What celebrates the return of warm weather better than a margarita on a secluded Santa Fe patio with just the right blend of tequila and lime, sunshine and shade?
Maybe a ticket to ensure these small pleasures last all summer long.
That’s what organizers of the Santa Fe Margarita Trail Passport thought when they chose Cinco de Mayo as its launch date.
Cinco de Mayo is the time of year when the New Mexico sun climbs high enough in the sky to allow people to enjoy outdoor dining.
Of course, May 5 celebrates the 1862 triumph of Mexican soldiers in the battle of Puebla against the French army. That army wanted a foothold in Mexico after the Mexican-American War of 1846-48.
“Celebrating the best food with your best friends is at the heart of living in or visiting Santa Fe,” says Mayor Javier Gonzales in a news release. “The Santa Fe Margarita Trail will help our visitors discover exceptional mixology talent and hidden cocktail gems in our city while they create very special memories.”
The passport, available for $3 for those 21 years and older at TOURISM Santa Fe
Visitor Centers, describes all 30 participating establishments and shares a margarita recipe from each one.
The passport offers visitors a dollar discount on special margaritas. Most range between $7 and $12.
Participants can collect two stamps a day to encourage responsible drinking.
Many recipes have two or more ounces of alcohol which affects some people more strongly at Santa Fe’s 7,200-feet altitude than at sea level.
“Go nice and slow,” the passport cautions. People who don’t drink alcohol can also collect stamps when they savor margaritas without alcohol.
Five passport stamps can be traded for a T-shirt. A signed “The Great Margarita Book” by Al Lucero equals 20 stamps or a filled book earns a margarita bartending kit.
Lucero writes that Santa Fe can take credit for introducing Mexican tequila more broadly outside of Mexico. “Santa Fe can boast that it was the first city in the New World to import tequila from Mexico. Margaritas are made from tequila.”
He suggests that Spaniards traveling north may have brought the agave pulque, the fermented root that after double distillation becomes tequila. This “Mexican brandy” would have held the colonists until their grape cuttings could produce enough fruit for wine and more potent brandy.
In his book, Lucero writes that using a quality 100 percent blue agave silver or blanco tequila in a margarita likely makes as much flavor sense as mixing the drink with a reposado or añejo, tequilas aged longer. Tequila is produced in certain regions in Mexico and its production is monitored by the Mexican government.
Mixologist Jessica Butler, bar manager at Derailed at Sage Inn on Cerrillos Road, says the Margarita Trail Passport is an opportunity to taste the best margaritas Santa Fe has to offer.
“Santa Fe is a foodie town, so the trail is an awesome way for tourists and residents to get a taste of local flavor,” she says.
Butler says Derailed’s Tequila Mockingbird with fresh jalapeño is a palate pleaser for many guests. Another unique take on the classic margarita is one with sage-infused simple syrup. Butler says crafting a delicious margarita means starting with the best tequila and liqueur, using fresh lime and other juices and homemade fresh mixers.
Not only do fresh ingredients improve flavor, but they boost the aroma: “You taste with your nose before your mouth,” she says.
Chris Milligan, manager of Secreto Bar and Lounge in the Hotel St. Francis on Don Gaspar, took his time formulating Secreto’s unique smoked sage margarita.
He’s heard some margarita origin stories – attributing the drink to Hemingway,
Bogart or other celebrities – but dismisses them, saying they sound like they may have been fueled by a night of tequila drinking.
“In reality, I believe the margarita comes from the daisy family of drinks popular in the 1800s,” he says. The basis of those daisy drinks were alcohol, often brandy, citrus and sweetener.
And, as he points out, margarita means daisy in Spanish.
Like his other carefully crafted cocktails, he wanted his margarita to have an unmistakable Secreto identity.
He became attracted to smoked sage because of its use in spiritual ceremonies and the local availability of the culinary herb.
So he decided to shake it all together.
First in a cocktail mixing glass, he creates a classic margarita with 1½ ounces of reposada or añejo tequila and 1 ounce orange liqueur, adding the freshly squeezed juice of a large lime, about half an ounce, and then fills that glass with ice.
To trap the sage smoke he stacks three metal cocktail shakers in a pyramid shape. He says bar mixing glasses would work as well.
He lights the dried sage with a cigarette lighter and allows the smoke to fill the top shaker until it begins to curl out beneath it. He then pours the margarita and ice into the shaker, covering it with the glass. He shakes the cocktail vigorously for about 10 seconds.
He pours the margarita into a cocktail glass, rimmed with hickory smoked salt and garnishes it with a lime wheel and a sage leaf.
He says he smokes the salt in his grill at home. He runs the rim of the glass, rubbed with a fresh lime, around a saucer of the smoked salt. Watch him in action on vimeo.com/33236671.
“We wanted smoke, fire and spice in our margarita,” he says. “I’ve always believed that a cocktail is the first course of the evening and sets the stage for everything to follow.”
SECRETO BAR AND LOUNGE SMOKED SAGE MARGARITA
1½ ounces Azuñia reposada tequila
1 ounce O3 Brazilian orange liqueur
½ ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
Ice for shaking
Mix the cocktail. Smoke dried sage in the glass and shake the cocktail as described, serving in a hickory-salt rimmed cocktail glass. Garnish with a lime wheel and a sage leaf.
DERAILED AT THE SAGE TEQUILA MOCKINGBIRD
1½ ounces Espolón blanco tequila
1 bar spoon of diced jalapeños
¾ ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
½ ounce St. Germain orange liqueur
½ ounce pineapple juice
Muddle jalapeño with lime juice. Add other ingredients, shake with ice. Pour into a salted rim glass. Garnish with a lime wedge.
Bar manager Jessica Butler suggests adding a little agave syrup, bumping up the lime juice to an ounce, the pineapple juice to an ounce and adding an ounce of fresh orange juice to replace the orange liqueur. Combine the ingredients as described above.
MARIA’S NEW MEXICAN KITCHEN LOS LUCEROS MARGARITA
2 ounces Sauza Cien Años Añejo Tequila
1 ounce Cointreau
6 ounces fresh lemon juice
Shake with ice and serve in a salted rim margarita glass.