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The right way to Make a Mexican Firing Squad, the Vivid Tequila Cocktail That Brings a Little Bang

The right way to Make a Mexican Firing Squad, the Vivid Tequila Cocktail That Brings a Little Bang

“It was… during a first adventure around the world that we made the agreeable discovery that all really interesting people—sportsmen, explorers, musicians, scientists, vagabonds, and writers—were vitally interested in good things to eat and drink.”

— Charles Baker Jr.

The Mexican Firing Squad is one of the earliest tequila cocktails in the written English record, discovered, if you can say that, by one of the most entertaining characters in the whole cocktail universe, a mechanical engineer-turned-peripatetic gastronomist named Charles Baker Jr.

Baker was a lot of things—an engineer, a writer, a magazine owner, an interior designer—but what he really was was an adventurer. Born in Florida, he moved to Connecticut for school and held several odd jobs in the Northeast before some chance money—an unexpected inheritance from a “thoughtful grandparent,” according to a truly excellent biography by St. John Frizell—allowed him to quit it all, and in 1925, at the age of 30, he boarded the steamship Resolute for a trip around the world. Enraptured by all things epicurean, he kept a notebook of compelling items he ate and drank, and in 1939 he stitched together the sum of his travels—“the first-fruits of fourteen years’ liquid field work,” he wrote—in a book called The Gentleman’s Companion: Around the World with Jigger, Beaker, and Flask.

Most cocktail books of the time were spartan affairs, lists of measurements so dry and unadorned they might as well be recipes for communion wafers. Baker’s book, by contrast, was opinionated, lyrical, and exuberant. He recounts not just the formula for each drink but the exotic locales in which he encountered it, the colorful character that made the introduction, and occasionally the besotted consequences that ensued. A few chosen at random: A violette fizz from a perfumer he befriended in Cairo, a gin cocktail from a hotel in “heart-breakingly beautiful” Japan, a tart and bitter affair called Death in the Gulfstream from his friend Ernest Hemingway, and an absinthe-based hangover cure encountered at the famous Harry’s Bar in Paris, “mixed for us by an Itinerant Russian Prince.” All original, all compelling, and all written with the enthusiasm of discovery.

But back to the matter at hand—in 1937 Baker found himself in Mexico City, being “herded into fancy, rather dull places, served too warm drinks” by a couple governmentally connected young men. He endeavored to ditch his chaperones, breaking away on his own and finding a bar called La Cucaracha, and “a creation we almost became wrecked upon,” the Mexican Firing Squad: Tequila, lime juice, grenadine, and Angostura Bitters.

A few things are notable about this. First, as mentioned, this is among the earliest tequila cocktails ever published in the English language. That title officially goes to the handful of tequila drinks (like the Toreador) in William J. Tarling’s Cafe Royal Cocktail Book in 1937, the same year Baker encountered the Mexican Firing Squad, though he wouldn’t publish it until 1939 (fun fact—the word “Margarita” wouldn’t get connected to the cocktail we all know until 1953). What’s more, La Cucaracha was a famous bar, and you can find their physical menu from the 1930s, and the Mexican Firing Squad isn’t on it. Was it an extemporaneous creation from a talented bartender, or a previous cocktail that was already phased out by 1937? It’s impossible to tell. Further, it’s not even clear what the cocktail’s name actually is. In the index of his book, it’s listed as the “Firing Squad Cocktail, with Tequila; Mexico,” which would be a better name, but in the text itself he calls it the Mexican Firing Squad, which is the name that stuck.

What we do know for sure is that the Mexican Firing Squad is one of the few classic tequila cocktails we have. It’s incredibly simple, just some pomegranate and baking spices accenting a basic sour-style mix, but it unfolds like a story in four acts, each ingredient playing its role perfectly: You meet the tequila first before the bright juiciness of the pomegranate takes over, which turns tart with lime and then finishes with the dry textured spice of the bitters. It’s elegant, simple, and delightful, a worthy bit of cocktail reporting by an adventurer who couldn’t help but share this deliciousness, and his enthusiasm for it, with the world.

Mexican Firing Squad

  • 2 oz. tequila
  • 0.75 oz. lime juice
  • 0.75 oz. grenadine
  • 2 dashes Angostura Bitters

Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker with ice and shake hard for six to eight seconds. Strain into a rocks glass over fresh ice and garnish with a lime wheel, or if you’re feeling festive and want to do it as Baker suggests, “garnish with a slice of orange, a slice of pineapple, and a red cherry.”

NOTES ON INGREDIENTS

Courtesy of Tequila Fortaleza

Tequila: Half the recipes you’ll find for this drink call for blanco (unaged) tequila, and the other half call for reposado (lightly aged) tequila. There’s a reason for this, which is that there’s a different bit of confusion as to whether this has soda or not. After making them all, my favorite way is to use a reposado tequila, which means it’s been aged two to 12 months in oak barrels that file some of the raw green agave flavor off and replaces it with a bit of tannins, vanilla, and baking spice. It’s that vanilla that really helps integrate the flavors, mixing with both the pomegranate and the spices like a dream. For a straightforward Mexican Firing Squad, reposado is definitely the way to go. As for brands, I love inexpensive, 100 percent agave solutions like Real del Valle, Cimarron, and Olmeca Altos

So when do you use a blanco? Use a blanco when you add soda. Baker’s original recipe didn’t call for soda but did call for a tall glass, which to some people, I suppose, implies soda. He also called for a full measure of lime juice but a very small portion of grenadine yielding a very tart drink, so what some smart people have done is add two ingredients to the original tequila, lime juice, and 0.25 oz. grenadine: 0.5 oz. simple syrup and a couple ounces of soda water to top. If you do this, use blanco—the reduced footprint of the grenadine and the stretching effect of the soda water combined make the bolder blanco tequila a better choice.

Personally, I prefer the reposado version, but both are excellent. Feel free to make up your own mind.

Grenadine: When we’re talking about grenadine, we’re talking about a syrup made of equal parts pomegranate juice and sugar, so to start with, if all you have is the Kool-Aid red version from Rose’s, step one is throw that away, and step two is make or buy some actual grenadine.

See Also

To buy: There are lots of good brands, like Liquid Alchemist, Liber & Co, and Small Hands Foods, to name a few. There are many more, cocktail syrups tend to be regional, just make sure the ingredient list features pomegranate juice and sugar. 

To make: Grenadine is easy. In the past, I’ve rhapsodized about the charms of fresh-juiced pomegranate grenadine compared to grenadine made with POM Wonderful pomegranate juice (or some other bottled, pasteurized pomegranate juice), and that’s especially true of the Jack Rose cocktail. Here, it matters less. Fresh will give you a fruit character that’s both brighter and deeper, but it’s still wonderful with the bottled juice, so I wouldn’t go too far out of your way.

Angostura Bitters: Some people call for five to six dashes, which is three times the standard quantity, and this makes no sense to me at all. Two to three is perfect. 

Source: Robb Report

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