Mexican Gen. Ignacio Zaragoza Seguín probably never imagined that defeating the French on May 5, 1862, would be the basis for an annual American celebration 150 years later. And he certainly couldn't have foreseen the way many Americans commemorate Cinco de Mayo: by chugging cervezas, quaffing slushy margaritas fashioned from pre-made acid-reflux-in-a-bottle, and glugging shots of discount tequila.
But to truly honor the Battle of Puebla, try a more authentic libation: sangrita.
Sangrita shouldn't be confused with sangria, the Spanish fruit-wine punch. Meaning "little blood," sangrita is a citrusy, peppery chaser. It cleanses the palate between shots of tequila blanco: a sippable (read: not cheap) white tequila that is bottled soon after distillation. Customarily, you drink both in tandem, balancing the tequila's aggressive agave with flavors that accentuate its profile while reducing the "burn."
Most American versions approximate or bastardize sangrita, calling for eccentric ingredients like tomato sauce or Worcestershire sauce. Even in Mexico, the ingredients in sangrita may vary widely. But typically the recipe, which originated in Lake Chapala near Guadalajara, is more straightforward. This version, adapted from various recipes including that of Portland cocktail blogger Jeffrey Morgenthaler, reflects more common Mexican approaches: 1 oz. freshly squeezed orange juice; 1 oz. freshly squeezed lime juice; ½ oz. grenadine (traditionally pomegranate-based); and ¼ tsp. chili powder.
If you prefer, substitute a few dashes of hot sauce, or muddle a jalapeno ring, add it to the fresh juices, and strain. Serve chilled in a double-shot glass and grab a bottle of good tequila blanco.
What qualifies as a good tequila blanco? Pittsburgh cocktail blogger Nathan Lutchansky suggests the slightly sweeter Casa Noble Crystal, which "goes down with virtually no heat, making it an excellent choice for drinkers who do not customarily sip tequila." Starting May 2, it's on sale at state stores for $34.99. The floral, earthy Espolon Blanco (also on sale May 2, for $19.99) is "a touch sweeter," Lutchansky says, and offers "surprising complexity for its price."
- Make Mine a Sangrita