Join Sake Gumi
For Happy Hour this week we are knee-deep in fermented agave and that's just the way I like it. Last week I promised to feature tequila all this month, so this week I am featuring cocktails made with reposado tequila. You can see the past two weeks' posts here and here.

Reposado tequila is a type that has been aged anywhere from a minimum of two months up to a maximum of one year in oak barrels. This aging process is what imparts color and depth of flavor to tequilas (to all spirits for that matter). Because reposados are only aged up to a year, they will attain only a slight woody flavor and light golden color (which they pick up from the barrels they are stored in) compared with the much darker and more complex anejos which are aged up to three years. In tequila drinks, reposado is a great choice when seeking a bit more depth without feeling as if you're wasting good money and good liquor.

Today's tequila treatise is a triple treat, as I will share with you three recipes, each using reposado tequila. The first is an original I created which I call Midnight in Mexico. Originally this was all I was going to share today but my ever-persuasive good friend Kayoko requested that I share a classic Margarita recipe. Not being one to disappoint a friend, and despite last week's mention that I was not going to do Margaritas, I decided to do her one better and share two Margarita recipes: the first, a classic and traditional Margarita, and the second, my recipe for a Pomegranate-Blueberry Margarita.

First let's get the Margaritas out of the way. There are at least seven different competing stories regarding the origin of the Margarita, and because today's topic is reposado tequila, I will indulge none of them. Besides, we have a lot of drinking to do today. So let's begin with the simplest to prepare, the original, which is one of the Essential Cocktails every respectable bar--professional or home--should be able to make.

Classic Margarita
2 oz reposado tequila (Cazadores is a great inexpensive option)
1/2 oz Cointreau
3/4 oz fresh squeezed lime juice
1/4 oz simple syrup (1.5:1 sugar to water)
sea salt for rim

Tools: cocktail shaker, strainer

Glass: double rocks

Rub a lime around the rim of the glass and dip into the salt to coat the rim, then fill glass with ice. Place the remaining ingredients in a cocktail shaker along with ice and shake well. Strain into your glass and enjoy.

If you prefer a crisper tasting Margarita, simply use unaged silver (plata) tequila instead. When I prefer a little woody flavor in my Margarita I use a reposado. But regardless of which type of tequila you use, it is absolutely essential that you use one made of 100% agave. The bottles will denote this--if your bottle doesn't, then it is probably a cheap "mixto," which may be comprised up to 49% by other types of fermented sugars as filler. The point is to use tequila, not shitty rum disguised as tequila.

It is also worth noting that many Margarita recipes call for Triple Sec instead of Cointreau. It is a matter of my strong preference to use Cointreau, which I think is superior in taste, though ultimately the choice is yours.

"Sour mix" is another commonly called-for ingredient in Margaritas, though it should be diligently avoided. Instead, just use lime juice and simple syrup. If you regularly enjoy Margaritas you can simply pre-mix your lime juice and simple syrup in the ratio which best suits your taste. And it goes without saying (though I will say it) that you should opt for fresh squeezed lime juice. It really is no burden, and the benefit is exponential compared with the bottled stuff.

And now on to the Pomegranate-Blueberry Margarita. I know it sounds a bit trendy but I happened to have pomegranate juice and blueberries, so I figured why not? Besides, this will be a little different than others you may have tried before.

Pomegranate-Blueberry Margarita
2 oz reposado tequila
1 oz pomegranate juice (you can also use blueberry-pom juice if it pleases you)
1/2 oz Cointreau
1/2 oz fresh squeezed lime juice
1/4 oz berry syrup
10-12 blueberries
Black sea salt for rim

Tools: cocktail shaker, strainer, muddler

Glass: double rocks

Rub a lime around the rim of the glass and dip into the salt to coat the rim, then fill glass with ice. Put a few blueberries aside (for garnish) and put the rest in your shaker and crush them with the muddler. Add the remaining ingredients along with ice and shake well. Strain into your glass and drop the remaining blueberries in for garnish.

Although I normally opt for fresh squeezed juices, please feel free to exempt yourself from the gratuitous punishment of squeezing juice out of pomegranate seeds and just buy a bottle. My (Persian) grandmother lives in California and I'm in Brooklyn, so I purchased my juice from the store as well. The Pom brand works fine and I used it here, but if you really want unfettered pomegranate flavor and you have a middle eastern or Indian grocery store near you, seek a brand like Sadaf.

Black sea salt, or lava salt, can be found at gourmet groceries such as Whole Foods. I happened to purchase mine when I was in Hawaii. What makes the black salt unique is that it comes from lava which results in a smokey, earthy flavor--not to mention that it provides a visually stunning color contrast.

By now I hope you've gotten your Margarita fix so I can share with you the cocktail I originally created for today, called Midnight in Mexico. My thought process for this is really just an extension of the same principle I have been following with the past couple weeks' posts on tequila; namely, to do something different with the spirit than what you may be used to. That's originally why I thought of staying away from Margaritas, despite how much I enjoy them.

Midnight in Mexico
1 1/2 oz reposado tequila
1 oz Pineau de Charentes
1 oz fresh squeezed orange juice
1/4 oz fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/4 oz rosewater
1/4 oz agave syrup (made from nectar of agave plant, similar in flavor to honey)
1 egg white (always use fresh eggs)
4 dashes Fee Brothers Peach Bitters
Pinch of cardamom

Tools: Tools: cocktail shaker, strainer plus fine strainer for double straining

Glass: chilled coupe glass (pictured)

Place all ingredients except cardamom in cocktail shaker and dry shake (without ice) for a good 15 seconds or so. Now add ice and shake again for another 15 or so seconds, until the outside of shaker is frosted. Pour the drink through both strainers into your chilled glass (called double straining) and sprinkle with a pinch of cardamom.

The purpose of double straining is to have the clearest drink possible and filter out any pulp or stray ice pieces, which is why some bartenders prefer to double strain for almost every shaken cocktail which requires straining. However since this cocktail uses egg white, double straining serves the additional purpose of creating a much smoother top layer of foam. This is important not merely for texture, but also because you want the cardamom to rest atop the plush foam so that you get a nice scent with every sip instead of having it quickly sink to the bottom.

Agave syrup can be found at most health food stores these days, but if you have trouble finding it just substitute honey syrup or simple syrup in its place.

I cannot tell you how much I enjoy sipping this drink. Every ingredient really comes through and adds an interesting touch, especially the rosewater and cardamom, which add an especially alluring floral quality that complement the citrus and tequila flavors.

I call this cocktail Midnight in Mexico basically because it was damn near midnight in Mexico when I (in Brooklyn) first created it! Yes, drinking into the wee hours is both a benefit and hazard of this job which I perform with utmost dedication to you, the reader.

If you enjoyed these elixirs, make sure to return next Wednesday where I'll be mixing cocktails with anejo tequilas (oh no he di-in't!) (oh yes I did!). Cheers and peace out!

Come back every Wednesday for Paystyle's weekly Happy Hour column. Photography by Vanessa Bahmani.