Just the mention of Cinco de Mayo elicits cheerful visions of margaritas, Tex-Mex fare, festive music, and vibrant, colorful papel picado decor. But while Texans love a good reason to salt-rim a cocktail glass and blend up a tangy ’rita, many don’t know why we celebrate Cinco de Mayo at all. Most people associate the date with Mexican Independence, which actually takes place on September 16. Instead, May 5 commemorates an entirely different benchmark in Mexico’s history: a surprise victory over the French at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. At the time, Napoleon III sought a stronghold in Mexico City to establish a second Mexican empire to ally with the French. The advancement met defeat by a military platoon of resistance fighters led by General Ignacio Zaragoza. The victory was short-lived, as the French later won a second attack at Puebla and pushed on to Mexico City. Still, the initial triumph by Mexico serves as a reminder of hope.
Cinco de Mayo isn’t as widely celebrated in Mexico as it is in the United States. Some of its popularity here is due to the Chicano civil rights movement of the sixties, which brought more attention to Mexican culture throughout the country. Mexican beer importers, including Corona and Modelo, commercialized the holiday with a wave of ad campaigns in the eighties. Today, you’ll find festivities marking the memorial occasion, particularly in the Mexican state of Puebla, and throughout the U.S. as a celebration of Mexican heritage.
Though this year’s Cinco de Mayo celebrations may be confined to your living room or patio thanks to the COVID-19 quarantine, that’s no reason not to swirl together a DIY libation to commemorate the occasion. We’ve compiled a short list of some of our favorite previously published recipes.
The bittersweet juiciness of grapefruit combines with the smooth sweetness of tequila and the provocative tingle of effervescence from Topo Chico in this drink from the Gage Hotel’s White Buffalo Bar in Marathon.
2 ounces tequila blanco
4 ounces fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice
3 ounces Topo Chico
2 lime wedges
Salt the rim of a glass (some prefer to add a pinch of salt to the drink instead), then add the tequila, grapefruit juice, and Topo Chico. Squeeze and add the lime wedges. Fill the glass with ice and stir. If you like your Paloma a touch sweeter, you can add a little simple syrup or superfine sugar.
Leveraging the smoky allure of mezcal with the bittersweet bite of Cynar, this tantalizing cocktail from the Sternewirth bar at Hotel Emma finishes with a spicy heat from guajillo chiles.
1½ ounces mezcal
¾ ounce hibiscus cordial*
¼ ounce Cynar
½ ounce fresh lime
4 drops chile tincture**
Combine mezcal and next three ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake and strain into a rocks glass over fresh ice. Add four drops of chile tincture and serve immediately.
*Hibiscus Cordial: Bring ½ cup sugar and ½ cup water to a boil over medium-high heat. Remove from heat and add ½ cup hibiscus flowers and let steep for 10 minutes. Strain the syrup and let cool in refrigerator 30 to 45 minutes.
**Chile Tincture: Add 1 cup chopped dried Guajillo chiles to 5 ounces of vodka. Let sit for 24 hours, allowing sunlight to hit it. Strain the chiles off of the infusion and place in glass container or jar until ready to use.
This fruity wine-based favorite from El Paso’s former 2900 Kitchen receives an added kick from lemon and orange liqueurs. For the wine, the characteristic fruitiness of any zinfandel will do.
1 navel orange wedge, peeled
1 half-inch slice fresh pineapple
3 fresh strawberries, stemmed and sliced in half
3 red seedless grapes
1 slice Red Delicious apple
1 ounce Paula’s Texas Lemon
1 ounce Paula’s Texas Orange
5 ounces 2005 Zin Valle Rising Star Zinfandel, Mesilla Valley
splash of club soda or Sprite
sprig of fresh mint (garnish)
Combine fruit with Paula’s Texas liqueurs and place in a glass or metal container for 24 hours to macerate the flavors and create a sangria base. Add zinfandel and shake. Pour over ice and top off with club soda or Sprite. Garnish with mint.
No Texas household is complete without a classic margarita recipe. And since most of us are now spending our days at home, it doesn’t hurt that this one from Houston’s Eight Row Flint packs a punch from the overproof tequila it includes. (Most tequila weighs in at around 80 proof, this recipe calls for 110 proof. If you can’t find a high-proof tequila, there’s no shame in using your standard pour.)
1 1/2 ounces 110-proof silver tequila
3/4 ounce orange curaçao
1 ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice
1/2 ounce lime oleo saccharum*
drop pasteurized egg white
2 dashes salt tincture**
Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker and shake vigorously with ice to chill. Strain onto fresh ice in a highball glass. Garnish with a lime wheel.
*In a bowl, muddle 1 cup of packed lime peels with 2 cups sugar. Cover and infuse in the refrigerator overnight. Add 1 cup water to the infused sugar and stir to dissolve. Strain and store in the fridge for up to two weeks.
**Stir 1/3 cup salt into 1/3 cup warm water until salt is dissolved.
A boozy concoction first shaken up by Austin’s Cedar Door bar, the Mexican martini isn’t much different from your standard margarita on the rocks. But there’s something about the martini glass adorned with a few toothpick-skewered olives and the DIY presentation with an icy metal shaker alongside that takes this drink to another level.
3 ounces añejo tequila
1 1/2 ounces Cointreau
1 1/2 ounces fresh lime juice
1/2 ounce green-olive brine from the jar
a splash of fresh orange juice
lime wedges and olives
Agitate everything in an ice-filled shaker, then strain into a small, chilled coupe or martini glass rimmed with salt. Add a couple of olives and a lime wedge. Proceed to drink slowly, preferably with a basket of chips and a bowl of salsa, and clear your calendar for the rest of the day.