3. Watermelon margarita
4. Mango margarita

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