A toast to Mexico’s Independence Day! Or not…
We, “the People,” have a bold, longstanding history of uprooting traditional holidays from their origins and covering them in a palatable, consumerist, sugary glaze.
During Christmas, you’ll find as many or more Santa and light-up snowman displays on lawns as you will find manger scenes. Easter egg hunts and candy-coated chocolates have become more popular and frequent conversation topics than a certain biblical figure’s Resurrection.
Though the original color associated with Saint Patrick, the hero the Irish holiday celebrates, may have been blue, we dye our rivers green and down giant pints of brown, thick Guinness, hoping the “luck of the Irish” will guide us home safely, post-revelry.
Is it easier to remember the origins of Memorial Day, or conjure up the recipe you need to make that delicious hamburger topping people love so much at your annual summer barbeque?
Thus it should come as little surprise that many Americans don’t know the real reason behind the Cinco de Mayo celebration, and believe that it marks the anniversary of when Mexico declared its independence from Spain. That day is actually honored on September 16.
Cinco de Mayo is actually a much more random and bittersweet blip on the radar of Mexican history. To summarize, in 1861, Mexico owed a few of her friends—France, Britain, and Spain—some serious dinero after an ugly war with the U.S. and several other internal conflicts. When the three countries came calling, Mexico made nice with Britain and Spain, but could not come to an agreement with a feistier France.
France saw this as a terrific opportunity to establish a pro-French empire in Mexico—so it swept in, crushed the much weaker Mexican army and established Emperor Maximilian I as the new Mexican ruler, a position he held for three years before the French were booted out.
But before France was able to win the war, the Mexicans won a surprising victory against the much larger French army on May 5, in the Battle of Puebla. The win was particularly notable--the French army hadn’t been defeated in almost 50 years. While it was a big enough feat to warrant a fiesta, it apparently wasn’t quite notable enough to be remembered accurately by everyone else.
Today, Mexico’s victory in the Battle of Puebla is still observed in Puebla, but is not celebrated in the rest of Mexico. And then of course, it’s the cause of a nationwide party here in the U.S., even if almost everyone joining the festivities thinks they are celebrating Mexico’s liberation from Spain. Ah well.
In an attempt to reflect the heritage of the holiday a bit more genuinely, Fred Warner, the beverage director of Màs Malo, a Mexican restaurant in downtown Los Angeles, created a couple of festive Cinco de Mayo cocktail recipes that would try to showcase the struggle between French and Mexican forces.
While they might not be the drinks the Mexicans downed when they originally celebrated their victory at the Battle of Puebla, these cocktails are guaranteed to be tastier than choking down a shot of room temp Cuervo with the masses this holiday.
Viejo Verde Mexicano A vibrant, minty green drink with a sweet, bubbly twist
Combine mint and sugar in a mixing glass, and muddle into a paste. Add tequila, St-Germain and lime juice. Shake vigorously, double strain into a chilled champagne flute, and top with Champagne. Garnish with a mint leaf.
El Derby This martini has two Franco-friends in a liqueur made by French monks and a bitters originally created in New Orleans
2 oz. Fortaleza Anejo tequila ¾ oz. Benedictine liqueur 5 dashes of Peychaud's bitters
Combine ingredients and ice in a mixing glass, stir, and strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with a flamed orange twist.
La Aviación A tequila twist on the Aviation, a 1920s classic cocktail
Combine all ingredients, shake and strain over ice, and garnish with a lemon twist. The Luxardo serves as a bit of an Italian referee in this cocktail.
Brody Brown has studied fashion crimes, examined social issues, and carefully considered cocktails in Montreal and New York. He now continues his exploration in Los Angeles, where he writes about spirits, music, LGBT subjects, entertainment and nightlife.