While rock salt and cheap margarita mix have established a place in the hearts of Cinco de Mayo celebrants and summertime backyard partiers across the U.S., Mexico's versatile spirits offer sophisticated alternatives to the old standard. Cesar Arenas, lead bartender for Los Angeles's Mercado restaurants, recommends commemorating the Battle of Puebla with mezcal, a smoky spirit that seems to invoke the scent of cannon fire. Mezcal's unique flavor results from a centuries-old production process, which involves roasting the heart of the maguey plant in underground pit ovens.
If tequila's your thing, Guadalajaran-born Arenas suggests trying an authentic Mexican favorite like the paloma. Arenas shares his take on the paloma as well as his new favorite May 5 mezcal libation, El Sueño, both of which he developed for Mercado’s Cinco de Mayo cocktail program.
"I really like this drink not only because of the fresh quality of the ingredients, but also because the poblano peppers, jicama, and chile rim represent the colors of the Mexican flag," Arenas says.
- 1/2 oz fresh lime juice
- 1/4 oz yellow chartreuse
- 2 oz mezcal
- 1 slice of jicama
- 2 slices poblano pepper (veins and seeds removed)
- chile salt
- Line an old fashioned glass with chile salt. Combine lime juice, chartreuse, and mezcal in a shaker full of ice.
- Shake well and pour over ice in chile-lined glass. Garnish with jicama and poblano slices.
El Diablo Paloma
For this one, Arenas plays around with an old favorite: "I put a twist on the classic drink by infusing habanero chile into the mix of tequila and lime which makes for a great, crisp flavor."
- 1 oz lime juice
- 2 oz habanero-infused tequila
- 1/4 oz agave nectar
- grapefruit soda
- crème de cassis
- Combine lime juice, tequila, and agave nectar in a shaker full of ice.
- Shake well and pour over ice in a highball glass. Gently stir in grapefruit soda and top with a float of crème de cassis.
- 2 oz tequila blanco
- 5 oz grapefruit soda
- 1/2 oz lime juice
- Pinch of salt
- Combine tequila, lime juice, and a pinch of salt in a highball glass. Add ice and top with grapefruit soda.
- Stir gently.