Like St. Patrick's Day in March, Cinco de Mayo is an imported holiday that has taken on more importance here than in its home country. It is not Mexican Independence Day which is in September as some think, but rather a commemoration of the victory of a meager Mexican army over the much-better-armed French at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862.
It seems, though, that the battle triumph takes a back seat to tequila-fueled margarita fests in watering holes across the land. It's a party-hearty day more than anything else, and with the help of a St. Petersburg, Fla., mixologist, we've got some ideas to bring the festivities home.
We asked Jason Fackler of Mandarin Hide to put his spin on a Cinco de Mayo cocktail, and he shared three thirst-quenching beauties that put the margarita to shame. Two combine tequila with citrus notes and a third with mocha accents to take Mexico's native spirits to a new level.
Fackler gets specific on tequila brands in his recipes, and one calls for mezcal, a more rambunctious Mexican spirit made from the maguey agave plant. Tequila comes from the blue agave plant that grows in Tequila, Mexico, and around the state of Jalisco. Not all tequilas are 100 percent blue agave; if they are, they'll say so on the label.
Well-stocked liquor stores might carry the brands he uses in these cocktails; some are small-batch and fairly expensive. If you can't locate the brands Fackler suggests or don't want to spend the money, you can find substitutes. All three cocktail recipes call for aged spirits.
Blood & Smoke
Mezcal is a more smoky alternative to tequila. Recipes courtesy of Mandarin Hide, St. Petersburg, Fla.
1.5 ounces Ilegal Reposado Mezcal or another aged mescal
3/4 ounce Solerno Blood Orange Liqueur
1/2 ounce agave nectar
1/2 ounce freshly squeezed orange juice
Splash grapefruit juice
Orange peel, garnish
Place all ingredients, except orange peel, in a shaker and strain over ice in a short glass. Garnish with a wide orange peel.
3 chunks fresh pineapple
2 large basil leaves
2 ounces Herradura Reposado Tequila
1/2 ounce lime juice
3/4 ounce agave nectar
5 dashes Angostura Bitters
1 pineapple-leaf garnish
Muddle the pineapple and basil in a shaker. Add ice, tequila, lime juice, agave nectar and bitters and shake well. Strain over fresh ice in a Collins glass. Top with fresh pineapple juice, if necessary. Garnish with a pineapple leaf.
This cocktail is a spin on Mandarin Hide's espresso martini, normally made with vodka. Tequila and coffee go great together, and this drink is proof. Note: Chocolate bitters can be substituted or left out completely.
2 ounces Don Julio Añejo Tequila
3/4 ounce Kahlua
1/2 ounce dark crème de cacao
1 shot of espresso Bittermens' Xocolatl Mole Bitters (optional, see note)
Place all ingredients in a shaker, except bitters, and pour into a martini glass. There will be a nice foam at the top from the espresso. Add a few drops of bitters, if using.