“When is Cinco de Mayo?”
Have you ever said something and then wanted to take it back? A few years ago I showed my ignorance asking about Cinco de Mayo. But once I figured out that it’s always the Fifth of May, I wanted to find out why it is a huge celebration and why people all want to drink tequila and margaritas!
Cinco de Mayo celebrates the amazing Mexican victory over the invading French forces in 1862. It was an upset of huge proportions and galvanized the country. Nowadays we forget the history and just want to enjoy all things Mexican.
Two things come to mind when I think of Mexico: tequila and beer. Corona is the No. 1 imported beer in the U.S. People love its crisp, well-balanced flavor and the ever-present imagery of the sandy beach.
But Mexico is more than just Corona. There are many great beers coming from our neighbors to the south. Try the Dos Equis family. Again, some great iconic advertising from the World’s Most Interesting Man, but the beers are great. Dos Equis Amber is a nice representation of smooth dark beer. It has a rich flavor without overpowering you.
Another great import is Victoria. Finally arriving in the market this year, it has fast become a favorite. Mexican immigrants have been waiting for one of their favorite brands to make it across the river. Victoria is a Vienna-style lager and will surprise you with its unique flavor.
Tequila has been exploding on the market for the last 15 years. Fifteen years or so ago, Patron was the first real premium tequila to make its mark. It stepped away from the old college rotgut we drank, the stuff that tasted terrible at night and was really bad the next day.
Real premium tequila is a world-class beverage that can hold its own against the greatest spirits in the world. For complexity and nuanced flavors, aged tequila can please your palate as well as a great scotch, cognac or bourbon.
Tequila is made like many other distilled spirits, from indigenous grains or plants of the region. All tequila must come from the Jalisco region of Mexico. It must be made with blue weber agave, ground and mashed as barley or corn is for whiskeys. Yeast is added to start the fermentation and then it is distilled to a crystal clear and pure liquid.
All real tequila is made from 100 percent agave and has a stunning, clean look. This is called blanco or silver. You get the entire full and unadultered characteristics of the agave plant in blanco tequila.
The only way tequila can get the beautiful amber or gold color is from barrel aging. Reposado tequilas are aged from six months to about a year. They will have the golden hue and will just start picking up the oak barrel flavors.
Anejo tequilas must be aged at least one year or more in the barrels. I love anejo tequila, which picks up rich oak vanilla flavors from a barrel. Anejos will astound you. You get the unique agave flavor, but the barrel aging smooths out the edges.
My new favorite is the Roca Patron. It is expensive, but it is made in the true handmade manner of ancient tequila makers. The artisanal care and handling really comes through. Roca uses the tahona method, where the roasted agave is crushed under a stone wheel that is turned by a donkey! I don’t know why it matters — but it does. Try the Roca Patron for the greatest aged tequilas around.
Don’t forget the margarita. The No. 1 cocktail in the U.S., according to legend it was invented in 1938 in Mexico. Marguerite was a beauty who got the guys to make the cocktail for her and it became her namesake. There are a plethora of pre-made margaritas and mixers on the market. They are all nice and easy to use. The 1800 Ultimate Margarita is a great pre-made cocktail. The Aztec temple shaped bottle is unique!
But to really get in the spirit you have to make your own margaritas from scratch. It can be a little time-consuming, but it is worth it!
Take a generous shot of 100 percent agave tequila. (Don’t cheat and get a cheap bar pour. You will be sorry!) Half the amount of Cointreau, and fresh lime juice. Again, hand squeeze the limes to get the best flavor. Don’t cheat!
Put in a wide mouth, salt-rimmed glass filled with ice, stir liberally and enjoy! Garnish with lime and imagine yourself lounging on the beach. Take your time and do it right — you will love the tart but sweet flavors. A real thirst quencher.
As always, enjoy in moderation. Salud!