Spotted Bear Spirits, Whitefish

Story & photography by Lido Vizzutti
The margarita’s origin story comes in as many flavors and colors as the cocktail itself.

One version depicts Mexican restaurateur Carlos (Danny) Herrera concocting a tequila drink for the stunning Zigfield showgirl Marjorie King in 1938. King was supposedly allergic to all forms of alcohol except tequila, and Herrera added salt and lime to make it more palatable.

In another, a socialite named Margaret Sames from Dallas, Texas shook up a tequila drink during a 1948 house party. Among the guests was Tommy Hilton, who added the drink to the bar menu at his hotel chain. Jose Cuervo advertisements, however, plugged the cocktail as early as 1945 with the tagline, “Margarita: It’s more than a girl’s name.”

A good guess is that it evolved from the “daisy” — a mix of alcohol, citrus juice and grenadine served over shaved ice. Made with gin or whiskey, at some point a Mexican-influenced daisy became known by its Spanish translation: margarita.

Last May, Spotted Bear Spirits in Whitefish released its own agave — only agave spirits made in Mexico can be called tequila — bringing a little liquid sunshine from the south to Montana patios.

“Not many people are doing agave in the States,” said Lauren Oscilowski, managing partner at Spotted Bear Spirits. “And in Montana, I don’t think there are any on the market right now except for this one.”

Made with 100 percent organic single-source blue agave, Spotted Bear’s spirit is sweet, somewhat floral and fruity.

“That’s how it enters,” said Oscilowski. “It finishes with a kind of peppery spice of a tequila. There’s a lot of eucalyptus in it, and a freshness like freshly cut grass. So it’s really light and bright and sippable and super smooth.”

Besides the source, the other distinction between Oscilowski’s agave and traditional tequila is in the raw ingredients.

Tequila is distilled from the fermented agave fruit, a large succulent with thick leaves growing like a rosette of arrows. The fleshy leaves are trimmed away to reveal a large, oval-shaped “heart” or piña, reminiscent of an 80- to 200-pound pinecone.

The piñas are ground to a pulp and the fibrous juice is collected for fermentation.

“So that’s what they distill. It has a lot more flavor to it,” said Oscilowski. “What we’re getting is a more refined agave. It’s more fibrous, kind of in between the piña and what you’d buy at the supermarket. So it has more flavor, just not as robust as a tequila would be.”

Pour it neat and let the natural agave flavors warm the palate. Or follow Oscilowski’s lead and mix it with a rhubarb and strawberry lemonade.

“What we’re finding is people that love a sipping tequila like (ours), and people who had way too much Cuervo in college and think they don’t like tequila try it and think, ‘Oh, this is really delicious,’” said Oscilowski. “It’s cool when you can educate people.”

Recipes

Summer Lovin’
1.5 oz Spotted Bear Agave
4 oz strawberry rhubarb lemonade
Dash of Salt
Shake well—citrus wants to be shaken—and strain into iced collins glass. Garnish with rhubarb ribbon and strawberry wedge.

Traditional Margarita
Salt, to coat rim of glass
3.5 cl tequila
2 cl Cointreau/triple sec
1.5 cl freshly squeezed lime juice
Coat rim of a cocktail glass with salt and chill. Pour all of the remaining ingredients into a shaker two thirds full of ice cubes. Shake well. Strain into glass.

Fun Facts

The 1937 Café Royal Cocktail book by William Tarling has a cocktail called the Picador (a type of bullfighter), which calls for the same proportions as a margarita: tequila, fresh lime and Cointreau/triple sec.

In Dallas, Texas, 1971, inspired by the 7-Eleven Slurpee machine, Mariano Martinez adapted a soft serve ice cream machine to make margaritas and dubbed it “The World’s First Frozen Margarita Machine.” That machine is now in the collection of the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian Institution.

As of 2008, the margarita was the most commonly ordered drink in the United States, accounting for 18 percent of all mixed drink sales.

In 2013, 230 FIFTH Rooftop Bar & Penthouse Lounge in Manhattan created the world’s most expensive margarita, costing $1,200.