A few years ago at Top Shelf* (a festival of boutique spirits and drinks held right here in Melbourne, which I have previously summarised as the best day of the entire year), the delightful Jason Crawley (MD of The Drink Cabinet and all-round clever-pants when it comes to anything alcoholic) presented a talk that was titled something like ‘The top five drinks to order to impress your bartender that show you are not just some schmuck who orders Cosmopolitans because you still think they’re original and interesting’ (look, I can’t recall the exact title, it was a long time ago and I was drunk, but you get the general idea, right?).
One of the cocktails he discussed – and then passed around for taste-testing – was Tommy’s Margarita, which I finally got around to making this week. It’s nothing like the kind of margarita you used to get at crappy Mexican restaurants in the ’80s – all blended ice and fruit flavouring and colours that don’t exist in nature, served in a vessel the size of your head with a warning that drinking more than one will render you useless for the rest of the day in the office. Rather, it’s a sophisticated way to get acquainted with good-quality tequila, which has finally broken free of its ‘lick, sip, suck’ reputation (a method for getting wasted incredibly quickly involving licking salt off your hand, sipping tequila and sucking on a lemon or lime wedge) and an ingredient that until fairly recently had been hard to obtain here – agave syrup.
Now, I’m no detective but it seems like a mighty odd coincidence that just as Melbourne (or, perhaps, most of the world) worked out that tequila is actually an artisan product with as many terroir-based nuances as fine wine and deserves to be treated as such, the ‘no sugar’ movement over in ‘I’m Determined To Be Annoyingly Healthy And If That Means Denying Myself Simple Pleasures And Demanding Odd Ingredients Such As No-Added-Sugar-Soy-Carob Sprinkles On My Decaff Dandelion Chai Soy Latte Then So Be It Land’ was taking off, resulting in more and more ingredients such as agave syrup becoming readily available and, ironically enough, just begging to be used in cocktails.
Which I have done, following Jason Crawley’s lead.
I think you should, too, for the Tommy’s Margarita is absolutely delicious and deserves to be drunk even if you are not trying to impress your bartender. It shows off the tequila’s minerality and smokiness and has a nice balance between mellow and tart. It can be drunk with ice cubes in the glass (great in summer) or without (perfect in winter). Yeah, yeah, this goes against most recipes, which say it should be served in a chilled glass, sans ice, but we’ve tried it each way and we think it works. Experiment and find your own preferred serving method! Oh, and in case you’re wondering – Tommy’s Margarita was invented by Julio Bermejo in the 1990s, who named it after his family’s restaurant and bar. You can read more about it here.
This particular recipe is from Eau De Vie, one of Melbourne’s best cocktail bars. If you’re ever in town, don’t be put off by its location (down an alley and through an unmarked door, as many of Melbourne’s bars are) or the long queues – it’s most definitely worth a visit.
Unlike other margaritas, this is traditionally served without a salt rim on the glass….although it is delicious with a Maldon sea salt rim, or a Smalt smoked salt rim, or a combination of both.
50ml Reposado tequila
25ml lime juice
20ml agave syrup (we used dark agave syrup)
Rocks or old-fashioned
Combine all ingredients with ice in a cocktail shaker and shake like mad. Strain into a rocks glass – it’s up to you if you have ice in the glass or not.
Well, that depends on which tequila you use, whether you use dark or light agave syrup and the age of your lime. An older lime (with yellowed skin) is generally more mellow than a young one (with green skin). Various tequilas all have their own flavour. Serving the drink with/without ice will alter how you taste it, too. Your best bet is to make one and sip it slowly and see for yourself why this is a modern classic. As a rough guide, a Tommy’s should show off the tequila’s flavours – think smoke and minerals – and temper them with a smooth sweetness, perhaps a slight caramelly earthiness, even, from the agave, and just enough sourness from the lime to liven things up. Sometimes we get notes of apricot loaf and sponge cake coming through; sometimes it’s all about the minerals; sometimes we sounds like a pack of wankers who should piss off and go have a drink. That’s ok – we get the hint. Cheers!
This recipe is in Eau de Vie‘s beautiful book Cocktails done the Eau de Vie Way by Sven Almenning (2013, the Speakeasy Group).
*Top Shelf has since changed its name to the Australian Drinks Festival. You can (and should) buy tickets here.