Margaritas will always have a special place in my heart as they were always a staple at my family gatherings in New Mexico. They are endlessly modifiable, always enjoyable, and they pair beautifully with every type of food under the sun. During my grandmother’s 85th birthday party, in Santa Fe, I had to make three separate trips to the liquor store for margarita supplies. Those octogenarians could really put away the cocktails. So it’s no wonder when I found myself behind a bar, one of the first cocktails I started experimenting with was the margarita.
While perfecting my Palomas and mastering margaritas, I started to try out spirits with strange names like Sotol and Mezcal. They were so radically different from the agave-based spirits I was used to, that I struggled to serve them for weeks. I wasn’t confident handing a cocktail to a customer. While spending my hard-earned tips in the 60’s themed, James Beard Award-Winning, Atomic Lounge, I noticed the bartenders were slicing orange peels and expressing them over open flames. The result was a Cirque Du Solei-esque fireball kissing the rim of their cocktails. Enraptured, I asked them why they did that, thinking in the back of my mind it was all for show.
The patient co-founder and bartender, Feizal Valli, took the time to explain that the fire actually caramelized the orange oils, and highlighted the burnt orange flavors of his famous Sex Panther cocktail. Also, it looked pretty cool. So I took that knowledge and applied it behind the bar, leaning into the smoky flavor of Mezcal instead of trying to cover it up. A Mezcal margarita shouldn’t taste like a Tequila margarita. It’s a different spirit entirely and requires a different type of approach.
While flaming more orange peels than I can remember, I began to love the one-of-a-kind, subtle flavor it adds to margaritas. Mezcal also boasts a one-of-a-kind taste, it combines the bright notes of agave with a dark, rich smoky flavor. In this cocktail, the smokiness is comforting like a campfire and balanced by the woodsy notes of rosemary and the zest from the citrus. Finally a fair amount of sweetness cushions the impact of this cocktail. So whether you’re curled up by the fire as the last winter storms breeze through the street or you’re soaking up the first emerging rays of Springtime Sun, this is the perfect cocktail to keep you company.
Smoky Rosemary Margarita
Prep Time: 5 min
- 3 SPRIGS OF ROSEMARY
- 1 OZ FRESH LIME JUICE (ABOUT 1 LIME)
- 0.75 OZ OF BLUE AGAVE NECTAR (OR SIMILAR SWEETENER)
- 2 OZ OF MEZCAL (LIKE SOMBRA JOVEN)
- GARNISH: SMOKY ROSEMARY SPRIG, ORANGE PEEL
- There are many ways to flame an orange peel, but if you want to see a big fireball and don’t want to burn your fingertips, I recommend using the disc method. To cut this peel you are actually going to put down your Y-peeler and pick up a small short knife. Cut into the orange, without hitting the fruit, and rotate the orange with your other hand, until you have a circular disc about the size of a can lid. With the colorful side of the peel facing the glass, hold it about 6 inches away from the cocktail and light your match. Quickly run the flame along the colorful side of the peel (this is called priming) for a second or two, then hold the match about halfway between the peel and the cocktail. Crimp the sides of the disc and watch the oils ignite on their way down into the rim of your cocktail. This will impart a caramelized, almost burnt-orange flavor and aroma into your cocktail
Richard Betts left a career in environmental studies to become a Master Sommelier, and then he launched one of the most sustainable spirit producers in the world, Sombra Mezcal. In addition to donating 1 percent of all sales to the organizations that benefit the environment, Sombra is on the cutting edge of sustainable spirit production. The distillery in Oaxaca, Mexico runs on solar energy, they source organic agave, harvest wood sustainably, and capture rainwater for use in their spirits. By-products from the distilling process, (mainly plant fiber and water) are turned into adobe bricks that are donated to earthquake-impacted communities so that they can rebuild their homes. Sombra is working to turn the entire beverage industry green, even holding the first-ever sustainable cocktail competition, and encouraging bars and restaurants around the world to work sustainably. Next time you’re searching for an award-winning sustainable spirit, look no further than Sombra.