In the build-up to National Tequila Day (on Saturday) we’re enjoying a twist on a standard that originated from a small family restaurant and has gone on to become a fixture on cocktail menus across the world. This week regular contributor Lucy is making Tommy’s Margarita.
The Tommy’s Margarita is an accidental modern classic, born out of a passion for Tequila and the boundless enthusiasm of the bar community. The drink essentially sees the triple sec in a Margarita replaced with agave nectar. But to get to know the Tommy’s Margarita, first you need to get to know Tommy’s.
Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant in San Francisco is one of my all-time favourite bars. The neighbourhood venue in the city’s Richmond district is a haven for Tequila fans, locals, football watchers, Mexican food lovers and anyone and everyone in between.
The actual bar area sits in a partitioned section along the side of the restaurant. If you’re lucky enough to get a stool up at the bar, don’t expect to move for the night. Instead, settle in for the Tequila journey of your life – and marvel at just how fast bartenders can squeeze limes.
This warm hug of a place is home to hundreds of Tequilas, a collection built up by highly respected Tequila expert – and one of the nicest people in the industry – Julio Bermejo. His parents, Tomas and Elmy, opened Tommy’s in 1965 and the family’s awesome approach to hospitality is a testament to the bar’s longevity.
Creating Tommy’s Margarita
Today, Tommy’s is famous for its eponymous Margarita cocktail. A drink that is now enjoyed all over the world. “I never started to try and ‘create’ a modern classic cocktail,” Bermejo says. “In fact, several events formed the perfect storm.”
Bermejo talks about getting drunk on beer, rum and brandy at an early age and feeling “horrible hangovers”, which eventually led him to try Tequila. He began learning more and more about Tequila – “Herradura Reposado specifically”, he says. At the same time, he mentions the introduction of agave fructose in Northern California, and a big one: “Making the decision to stop selling regular [mixto] Tequila in favour of 100% agave Tequila as our house pour, when 98% of US Tequila consumers only drank mixto.”
The move was ground-breaking. And it was motivated by Bermejo’s desire for his Margaritas to taste of Tequila – not the modifiers or triple sec. “What ended up happening as a by-product of no longer serving mixto, is I did away with the notion of ‘top shelf’ Tequila,” he explains. “Then, as I began to stock more and more 100% agave Tequilas, I started making Margaritas with other Tequilas to demonstrate to guests how much of a difference replacing the Tequila made to the Margarita.”
He says that for drinkers, the difference was “night and day”. His guests eventually found their favourite Margarita and their favourite 100% agave Tequila.
Spreading the love
Though the Tommy’s Margarita was born in San Francisco, Bermejo believes it was made on the international bar scene.
“I think the real story is how it became so popular,” he says. For that, he gives credit to bar industry legend and Tequila expert Dre Masso and the late, great Henry Besant – who was a titan in the Tequila world – as well as the International Bartenders Association. They helped put Tommy’s Margarita on the map. And on the menu.
When it comes to choosing a Tequila to make a Tommy’s Margarita with, I get the impression it’s like asking a person to pick a favourite child. Bermejo doesn’t name brands, but he offers some pretty solid advice all the same. “I always say that if one wants a great Tommy’s, use a great Tequila. If one wants a bad Tommy’s, use crappy Tequila.” Wise words.
He also says that because there are people, like him, who love Margaritas all day, the time and climatic conditions can greatly influence a choice. “So, for example, if you live in London and you’re out at night and it is chilly, I would like a Tommy’s with more body and length,” he explains. “So, Tommy’s made with a reposado or even an añejo. If you are in Ibiza for summer, then you need a very bright and crisp Tommy’s, say one made with a great Highland blanco.”
Making a Tommy’s
The night we visited Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant, we got chatting to a guy who turned out to be involved in American football. The Tequila flowed and Bermejo ensured we were very, very well educated when it came to understanding how different Tequilas influence the taste of a Tommy’s Margarita. So well educated, in fact, that I can’t remember which was my favourite. Or much about American football. So, here’s my home go-to Tequila brand in Bermejo’s modern classic…
60ml Olmeca Altos Plata
30ml freshly squeezed lime juice
15ml agave syrup
Salt the rim of your glass if you like. Then, shake all ingredients with ice and strain into your ice-filled rocks glass. Garnish with a lime wedge.