Monday, January 18, 2010

Tequila Mockingbird (What’s in It Besides Tequila?)

Steve’s friend Natasha now lives in Los Angeles, but she keeps up with him through e-mails. Most recently she inquired, “Hey, do you have a Cocktail Buzz recipe for a Tequila Mockingbird?” We’ve drunk these in the past, but really never gave them much thought, except, of course, for its clever, if somewhat cutesy, name. For those of you who aren’t in on the joke, Tequila Mockingbird is a play on words. Remember To Kill a Mockingbird, the 1960 Harper Lee Pulitzer Prize–winning novel that was made into a movie starring Gregory Peck two years later? Well, someone came up with the name for this cocktail based on this play on words. We couldn’t find the provenance of this cocktail, and would be most grateful if anyone could tell us where and when the drink first landed atop a bar. The name Tequila Mockingbird did show up on, and is the name of a 1969 episode of, Get Smart, in which Agents Smart and 99 go undercover as a flamenco dancer and a quack in search of the tequila mockingbird, a rare Mexican artifact.

Most people don’t know what’s in a Tequila Mockingbird except for the obvious. Done right, it should be a perfectly balanced sour, akin to the limey sourness of a Margarita, with just the right amount of sweet and bitter coming from the menthol richness in the crème de menthe. Whether you use white (clear) or green crème de menthe is truly up to you: Not worried about stains on your white flokati? Then by all means use green and let its blue-lagoon-reptilian color breathe fun and life into your cocktail party. Entertaining a more pragmatic crowd? Perhaps the white would work best and let the flavors speak for themselves.

Finding the perfect ratio for any cocktail using the potent liqueur crème de menthe is a challenge. Classically, cognac mixed with white crème de menthe makes a Stinger. Stingers can both stimulate the appetite and settle the stomach depending on if you like aperitifs or digestifs, respectively (frankly, we rarely take digestifs . . . it would be gilding the lily since we usually enjoy just one cocktail on nights we drink). Think of a Tequila Mockingbird as the love child of a Margarita and a Stinger, or a Mexican Stinger, if you will. All of the three ingredients have assertive, or “stinging” properties, such as our first ingredient, silver, or blanco, tequila. Some blancos sting more than others, so let’s start at 1 1/2 ounces, and see where that takes us after we add the other two ingredients: lime juice and crème de menthe. (You can always add a little more or a little less tequila in your second round if you find in the end that the other ingredients overpower the tequila or are lost to tequila’s agave-assertiveness.) Traditionally, most recipes will tell you to use the juice of one lime. If you are a more regimented person who does not like inexact amounts, you will be relieved to discover (if you don’t already know this), that most limes produce once ounce of juice (lemons yield a little more at 1 1/2 ounces). Go on and squeeze all the beautiful green-yellow juice from your lime, and make sure your lime is fresh fresh fresh. If you cut it in half and see that the vibrant green has patches of dull swampiness, and a hole has developed in the center where the segments have started to pull apart from each other, do not use this lime. Its juice will be too sour. Grab another, and move on.

The third ingredient, crème de menthe, is a little controversial. Not a popular liqueur these days, it has been relegated to the back of the shelves in most bars, if present at all. Most tipplers recall the days of yore when crème de menthe was as common as crème de noyaux, but fashions change, and when crème de menthe is bad, it tastes like mentholated cough suppresant. Not exactly a calling card to mixologists. So picking the right crème de menthe is important (but not always practical if your local liquor store sells only one kind). We tried two kinds because they were the only two available to us at the time: (1) Llord’s white crème de menthe at 30 proof (15% abv) and (2) Leroux green crème de menthe at 48 proof (24 abv). One full ounce per drink was way too much, especially with the higher proof green. Lowering the amount to 3/4 ounce was perfect for the white, whereas with the green, there lingered a little too much bitterness after the first sip. Perhaps it was the brand, or perhaps it was the higher alcohol content. We encourage you to look for 30 proof regardless of the color, but if you’re stuck on a particular color, and it comes only in a higher proof, you can lower the amount of crème de menthe to about 1/2 to 2/3 ounce.

Sipping them tonight, we thought that these were the perfect Tequila Mockingbirds. We tasted all three ingredients, but the harmony created by this ménage à trois did not allow one ingredient to outshine its partners. You can add a lime wheel as a garnish if you feel like dressing up your drink, but this may be gilding the lily as well. Keep it simple. Focus on flavor. Perhaps that will be our mantra for 2010. Bottom up, ladies and gentlemen.

Tequila Mockingbird
(adapted by Cocktail Buzz)

1 1/2 ounces silver tequila
3/4 ounce crème de menthe (preferable 30 proof)
1 ounce fresh lime juice

Shake in ice for 15 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Serve with chips and guacamole, or chips with a mango salsa.


  1. Apparently there are some rather good creme de menthes out there such as Giffard Menthe Pastille that Paul Clarke got in Canada and wrote about in a Cocktails Chronicle post. Although I have not seen any here in Boston (other than the bottom shelf at the liquor store stuff).

    I am still in search of artisanal Creme de Noyeau so I can make the collection of 1900-1930's recipes that use it. Sourcing all of the pits to make homemade is not an easy venture in the city.

  2. Thanks for the heads up, Frederic! Good luck in your search for the creme de noyaux.

  3. It's all about tricking Eric Seed into getting involved...

  4. Traditionally the Tequila Mockingbird is made with creme de menthe, so folks that make & try this one first might be in for a little surprise when they order it at a bar ;)


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