Cocktail mania is sweeping the country, from high-end speakeasy-style bars in New York and San Francisco to store shelves filled with specialty liquors infused with açai, dragon fruit and ginger. This summer, broaden your drinking horizons beyond the standard gin and tonic, and cool down with some of the spicy flavors of Mexico.
So what are the best Mexican cocktails?
In Amor Y Tacos, chef, author, and Mexican cuisine expert Deborah Schneider takes an in-depth look at the cocktails of Mexico. Here are some of Deborah’s recipes, and her cocktail keys to success:
Hibiscus Margarita: This is a perfectly beautiful drink, made with or without alcohol. Mexican aguas frescas are drinks made of fresh fruit and water, sweetened and sparked with a squeeze of fresh lime — the perfect drink on a hot day … and healthy as well. Dried hibiscus flowers (jamaica in Spanish) make a hot-pink agua fresca with an excitingly tart, fruity flavor. Dried jamaica is sold in bulk at Mexican markets.
Mexican Mojito: The mojito is so sexy and light that it would be a shame not to adapt the Cuban original to the Mexican model. Tequila is a more versatile mixer than one might think, especially in drinks that already lean to the tart and citrusy. The typical mojito is made with white rum, but a smooth white tequila works perfectly with the wisp of mint and sweetness. A very quick drink to make — and drink.
Iced Mexican Coffee: Café de olla is a sweet, heavily spiced brew, usually taken hot in the morning with sweet rolls and in the afternoon with crunchy cookies or a pastry. This refreshing dessert drink, served over ice, features café de olla's welcome kick of caffeine.
Margarita Sol: Made with fresh citrus juices and good blanco tequila, it's a simple, classic recipe that will knock you on your can if you aren't careful. While salting the margarita rim has become commonplace, heavy salt will actually detract from the drink; try a tiny dash of salt on the ice cubes or in the bottom of the glass. I love the subtle trick of salting only the inside of the rim, so your lips never touch salt.
Michelada: On a hot day, the michelada is the most refreshing drink ever, though the combination of bitter beer, Clamato, spice, chilies and lime might strike some as bizarre. But it is the essence of Mexico: a searing beach, a shady palapa and an ice-cold michelada in hand, giving one the strength to get through the afternoon. There are, of course, as many michelada variations as there are bartenders — and that's before they start filling your glass with plump shrimp, encouraging you to down the drink even faster. Be sure to freeze the glass for the full effect.
All about tequila
- Real tequila comes only from the Tequila region in Jalisco state, near the historic heart of central Mexico.
- Newly minted tequila is called blanco (silver) or plata tequila.
- Reposado has spent some time aging in oak barrels, resulting in a smoother palate and light amber color.
- Añejo may have a year or more of barrel aging, and a stiff price tag to go with its deeper color.
How to choose your tequila
- For mixed drinks, choose a moderately priced 100 percent agave tequila. Only 100 percent agave tequilas are worth your money.
- A sipping tequila should have a clean edge, and you should be able to smell the plant — a robust, sappy, almost bitter scent.
- Generally speaking, most reposados and all añejos will be overpowered in mixed drinks; enjoy them from a snifter.
Tips on making the perfect cocktail
- Any drink that starts with crushing ingredients in a glass (muddling) should be made one at a time, or at most doubled to serve two.
- Mix drinks in small batches. Melting ice will affect flavor. Drinks made in large quantities may lose their edge and taste flat or bland.
- To make your task easier, work like a professional bartender. Line up your liquors, garnishes, chilled juices and flavorings all within reach; have rimming salts and sugars at the ready; make sure your best stemware and glasses are clean and polished.
Some of the text that appears here has been excerpted from Amor Y Tacos by Deborah Schneider, copyright © 2010 Deborah Schneider, reprinted with permission from Stuart, Tabori & Chang.