While lining up for lunch at your local Chipotle you may have noticed that they offer margaritas as one of your beverage choices but if you are like me, you’ve probably never really thought much about them or even considered ordering them. Chipotle is looking to change that. The fast casual mexican restaurant has established its brand as the fresh, caring, Michael Pollan-approved fast food restaurant and they are trying to bring some of that mystique to their margaritas. I was invited to head to the Chipotle on Fountain Square to try one with their marketing director and see what I thought.
So the first thing I have to admit right away is that I am a huge fan girl of Chipotle. If I have one of those too-busy-to-cook-no-food-in-the-fridge kind of nights and I just need something fast kind of nights it is my number one choice. There is really no other restaurants offering food that tastes that good, at that price point and convenience level. Plus I don’t feel guilty for eating their carnitas because it comes from happy little piggies who were probably so grateful for their loving farmer that they were only too glad to lay down their life to support him financially. So yeah, this is probably not going to be an unbiased review
So what is different about these margaritas? First of all they are ditching the pre-made sour mix and are using fresh squeezed lemon and lime juice instead. This is really what makes a big difference. Just using fresh juice takes the taste out of the bar standard hum ho cocktail and creates something that catches your attention. The next thing they have changed is allowing guests to choose to have their drink made with Patron for a few dollars extra. Patron may not be the absolute best tequila out there but it is probably the most well known brand and it is incredibly smooth. They use an ounce and half in their margaritas and the one I tried had minimal alcohol flavor. It was nice, heavy on the citrus, and very tasty. I would very much enjoy sipping on one of those while eating chips and guacamole after work.
Which gets to the problem that I think Chipotle will continue to have with their margaritas. Nobody I know goes to Chipotle for happy hour. We go there for a quick, delicious, and reasonably priced lunch or dinner. On the piece I recorded for Bottoms Up, Laura from Cincinnati Nomerati and I both agreed that $7 for a Patron margarita made with fresh squeezed juice was a good deal. But it is also the same price as a burrito and ordering one with my dinner will mean doubling my bill. When I head out for a nice dinner or to have drinks with friends I am prepared for that but on my Chipotle nights not so much. So as much as I love Chipotle, (I will be eating there tomorrow night for their Teacher Appreciation, buy one get one free special) I don’t think I will be ordering their Patron margaritas nearly as often as I might like.
One of the great things about making cocktails is the almost endless number of ways you can combine spirits and mixers to create new taste profiles. With the rainbow of flavored vodkas and liqueurs on the market this is more true now than ever. But I am here today to let you know that there is an easier and cheaper way to get new and interesting flavors in your cocktails. You could create your own infused spirits, liqueurs, and even bitters from ingredients you have at home but the easiest way to start to really customize your cocktails is with homemade syrups.
The simplest recipe is of course for simple syrup. A huge number of cocktails call for additional sugar and simple syrup is the easiest way to get a smooth mix. Simply boil equal parts sugar and water until they are dissolved and there you have it. It will keep in the fridge for up to six months but to extend the shelf life even longer add a little vodka; I usually use about 1/2 a teaspoon per cup of syrup. To this basic recipe you can add just about any flavor you want during the boiling phase: herbs, fruit, and tea all work well. Or you can replace the water with juice and go from there. The possibilities are endless. Also these syrups can be mixed with club soda to make your own sodas and virgin cocktails for non-drinkers.
To get you started here is one I have come up with recently that I really liked but I encourage you to experiment freely because there is not a lot you can do to mess this up.
Vanilla Violet Syrup
1 cup fresh violets
1 cup boiling water
1 cut vanilla bean
1 cup sugar
Fresh lemon juice
First pick the violets growing profusely this time of year in your front yard or better yet, have a small child pick them for you. Put the violets in a mason jar and cover with one cup of boiling water. Let the mixture sit over night or up to 24 hours to steep.
Strain the mixture and press out all of the liquid. It will be kind of blue grey at this point. That is ok. Put the violet water in a pan, add the sugar and the vanilla bean and bring to a low boil for 10 minutes. Strain the syrup through a nice thick cheesecloth because the vanilla will leave specks. Next add the lemon juice to adjust the color. It doesn’t take much so add just about 1/4 teaspoon to start and add more until you get the color you want. Store in a covered jar in the refrigerator. This syrup makes a delicious cocktail that is a variation on the aviator cocktail so I called it:
Shake well over ice and serve in a cocktail glass.
I realize that violets are a little fiddly and obscure as an ingredient but since I’ve really been getting into the idea of local drinks I couldn’t resist using something that was literally growing right outside my front door. Check out Episode 10 of Bottoms Up for recipes for Mandarin Orange Syrup and Rosemary Mint Syrup if you want recipes that don’t involve foraging.
This beer (the second of 2 in the series so far) is a very cool idea that hasn’t gotten much attention lately. Most people drink beer whenever they feel like it, some people keep beer for years letting it age, very few people strive to drink beer as fast as possible to experience an ultra fresh brew. That is Stone’s aim with this beer, and it’s predecessor the Enjoy By 9.21.12. They bottled and shipped this beer as fast as they could and once November 9th has come and gone they are taking back all the bottles and tossing them. This ensures that if this beer is consumed, it’s consumed fresh. The concept doesn’t matter much for many kinds of beers, especially my favorite Belgian ales, but when it comes to IPAs and super hoppy double IPAs the fresher the better. Hops lose their aroma and flavor with every day that goes by so Stone aims to make sure you get all the flavor. Now, don’t worry and think that the next IPA you buy is crap because it’s a few weeks old. A strawberry you buy at Kroger is still tasty, just not as rockin’ as one plucked off the vine.