As cocktails go, margaritas are hard to beat. Strong, sweet, sour, and simple to make, the traditional blend of tequila, orange liqueur, and citrus juice is a crowd-pleaser any time of year. But for Cinco de Mayo, something a bit more special is called for. The holiday officially commemorates the Mexican army’s victory over invading French forces in the 1862 Battle of Puebla, but here in the States, it’s become a celebration of all things south of the border—tequila most definitely included. This May 5, toast it with a High Plains Margarita, a tropical-and-savory twist on the classic created by Shaun Gordon, lead bartender at the former Truman Tavern in Decatur, Georgia.
Three things elevate Gordon’s High Plains Margarita. First, the drink incorporates charred pineapple, which gives it extra sweetness tinged with smoke. Gordon, who started his bartending career at Prohibition in Charleston, South Carolina, grew up in Bangor, Maine, and every summer, his family would grill all sorts of different ingredients. “I remember how I liked things a little blackened and the bitterness and smoke that it imparted,” he says. “So charring ingredients is always something I have been into.” You shouldn’t need more than a few seconds per side to char the pineapple on a grill or beneath a broiler. Second, fresh sage adds a savory, earthy note that Gordon enjoys with the pepperiness of tequila. Finally, the recipe calls for yuzu, an extra-tart citrus fruit native to Asia and popular in Japanese and Korean cuisines. (You can find fresh yuzu or bottled juice at your local Asian market, or substitute a 2-to-1 mix of lemon and orange juice, Gordon says.)
Why the High Plains name? While working on the recipe at home, Gordon was watching his favorite Western, Clint Eastwood’s High Plains Drifter, and when he got in the car to go to work the next day, the first song that came on the radio was the Beastie Boys track of the same name. “Sometimes I struggle for names,” he says. “This one just fell into my lap.”