I have often pondered the popularity of the margarita. Where I live it is definately the most ordered cocktail. One place here in Santa Fe has a menu of over 100 different ‘ritas.
But, demographics aside, why is this drink such a legandary mix? Does the margarita transport us to another land as the Tiki drinks do? That’s part of it, sure. A great flavor profile? Of course. But I think there is a key piece to this question, and the margarita’s mystery lies in the recipe itself. Salt.
Our palate can detects 5 sensations/flavors (the nose does the rest): sweet, sour, bitter, salt, and umami (savory, amino acid etc). Most cocktails, only excite 2-3 of these sensations. And becasue the margarita hits that salty spot, it becomes a drink of intrigue. A fellow bartender here in town, Dan Zivick, when asked to not salt the rim of the margarita glass, still puts a pinch of salt in his mixing tin to ensure the salt flavor in the drink. Yeah, it’s that important.
The same can be said for the Bloody Mary (which hits all 5!!), the Bloody Bull and the Bull Shot. The unique qualities of these drinks is they tantalize more palate sensors. This is rare to find in drinks. Recently however with the advent molecular mixology and the height of infusion and maseration, umami is making its way into the repertoire of the bar world. I was corresponding with Myles Cunlffe in the UK ,via Facebook, the other day about fat washing which is a great way to add umami to a cocktail (works with nut oils as well!)
And of course the smoke work that I have been doing (new posts coming soon including salts, cliles, and fruits) all add a new dimesion to the new drinks of the 21st century.
So, enjoy your margarita with salt, have your bourbon infused with bacon, and rasie a glass to our palates loving the Big Five.