Anneliese Grazioli was just 18 when she stepped into a management position at Darwin bar Hot Tamale. Six months in, the role sparked an interest for tequila that the bartender hasn’t been able to shake in the years since. More recently, Grazioli has seen her passion for the Mexican spirit reflected in the maturing tastes of drinkers.
When Hot Tamale first opened, patrons would rock up to the Mexican bar and restaurant requesting tequila shots. These days, they’re more likely to the time to understand the spirit and willing to have a chat. It’s just one example of a cultural shift that’s seen consumers’ engagement with food and drink evolve — there’s no single reason for the transformation, but celebrations like World Margarita Day on 22 February, offer a chance to build on it.
“I think it gets a crowd in that wouldn’t have come in naturally,” says Grazioli. “It gives you an opportunity to slip a fact in here and there.”
Small details — a bit of information about where the tequila is from, for example — can be enough to spark interest, adds Grazioli.
Ultimately, it will take more than knowledge to win over prospective drinkers though. Like most classics, the margarita, and it’s most famous spins, are just four ingredients: spirit, sugar, bitters and ice. It’s how they’re manipulated that makes the margarita magic.
To start, 100 percent blue agave tequila is an absolute must. For the Hot Tamale signature margarita, 60mls of reposado is the tequila of choice, but Grazioli encourages bartenders to play around.
“Every tequila has its own characteristics,” says Grazioli. “So firstly, we look at the tequila we’re going to use and then we look at how we’re going to better the classic cocktail to complement the tequila we’re putting into it.”
The Hot Tamale margarita takes inspiration from both the classic, which features tequila, Triple Sec and lime juice, and the Tommy’s twist, which combines tequila, lime juice and agave syrup. The outcome: an orange olio saccharine in place of orange liqueur.
Keeping twists within one or two steps of the original is about more than honouring the essence of a classic; it’s practical too.
“Coming up with the idea normally happens fast, because it’s quite exciting to be able to play around with something,” says Grazioli. “Tweaking is where the time goes in. Once you have the idea, you have to try it a multitude of ways. With our orange olio we went through everything, from our ratio of orange to sugar to just using the rind with no pith to using a little bit of pith.”
The process was about finding balance. “Don’t stray too far from the classic, put your own twist on it, but don’t overpower the tequila with other ingredients,” advises Grazioli.
When it comes to what tequila is best, it’s a matter of personal taste, according to the 2019 Patron Perfectionist National Winner. For her, that means young, vibrant and agave forward brands. “A lot of aged tequilas get quite heavy in a margarita,” she says. “Cadillac margaritas, for example, use Grand Marnier and anejo tequila.”
The appeal of margaritas, after all, is their bright, fresh and citrusy profile. “All those flavours come out in unaged, blanco-style tequila,” says Grazioli. “Especially, highland ones, but some valley tequilas still do carry that characteristic.”
And it’s those characteristics that are complemented best by ingredients such as fresh lime, orange liqueur, agave nectar or, in the case of the Hot Tamale, an orange olio saccharine.
Perfect ingredients selected, there’s only one thing left do: marry them in just the right way. Say margarita and it will conjure the image of a bartender vigourously shaking their cocktail tins. There’s a simple reason to shake a margarita — the aeration results in harmony between alcohol and lime and light mouthfeel that suits the bright, citrus-forward flavour profile. It also means optimum dilution and temperature.
“To me, stiring would take too long to get up to the temperature they need to be and then it would be overdiluted,” says Grazioli.
35ml Patrón Reposado
15ml Patrón Citrónge Orange liqueur
20 ml fresh lime juice
- Chill a coupe glass
- Garnish glass with a lime wedge and ½ salt rim (optional)
- Add all ingredients and ice to a shaker
- Shake and strain into glass