It’s that time of year again folks! That’s right, it’s Cinco de Mayo, or as some call it, “Cinco de Drinko,” which is Americans’ favorite Mexican holiday that most Mexicans don’t celebrate.
Contrary to popular belief, Cinco de Mayo is not the day of Mexican independence. That would be September 16. Rather, Cinco de Mayo is a celebration of the Mexican army’s victory over the French (yeah the French tried to get in on the action too) in the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. As far as battle victories go, it was considered an upset, as the French army was larger and considered much stronger than the Mexican contingent.
In Mexico Cinco de Mayo is hardly a holiday, but on this side of the border we all know it’s a different story. So why all the fanfare over here?
It all started in 1863 in California, which was then known as Alto California (which Mexicans distinguished from Baja, or Southern, California, which was South of the border, with the border itself having been established just 15 years prior as a result of Mexico’s defeat in the Mexican-American War). According to a paper published a few years ago by the UCLA Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture, the celebrations began as a way for Mexicans living on this side of the border to show support for their countrymen fighting against the French invaders. And as we can all attest, it has caught on pretty well.
Although the Margarita is the cocktail Americans most associate with Cinco de Mayo (or with anything Mexican for that matter) I figured I'd present a few alternative options for those of you who want to take your agave enjoyment in a slightly different direction.
To start, there’s the lesser known but just as worthy classic called El Diablo, created by Trader Vic. Then you have a modern-day classic created by Robert Hess called La Rosita, which is basically a tequila-based variation of a Negroni. Or you can try one of my past creations, the bittersweet Amaro Twilight or the fall-flavored El Grito, which is given a jolt of Jersey Lightning via the addition of applejack.
And last but not least, I offer the smoky and seductive La Guadalupana, created just for you.
2 oz reposado tequila (I used Partida to elegant effect)
1.5 oz grilled grapefruit juice (instructions below)
.5 oz wild hibiscus syrup (found here or simply make your own by combining brewed hibiscus tea with equal part sugar)
.5 oz Cointreau
.5 oz fresh lemon juice
1 barspoon (approx tsp) A.B. Smeby Highland Heather Bitters
Good pinch of ground Hawaiian black lava salt
2 oz ginger beer to top
Tools: shaker, strainer
Receptacle: any gourd, goblet, bowl, or other fear-inducing vessel
Garnish: candied hibiscus flower
Combine everything except ginger beer in ice-filled shaker and shake it muy bueno y fuerte. Fill your drink bucket with crushed ice, then strain the drink into it. Top with the ginger beer, give it a light stir, pop the garnish on it and enjoy! Hay que refresco!
Now for the grilled grapefruit juice: simply slice a grapefruit in half (through the axis, not along it) and pop the halves under a broiler with the cut sides facing the broiler flame (I find it useful to position the rack close to the flame). Broil until slightly charred, about 5-10 minutes depending on your broiler. Remove from the oven and let it cool. Once it’s cooled, squeeze out the juice, retaining as much of the charred bits. Be careful not to get too much pith while squeezing or else the juice may taste unpleasantly bitter. As an alternative you can use a culinary blowtorch (the ones they use for crème brulees) for those who have one.
At the moment the Brooklyn-based A.B. Smeby Bitters line has yet to hit the market (see the bottom of last week’s post for explanation), but the collective fingers of the mixology community are crossed in hopes that it will soon become available. In the meantime, if you want to impart the smoky flavor of the Highland Heather bitters for this drink, I suggest substituting an equal amount of a smoky mezcal like Del Maguey. It won’t give you all the notes found in the bitters, but it’ll hold you over for now.
Happy Cinco de Drinko! Salud!
*Got a cocktail question? Hit me on twitter @paystyle, email me at payman(at)lifesacocktail(dot)com, or simply drop me a comment below.