On Cinco de Mayo, consider a few margarita alternatives.
Eric Felten, in a quick-witted little book titled How's Your Drink?, recommends the Paloma, a grapefruit cooler, as the gin-and-tonic of the Latin world. There are two big ways to win big. For a more delicate mood, use tequila, lime juice, grapefruit juice, a pinch of sea salt, and club soda. (Club soda, not seltzer; you want the chalkiness.) For a fabulously indelicate mood, you mix the tequila, the lime, and the salt and top it off with grapefruit soda. Jarritos is perhaps most authentic, but Squirt is no slouch, and it is also possible to jack up Fresca with a splash of Sprite. Pro: You can drink these all day. Con: You can drink these all day.
Tequila con Sangrita
This is a grown-up's shot-and-chaser alternative also known, among people who are trying too hard, as "Tequila, Pancho Villa-style." There are two glasses before you. One bears a barrel-aged tequila—an añejo—that is as sophisticated as any single malt scotch and which glows like "scorpion honey," to steal a phrase from Tom Robbins. You would roll it around your tongue forever if it weren't for the other glass, which is filled with sangrita—"a little blood"—an elevated Bloody Mary mix sweetened with orange juice and sometimes grenadine. You sip and you chase and you savor and you linger, attempting to achieve equilibrium; at once pensive and impish, you wonder if any Cancun spring break rec rooms have adapted the beverage into a lick-slam-suck-type body shot. Perhaps they would serve the salt on the girl's clavicle and you would slurp the ambrosial tomato juice from the cup of her freckled ear ….
Again, I urge moderate pacing, lest you grow to share Kingsley Amis' incuriosity about the beverage: "I have never seen it served outside Mexico, though since drinking a good deal of it there I may not have looked very hard, I admit."
Lowry, a prolific drunk and occasional novelist, wrote Under the Volcano, the 1947 classic about a British consul wasting away again in a dryly apocalyptic version of Cuernavaca. The drink that bears his name calls for white rum, orange liqueur, and lemon juice to be mixed with tequila (or mescal) and for the mixture to be strained into a glass with a salted rim. If you tweak the most common recipes to achieve a gentler ratio of tequila/mescal to rum, then the cocktail will achieve a ruined grandeur evocative of the novel. If you do not tweak the ratio, then you, the drinker, will achieve a ruined grandeur evocative of the novelist.
Martin Amis: "Dipsomaniacs are either born that way, or they just end up that way. Vastly distinguished in the sphere of dipsomania, Malcolm Lowry, it seems, actually planned to be that way, from childhood."
The way to enjoy this one is to bat your eyelashes at the barkeep and ask her to mix tequila, fresh lime juice, honey, and Angostura bitters in a shaker, to shake, and to serve the pink potion over ice in a rocks glass. I count no references to tequila among Humbert Humbert's horrible confessions, but of course Dolores Haze was conceived at the siesta hour on a honeymoon trip to Vera Cruz. It is a mysterious drink. The dynamics of its bittersweet tang shift as the ice melts, and, like a Pink Gin, a Lolita is really something to gaze at in candlelight. Nabokov was a grapheme-color synesthete who, in Speak, Memory, wrote of experiencing the letter M as "a fold of pink flannel," and this most elegant of all tequila cocktails is a low-lit mmmm.
If none of these options appeal and if you find yourself, Thursday night, in a cantina where a natural margarita is impossible to come by, then please remember tequila's heartiness. I mean, there are variations on the Bloody Maria that call for clam juice, beef bouillon, and even blue cheese to be slopped into the tomato mix, so it follows that it's perfectly acceptable to order a shot of the cheapest mixto, dump it in your salsa, and dig in with your nacho chips as the world turns, bringing another tequila sunrise to the rude horizon.
Troy Patterson is Slate's television critic.
Margaritas by Brand X Photos.