It's Cinco de Mayo, the holiday that celebrates Mexican heritage and commemorates the battle of Puebla, Mexico in 1862. It's hard not to think about the Margarita on this day, but since I wrote about it last year, I thought I would feature a different tequila drink I have been enjoying ever since I spotted it in Imbibe Magazine. The drink I am referring to is the Red Pepper Daisy, and it's wonderful. It was created by John Lermayer from the Florida Room in Miami and it recently made it's way onto the menu at Forty Four in the Royalton Hotel, New York.
The Daisy is a class of drinks that goes all the way back to the days of Jerry Thomas. Technically speaking, a Daisy is a fizz—or rather, a soda-topped sour—that is sweetened with a bit of orange liqueur or grenadine and often garnished with fruit. This combination of ingredients has led to a variety of recipes with the Daisy name discarded or forgotten. I'm not the first to admit that classic naming schemes can get a little confusing, but in this case, we know that margarita is the Spanish word for daisy, and that our favorite tequila-lime-Cointreau drink was probably being ordered by that name outside of Tijuana by the mid-1930s. So, it's not completely out of character to create a riff on that theme and call it a by the classic name, even though it lacks both orange liqueur and grenadine.
Red Pepper Daisy by John Lermayer
4 dime-sized slices of red pepper
1.5 oz reposado tequila
.5 oz agave nectar
.5 oz fresh lime juice
chilled seltzer to top
Place the pepper slices in a shaker and muddle. Add tequila, agave and lime. Fill with ice. Shake to chill and strain into an ice-filled glass. Top with sparkling water and garnish with a spear of red bell pepper.
The defining ingredient here is the red bell pepper. Pepper always pairs nicely with tequila, and red peppers are sweeter and not as spicy as others. Muddling a few pieces in a mixing glass is all you need to setup a wonderful backdrop for the other ingredients. Reposado tequila has been aged and this mellows the bite of the tequila while building other flavors to appreciate. Lime juice is balanced here by agave nectar rather than triple sec. Blue agave is the same plant used to make tequila, so using this sweetener is a natural combination. Finally, the addition of sparkling water is definitely a Daisy component adding a bit of zing that became lost on the Margarita over the years.
As far as flavor goes, I really love this drink. I am not always excited about tequila in general, but this is one cocktail worth repeating. It's a refreshing alternative to the Margarita, and it's easy to make. Red pepper works surprisingly well in a sweet and sour formula, and the flavor isn't overpowering. When you break it down like this, it's just a different take on a familiar classic. That said, I don't see why you couldn't use a silver tequila to make this. And if you feel really adventurous, why not explore adding a bit of salt and some spicy bitters to make a fiery version. Actually, a homemade hot pepper-infused tequila could take it even further, but you don't have to go the spicy route at all—it's not what the drink sets out to do—but the option is there. It's a thirst-quenching alternative that tastes great as it is, has flexible options if you want that, and leaves you with a garnish to nibble while you prepare another. That's hard to beat any day of the year.