Cocktail Club

Cocktail recipe: Bring on the heat with a spicy Tommy’s Margarita

The Quiet Few bartender Mellie Wiersma shares her take on this classic drink, and how to balance spice and citrus with sweet.

margaritas
Join the Cocktail Club on Thursday, June 3, at 7 p.m. with host Jackson Cannon and special guest Mellie Wiersma, bartender at The Quiet Few in East Boston. Johnny Miller/The New York Times

When the snow finally melts and the sundresses start to appear, everyone in Boston is finally ready for backyards, patios, the sun, the salt, and the sand. Summer arrives and all of us are transported to another state for three glorious months. 

This time of year always reminds me that back home (sunny southern California) the margarita reigns supreme. While I am a traditionalist, the Tommy’s Margarita has found a place in my heart. I’ll admit that at first I was a bartender who argued it wasn’t a proper margarita without Curacao, but I’ve since relented, probably from the hundreds (if not thousands) of spicy Tommy’s margaritas I’ve served on patios and rooftops to the squeals of “Oh my God, this is the best margarita I have EVER HAD!” If such a simple change could delight so many, obviously I had to put my cranky, traditional ideas aside and experiment with something new. They weren’t wrong.

Turns out someone from my native California had come up with a cocktail that would delight the crowds while making some minor tweaks, Julio Bermejo at Tommy’s restaurant in San Francisco had hit gold! It’s the fewer calorie version that I think so many prefer to refer to as the “skinny girl margarita” but I’ll stick to what it actually is, the Tommy’s Margarita. 

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By replacing the triple sec with agave syrup, cut with water at a one-to-one ratio, you cut out some sugar, which delights those looking for that summer body. It doesn’t lose any of those refreshing flavors, you still have all the elements of a perfect summer cocktail. By adding a couple dashes of tabasco, swapping in mezcal, tequila’s great grandparent, you take it from the perfect beach drink to the perfect everywhere drink. Think of all the best things about a barbecue: salt, smoke, and spice, with something light and refreshing to balance all of those elements. Pow! You’ve got the Tommy’s Spicy Mezcal Margarita. 

The trend toward spicy drinks, as far as I can remember, began around 10 to 15 years ago, and that alone is a new conversation. How does one get that spice that balances and doesn’t overwhelm? Hot sauce is a quick fix. Jalapeños or other hot peppers are also a good choice. The problem is inconsistency in peppers throughout the year — there’s no sure-fire way to check each batch to see how potent they will be. 

Years ago when I had the opportunity to work at that famous underground cocktail bar, Drink, John Gertsen and Josey Packard taught me the multiple ways of using a favorite hot sauce, Tabasco — the vinegar base helps to keep it from separating, while the spice level is lower than some other hot sauces. Simply add a few more dashes to increase the heat. Still, there’s nothing wrong if your choice is to muddle or slice some hot peppers and rest your mezcal or tequila on that for a few days. It takes a bit longer, but the effect is a more vegetal hot spice that features the pepper of choice.

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Of course, you always need to remember to balance your spice and citrus with your sweet. Agave syrup is a bit thicker than honey, so you definitely want to cut it; I tend to go to the basic ratio of one-to-one, it makes it feel more like a sugar simple and will require less shaking to incorporate. 

What you’ll need

Tommy’s Spicy Mezcal Margarita

Ingredients

  • 1 oz. fresh lime juice
  • ¾  oz. agave simple
  • 2 oz. mezcal

Instructions

  • Lightly shake and pour over ice
  • Serve in salt rimmed glass
  • Garnish with a lime, or if you’re feeling extra spicy, with a sliced jalapeño

Join our next virtual cocktail class

Join us Thursday, June 3, at 7 p.m. for Boston.com’s Cocktail Club with host Jackson Cannon and special guest Mellie Wiersma, bartender at The Quiet Few in East Boston. This week they’ll be making cocktails with mezcal, catching up about the Boston restaurant and bar scene, and sharing tips the pros use to make great drinks at home. They’ll be mixing the classic mezcal paloma and spicy margarita. Everything you’ll need is listed here with a link to purchase your Boston.com cocktail kit through Gordon’s Fine Wine and Spirits.

Mellie Wiersma is a bartender at The Quiet Few in East Boston.

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