Creative Cocktail Competition

October 10, 2013 |

Margaritas that go well beyond blended or on the rocks.

There are several origin tales that lay claim to being the 1940s bar that first concocted the margarita, and its birthplace hops all over the border. Some say it was Acapulco or El Paso or Juarez or San Diego. But the oldest story, and my personal favorite, goes something like this: during Prohibition, Americans crossed into Mexico looking for booze and were greeted with tequila. A popular drink called the “Daisy” sported orange liqueur, lime, and brandy, with the with the agave hooch substituting the brandy. Thus, the margarita (Spanish for daisy) was born.

Today, Tucson lays claim to the World Margarita Championship, and on Oct. 25 the Tucson Museum of Art’s outside courtyard will be buzzing with people sampling unique margaritas from over 15 contenders and later casting their votes  for the best margarita. So while businesses have to be part of the Tucson Originals to compete, making the “World” Margarita Championship a bit of a misnomer, at least history and geography have set Tucson in prime real estate to claim the title.

Regardless of its origins, tequila shines in this drink like brandy never would. “All tequilas are a little different,” explains Ryan Clark, head chef at Lodge on the Desert. “Some may be more aged, more subtle, might even have some smoky notes to them. I think balancing the cocktail with that is really important.” The reigning champion has been hard at work on this year’s secret weapon for months. With his team at Lodge on the Desert, he won last year with a margarita spiked with house-made pomegranate jam and local pomegranate vinegar. This year, his star ingredient is a little darker.

“Salt cured black limes,” Clark explains. “We boiled limes with salt water and sun dried them in the beautiful Tucson sun. They have a bitter, salty citrus note to them, which is kind of our big thing at the Lodge, making a sweet, sour and bitter mix and balancing all those flavors.”

Other heavyweights in the competition include mixologists from the Marinaterra Resort in San Carlos, Mexico – though not a part of Tucson Originals, they were specifically invited by the organizers. Marinaterra Resort head bartender Julio Blanco’s mastery with tequila earned him the Peoples’ Choice Award the last two years running; last year’s winning potion was laced with tajin chile and mango.

In the midst of the libations, Tucson Originals restaurants serve well-matched nosh, and the live music by Reno del Mar gets better with every cocktail. The Margarita Championship’s popularity has grown, and now in its seventh year organizers expect a crowd tipping 1,000. Proceeds go to the Blair Charity Group. But no matter who wins: “It’s pulling hairs,” Clark adds. “After all, it’s tequila.”

The most exciting thing about the competition is the innovation and creativity on display. “I think Tucson is a big trend-setting town, and we have some great mixologists,” says Clark. “To see what they’re coming up with and what trends they’re setting for the nation is unbelievable.”

The championship happens on Friday, Oct. 25, 6 p.m.-9 p.m., at Tucson Museum of Art, 140 N. Main Ave. Tickets are $50 advance, $60 at the door. Get more information, and tickets, at or call (520) 343-9985.


Category: Events, FOOD & DRINK