The margarita has made tequila into the liveliest Mexican import since jumping beans. In other words, sales are hopping. American revelers seem to have an almost insatiable thirst for the cool, citrusy taste of this slurpable cocktail, especially when there are warm tortilla chips, fresh guacamole, and the promise of an enchilada nearby.
You might be surprised to learn that the United States actually consumes more tequila than Mexico. Long a warm-weather staple, margaritas, tequila sunrises, and straight-down slammers are being called for at a deafening rate this summer, so loud that growers of the agave plant, the source of tequila, are having a hard time meeting demand. The price for quality tequila has consequently headed north along with the product itself.
Lots of places - Acapulco, Tijuana, Juárez, Virginia City, Los Angeles, and others - have been put forward as the birthplace of the margarita, a drink with a lore matched only by that of the martini. Tequila's natural affinity for lime, orange, and salt makes it seem likely that the drink invented itself on several separate occasions. The identity of the original Margarita, whoever she was, may never be known, but I always raise my salt-rimmed glass in a toast to the lovely lady whenever I enjoy her namesake cocktail.
Here are three tequilas that stand out in a crowded field, along with three variations on the mixed drink that's tequila's ticket to immortality.
NACIONAL SILVER ($40)
Twenty years ago, hometown boy W. Park Kerr and his mother started selling garlands of red chiles on the streets of El Paso, just across the border from Mexico. Today, their El Paso Chile Company is a multimillion-dollar specialty marketer of salsas and Mexican food.