THE STORM CLOUDS are gathering on the horizon. The air of change hangs heavy, pregnant and far reaching. Things are going to change in the cocktail world, probably for good, and not necessarily for the better. The coming month will be one to remember, especially with Cinco de Mayo only four weeks away. Mark my words.
In that time it’s going to happen something like this:
Customer: “I’ll have a margarita on the rocks with salt.”
Bartender: “What kind of tequila?”
Customer: “Doesn’t matter, something inexpensive.”
Bartender: “That will be $17.”
Customer: “What?! For the cheap stuff?”
I have made the argument repeatedly that the most important ingredient in a margarita is not the alcohol but the mix. The ratio is at least 2:1 mixer to spirit, and soon that mixer is going to be the most expensive part to boot.
A recent New York Times opinion piece spelled out the problem. Author David Karp cited three issues: “The culprits are weather, disease and even Mexican criminals.” I’ll leave it to you to read the details (http://nyti.ms /1orc4ZG).
Whatever the cause, limes have quadrupled in price in the past month, from about $25 a case to more than $125.
Mexico is the largest exporter of limes in the world, producing about 95 percent of the world’s supply. Ironically, there is not even a word for lime in Mexican Spanish, instead a lime is called a limon verde or green lemon. Doubly ironic, because it is not the “Mexican” lime that provides the bulk of that export, but rather the “Persian” lime. In the U.S., the Mexican lime is known as the “key lime” and is a smaller, tarter, less-green version than the one many Americans are used to and, as such, is rarely used to make cocktails. The Persian lime, that ubiquitous bright green seedless version known to almost all Americans, is paramount in the food and beverage industry.
It wouldn’t be such a big deal, except that limes not only make the margarita world go round, but they also make the entire cocktail world rotate. In addition to the Mexican classic, there’s the Moscow Mule, the cosmopolitan, Dark and Stormy, gimlet, mojito, daiquiri among others, all made with lime. Add into that mix all the drinks made with sweet and sour (usually a combination of lemon and lime juice), and the list expands exponentially.
What about garnishes? A lemon wedge in your gin and tonic? Can you imagine the savagery? It’s a veritable affront to civilization. And let’s not even dip into the Cuba libre, a rum and coke in every way except for the addition of a lime wedge. Lemons, please. We might as well salute Castro and Spanish Imperialism.
Sure, there are plenty of drinks made with lemon juice, such as lemon drops, collins, etc. But in the 150 years of mixology, it is the lime, by virtue of Darwinian survival of the fittest that has risen to the top. Now there is going to be a price to pay for that, a rather heavy one. Quintuple to be exact.
I blame it on the Daisy. Whatever margarita origin story you want to believe, one thing becomes clear. The margarita — tequila, triple sec, Curacao and lime — was invented no earlier than the 1930s at the end of America’s Prohibition. The Daisy, however — brandy, rum, Curacao, lemon juice and gomme syrup (a type of sugar syrup) — dates to at least 1876 and Jerry Thomas’ “Bon Vivant’s Companion.” Take a translation of Daisy into Spanish (margarita), switch from foreign rum and brandy, swap the lemon juice to lime juice, add some salt and you set us on a crash course with destiny. A margarita is not a type of tequila Daisy, it
is a tequila daisy or, in Spanish, a margarita. Period.
It all brings us to the present and these thoughts:
• “The myth of unlimited production brings war in its train as inevitably as clouds announce a storm,” said Albert Camus.
• Persian limes when fully ripe are yellow.
• The most popular tequila drink in Mexico is the Paloma, a combination of tequila and grapefruit soda or juice. It’s ironic because the United States produces as much grapefruit as the rest of the world combined.
• The grass (or fruit) always seems to be greener on the other side of the fence, or border, as it were.
As for me I’m switching to tequila Daisies (with lemon). The rest of you better get your $17 ready.