I used to believe in drinking seasonally—cold gin in the summer and hot whiskey in the winter—but I learned better in 2003 when I started going to the first bar I ever loved, the Kinsale Tavern on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Like the rest of the very best bars, the Kinsale's charm is hard to summarize, but I can say that for me, little of the allure was found in the extensive beer list. The Kinsale is full of the pale, stale Euro-bait that is either too subtle for my oafish palate or, just maybe, shitty beer. So after a frustrating lap around the taps convinced me that I would never like any of the various Skunkenhoffs and Dinkelsomethings favored by the Kinsale's otherwise exemplary staff of full-time day-drinkers, I settled on Guinness. Some people think it's strange to drink dark beer in the summer, but I've found that the position of the earth in relation to the sun has very little bearing on my taste buds.
I find the idea of seasonal drinking to be too restrictive, but I understand that some of you get off on being disciplined, so if your calendar prohibits certain drinks at certain times, then you are surely relieved that today, Tres de Mayo, marks the beginning of margarita-shopping season.
My esteemed colleague Paul Clark wrote a column last month titled "When Bad Things Happen to Good Drinks" that started a discussion about which classic drinks are most commonly killed by shoddy preparation. I'm not nearly as well-drank as Paul and the other real booze writers on this site, but I still feel qualified to say that the worst of them all has got to be the margarita. My whole life has been an elaborate series of shortcuts and weasel-outs, but even I get pedantic when it comes to assembling a proper margarita. You need to use real fruit!!! And if you're not going to spring for Cointreau or Grand Marnier, just skip that step. Don't wreck your nice tequila and your real citrus with cruddy $7-per-liter triple sec: Squeeze in a little shot of orange juice and an extra sip of tequila and you're all set—so long as you remember to call it something other than a margarita when the inspector comes calling.
But since even my pedantry is rimmed with laziness, it should come as no surprise that I'm not dead set against the idea of premixed cocktails. I can't say I've found many that I actually like, but I have no problem with the idea of cracking open a cold can of whatever you want to put into a cold can. The makers of El Jimador—my favorite low-end 100-percent agave tequila—have recently decided to take a swing at premixed tequila drinks with a lineup headlined by a can of margarita. They sent me a few samples.
El Jimador Tequila Cocktail: Margarita claims to be "tequila, triple sec, and natural flavors." The tequila's a good start, because a lot of premixes are based on grain alcohol imitating whatever spirit you're supposed to think you're drinking. And triple sec, eh, that's fine, at least it's alcohol. But then come the natural flavors. That's where they always get you. The other red flag is the low alcohol content that mars most premixes. This one's the standard 5 percent, which means there's got to be a whole hell of a lot of natural flavors around to dilute the ounce-ish of tequila in the 12-ounce can.
But for all that, I have to say it tastes fine. Of course it's nothing like a real margarita, but sometimes you've got to drink out of a paper bag or under similar duress. You ever try to make fresh sour mix on the subway? Me too, and we both know it's barely worth the effort unless you're going all the way to the airport or something. The El Jimador premixed margarita is Gatorade-colored and has fizz where the froth's supposed to be, and just seeing the gaudy multigreen can makes it taste like Mountain Dew, but I would happily drink eight of these on an inflatable raft if the situation arose.
I can't say the same for the Paloma and Spicy Mango Margarita flavors, though I could fight my way through a few of the Paloma if I had to. It tastes like slightly skunked Fresca and I'm a sucker for anything with grapefruit or alcohol, never mind both. But the mango number is unbearable. This one's lying on all counts: It bears no resemblance to a mango or a margarita, and I'm pretty sure "disappointment" isn't a spice.
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