Margaritaville; that imaginary Mecca of flip flops and spongecake, is based on a drink that has so many variations, the search for authenticity is as roving as the song itself.
For most of us, a margarita is easy. Grab a mix, throw in tequila, blend it up with ice and voila, youre in Margaritaville. Sure, its a lime tasting drink revolving around tequila, but its not the real McCoy as I was to find out.
Over the years, Id heard of the real drink a margarita made of lime juice, Triple Sec, whatever that was, salt, a wedge of some citrus fruit, and tequila over ice, but it seemed so far away from my reality. Too complicated, I kept convincing myself. It might take some kind of beaker, possibly metric measuring ability, an extra trip to the liquor store, and advanced bartending skills. Nope, not going to do it, I said, and kept on mixing them up the way I always had but with a frozen Bicardi mix and a blender.
Enter the computer, and the Jimmy Buffetts website Margaritaville, the Online State of Mind. The endless menus of clothing, flip flops, Parrotheads, tour information, and music was mind boggling. After blowing a few hundred on tee shirts and parrot cups, I got to the concoction part, and there it was, The Perfect Margarita recipe, staring me eye to eye, daring me to deviate from the friendly frozen concoction I had come to know and love.
I printed off the menu, and made a pact to deviate from the routine.
We need to start with a history lesson to fully appreciate this quest. The roots of tequila can be traced back to somewhere in old Meh-hee-co in the 15th century when the Spanish Conquistadors came to the new world around 1521. Made from the fermented juices of a mezcal plant, an agave worm somehow made it into the bottle and has now become a right of passage among the college crowd. Supposedly, swallowing the worm brings on hallucinations. It was either the worm, or taking several shots to get to the worm, but this was common knowledge around campus.
According to Mechelle Martz, who summed up the history of the Margarita for Cocktail Times.com, the drink was a concoction of a party host, Margarita Sames, who, in 1948, threw together three parts tequila, one part Cointreau and one part lime. At least thats one version of the story. Another attributes the drink to a showgirl named Marjorie King in 1938, and still another was attributed to Pancho Morales at Tommys Place in Juarez, Mexico.
Buffetts Perfect Margarita, consists of one ounce of Margaritaville Gold Tequila, and a half-ounce of Margaritaville Silver Tequila, Cointreau, orange curacao, and lime juice. No Triple Sec? What about the all those bar buddies that knew the drink? I wrote it off as idle bar chatter. The directions say to rim the margarita glass with salt, combine ingredients in a shaker, shake and strain into a margarita glass with ice. No blender? What about the song?
The first trip to the liquor store was an expedition of sorts, finding the stuff, and trying to line up bargain brands that might do the trick if the real stuff was too expensive. There was only one brand of orange curacao, and Cointreau was as expensive as the name led me to believe. It was all written off as an experimental, once-in-a-lifetime purchase to close the summer, and nothing the plastic couldnt handle but I did wince as I handed him my credit card to cover the $50 tab.
Back in the kitchen, I set up the margarita lab, dug into the liquor store bag. The recipe only had a few sentences, but I read them, memorizing each step so I didnt miss anything that could put a cramp into perfection. If only I had studied like that in college.
In went the liquor, in went the ice, and more liquor. Where was the non-alcoholic mixer that made the concoction drinkable? There wasnt any, but that wasnt important at this point. It was time to shake and strain into a margarita glass filled with ice the final step to the perfect margarita.
I grabbed a glass and put in the Buffett CD, Songs We All Know By Heart. The first sip tasted of pure tequila. It might just need another stir. Nope, the second sip tasted of more tequila, with a faint hint of the other stuff swimming in the distance. My nasal passages cleared and my eyes watered. I was still in denial though, and continued to take little sips, looking for the attraction. You know, Margaritaville, with the shrimp beginning to boil, tourists covered in oil, and a tattoo of some Mexican beauty that helped me hang on.
About the fourth sip, my face became scrunched like it does when I used to do shots of liquor in my younger days. All of a sudden, the mild mixture we became accustomed to seemed like an old friend, laughing at me from the frozen section in the grocery store. As I put my cup down, ready to admit defeat, I realized that Margaritaville is better as a song, a tee shirt, and a notion. The reality of it all was too hard to swallow.
Rim margarita glass with salt. Combine ingredients in a shaker filled with ice. Squeeze limes and add to tin. Shake vigorously and pour into a margarita glass.