Above: The competitors and judges on the rooftop at Century Club
To be fair, Cointreau could have chosen to update any number of classic recipes for its By Invitation Only Margarita Cocktail Competition. From the clean, crisp taste of the White Lady to the bitter-sweet tang of Cosmopolitan, the crystal clear liqueur with its careful balance of sweet and bitter orange peel plays a pivotal role in all manner of drinks. However, it’s the Margarita that the 10 UK participants were tasked with dusting down and shaking up. Little wonder really. Cointreau and Margaritas go together like, ooh – strawberries and cream, gin and tonic, fish and chips – you get the idea, they’ve been perfect partners since the drink’s creation in 1948.
The original recipe (probably) created by socialite Margaret Sames is one that we all know and love. It’s an easy enough combo: tequila and lime juice, with just the right amount of Cointreau to bring the two together beautifully. But like most things, there’s always room for a refresh. Enter ‘Cointreau Loves Margarita’, an initiative that began last year to celebrate 70 years of the Margarita, and continues to mark the 170th anniversary of Cointreau this year.
The competition, held on the stunning rooftop of Century Club in central London, was divided into two sections: one for regional contestants, the other for London bars.
James Harrison from Verdigris in Tonbridge kicked proceedings off with his ‘Jalisco Daisy’ cocktail featuring tequila infused with passionberry, Botanist gin, fermented pineapple with chipotle, demerara sugar and Cointreau, malic acid flavoured with marigold, a couple of dashes of Yellow Chartreuse and of course, Cointreau. Then we had Dean Railton from Feed in Leeds showcasing his ‘You’re In My Spot Tom Cruise,’ a blend of tequila, mezcal, pepper tincture, Cointreau, smashed garlic and a sage hydrosol. Nathan Larkin from Speak In Code in Manchester played to the strengths of his plant-based bar, offering up his ‘Sicolo Mayahuel’, combining the Cointreau with smoked chipotle tequila, kefir, orange blossom, carrot water and oolong tea. Marc McParland from Kelvingrove Cafe in Glasgow, reimagined his Margarita as ‘Pearl’ a suitably pearlescent cocktail purposely made using all shop-bought ingredients: tequila, Cointreau, French Agricole rum, absinthe and Supasawa (citrus replacement).
Judges hard at work
That was the regional side of things, London was represented first with Khari Jack from 12th Knot. His ‘Sames Things Twice’, which he described as a “smashable drink for a cocktail soiree” was made up of Cointreau, lime acid solution and tequila, lengthened with Sekforde mixer for tequila. Leonardo Baggio from Mr Fogg’s Residence was up next with ‘Bolliwood’, a spicy cocktail based on Mr Fogg’s travels to India (Cointreau, grapefruit juice, lime, tequila and a spicy mango chutney blended with Cointreau). Then our tastebuds were infused with rose, courtesy of Nelson Forchini from City Social. ‘Sylvia’s Margarita’ featured rosé tequila, Cointreau, Antica Formula, rosewater, simple syrup made with rose petals, and lime juice with a half-rimmed glass of salt and rose petals.
Marcus Ameneiros Zannone from Berners Tavern offered up the ‘Susanita’, celebrating the oranges of Valencia, his place of birth and the crepe suzette in a recipe combining mezcal to represent the smoke, Cointreau, lime juice, orange salted caramel, a pinch of smokey sea salt and double cream – all heated very theatrically over a flame in a dinky saucepan.
Next up was Matteo Carretta from Mr Fogg’s Society of Exploration. His Queen Bee was a nod to lower abv styles of drinks, featuring Cointreau, vinegar and tequila preparation. And last to take their place behind the Century Club bar was Manuel Ippololito from Aqua Shard. Mixing Cointreau, tequila, cherry liqueur, pineapple tepaché and yuzu, he created ‘My Lady Kiss’. To complete the mood of the drink, it was presented with an edible lipstick.
Ten very different drinks, ten very different presentations. It meant that the judging panel, made up of Alfred Cointreau, sixth generation scion of the Cointreau family; Carl Anthony Brown, drinks consultant and Sunday Brunch expert; Henry Jeffreys from Master of Malt and yours truly had our work cut out deciding who would take the top prize and join Alfred Cointreau on the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival.
Top: Nathan from Speak In Code in Manchester; above: Marcus Ameneiros Zannone from Berners Tavern with their winning drinks
Luckily, we were able to choose one regional and one London winner, which went some way to narrowing the incredible drinks down. The top prizes went to Nathan from Speak In Code in Manchester and Marcus Ameneiros Zannone from Berners Tavern, with runner-up prizes going to Dean Railton and Leonardo Baggio.
We think Ms Sames would have definitely approved.
For more Margarita recipes, see cointreau.com