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How the classic Tommy’s Margarita cocktail was created

How the classic Tommy’s Margarita cocktail was created

It’s not often you get to drink a genuine classic cocktail made by the creator of the drink himself. Recently, Julio Bermejo, creator of the world famous Tommy’s Margarita, was in town to hold a seminar about tequila at Kuala Lumpur cocktail bar Omakase + Appreciate.

One of the world’s foremost experts on tequila, Bermejo is the beverage manager at the iconic Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant in San Francisco, which was started in 1965 by his parents, Elmy and Tommy. Bermejo started working at the restaurant when he was five, and is instrumental in turning it into one of the most famous tequila bars in the world, as well as contributing to the rise of 100% blue agave tequila in the United States.

In 2001, Bermejo was one of the experts who travelled with the President of Mexico at the time, Vicente Fox, to Britain and France to sign agreements recognising tequila’s denomination of origin status. While in London, he was hosted by a renowned bartender named Tom Estes.

“After that session, because of the work we did, Thomas was named ambassador of tequila to Europe, and I was named the one for North America. It’s not a paid position, but we’re both passionate about the category.”

It is the creation of the Tommy’s Margarita that Bermejo is most famous for, however.

Julio Bermejo with his signature 'shaker', a blender jug he carries around with him all over the world.

Julio Bermejo with his signature ‘shaker’, a blender jug he carries around with him all over the world.

In fact, the restaurant makes so many of the margaritas that it goes through thirty-five 18kg cases of lime a week, and Bermejo has to use the jug of a blender to shake his cocktails so he can save time by making four margaritas at a time. It is a style that is so iconic that he even brings that jug along with him on his travels!

“It’s very unique to have a bar that serves only one drink. We have a full bar (at Tommy’s) but the only thing you see is tequila. 99.9% of the time, we’re making margaritas!” he said.

While the recipe is similar to that of a regular margarita, the Tommy’s uses agave nectar instead of the usual triple sec to enhance the agave flavours in the drink. Another major difference the drink had at the time was the use of 100% agave tequila instead of the usual cheap mixto tequilas (a blend of spirits made with a minimum of 51% blue agave and other non-agave sugars).

Bermejo was first introduced to 100% blue agave tequila in 1989, and it blew his mind. After that, he decided to go to Mexico to visit tequila distilleries, and learn more about tequila. Gradually, he turned the bar into a full-fledged tequila bar that only stocks 100% agave tequilas.

Then, around 1989, he was introduced to agave fructose, and began using it in the margaritas at the restaurant. And that was the start of the Tommy’s Margarita.

According to him, using agave nectar in a margarita makes sense because you are tasting flavours of the base spirit itself. “The margarita is a popular drink because people like sweet and sour. What was the ground breaker was putting agave nectar and good tequila in it. That, 30 years ago, nobody did that. And now it’s so common,” he said proudly.

The funny thing is, the drink wasn’t even known as the Tommy’s Margarita at the time. “It was always just the margarita that we sold at the restaurant. It was (renowned bartenders) Henry Besant and Dre Masso who took the Tommy’s Margarita around the world. Whenever they would consult for bars, they would teach this drink and say it was the margarita served at Tommy’s.

“It blew my mind that bars all over the world would put my drink on their menus. Dre would tell me he’s in Poland and someone has a Tommy’s Margarita on the menu! I was blown away,” he said. “Today, the Tommy’s Margarita can be enjoyed everywhere in the world. In Kuala Lumpur, Moscow, Mumbai … that’s the greatest impact in terms of a cocktail.

Bermejo is also instrumental in the rise of 100% agave tequilas in the US and around the world.

Bermejo is also instrumental in the rise of 100% agave tequilas in the US and around the world.

“I took my mother to South Africa about five years ago and we walked into a bar we had never been to, with two African bartenders there. I went up to them and asked for two Tommy’s Margaritas for me and my mother, and they said, ‘sure’. My mother almost fainted!” he recalled, laughing.

His proudest moment was when in 2006, the International Bartenders Association (IBA), the largest global association for bartenders in the world, named the Tommy’s Margarita a New Era Classic cocktail alongside, the Bramble, Espresso Martini, Cosmopolitan and Dark and Stormy.

“There are some incredible cocktails in that list, so it was unbelievable to be on it as well,” he recalled.

“We’re also the only tequila bar on the list of top 50 bars in the world, we’re the only bar outside of New York City in the US to make the list so many times, and it’s a great honour that people are taking note of the work we are doing.”

After being in the business for so long, there is one more tequila-related dream left for Bermejo – to make his own tequila. “My dream has always been to make tequila. It’s easy to criticise people, but if you have a knowledge and passion for it, go try and make it. My wife and I have been trying to build a distillery, and that’s my next dream,” he said.


Michael Cheang will never order another non-Tommy’s Margarita ever again. Drop him a note at the Tipsy-Turvy Facebook page or follow him on Instagram.

Birth of a classic drink: How the Tommy’s Margarita cocktail was created

Birth of a classic drink: How the Tommy’s Margarita cocktail was created

It’s not often you get to drink a genuine classic cocktail made by the creator of the drink himself. Recently, Julio Bermejo, creator of the world famous Tommy’s Margarita, was in town to hold a seminar about tequila at Kuala Lumpur cocktail bar Omakase + Appreciate.

One of the world’s foremost experts on tequila, Bermejo is the beverage manager at the iconic Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant in San Francisco, which was started in 1965 by his parents, Elmy and Tommy. Bermejo started working at the restaurant when he was five, and is instrumental in turning it into one of the most famous tequila bars in the world, as well as contributing to the rise of 100% blue agave tequila in the United States.

In 2001, Bermejo was one of the experts who travelled with the President of Mexico at the time, Vicente Fox, to Britain and France to sign agreements recognising tequila’s denomination of origin status. While in London, he was hosted by a renowned bartender named Tom Estes.

“After that session, because of the work we did, Thomas was named ambassador of tequila to Europe, and I was named the one for North America. It’s not a paid position, but we’re both passionate about the category.”

It is the creation of the Tommy’s Margarita that Bermejo is most famous for, however.

Julio Bermejo with his signature 'shaker', a blender jug he carries around with him all over the world.

Julio Bermejo with his signature ‘shaker’, a blender jug he carries around with him all over the world.

In fact, the restaurant makes so many of the margaritas that it goes through thirty-five 18kg cases of lime a week, and Bermejo has to use the jug of a blender to shake his cocktails so he can save time by making four margaritas at a time. It is a style that is so iconic that he even brings that jug along with him on his travels!

“It’s very unique to have a bar that serves only one drink. We have a full bar (at Tommy’s) but the only thing you see is tequila. 99.9% of the time, we’re making margaritas!” he said.

While the recipe is similar to that of a regular margarita, the Tommy’s uses agave nectar instead of the usual triple sec to enhance the agave flavours in the drink. Another major difference the drink had at the time was the use of 100% agave tequila instead of the usual cheap mixto tequilas (a blend of spirits made with a minimum of 51% blue agave and other non-agave sugars).

Bermejo was first introduced to 100% blue agave tequila in 1989, and it blew his mind. After that, he decided to go to Mexico to visit tequila distilleries, and learn more about tequila. Gradually, he turned the bar into a full-fledged tequila bar that only stocks 100% agave tequilas.

Then, around 1989, he was introduced to agave fructose, and began using it in the margaritas at the restaurant. And that was the start of the Tommy’s Margarita.

According to him, using agave nectar in a margarita makes sense because you are tasting flavours of the base spirit itself. “The margarita is a popular drink because people like sweet and sour. What was the ground breaker was putting agave nectar and good tequila in it. That, 30 years ago, nobody did that. And now it’s so common,” he said proudly.

The funny thing is, the drink wasn’t even known as the Tommy’s Margarita at the time. “It was always just the margarita that we sold at the restaurant. It was (renowned bartenders) Henry Besant and Dre Masso who took the Tommy’s Margarita around the world. Whenever they would consult for bars, they would teach this drink and say it was the margarita served at Tommy’s.

“It blew my mind that bars all over the world would put my drink on their menus. Dre would tell me he’s in Poland and someone has a Tommy’s Margarita on the menu! I was blown away,” he said. “Today, the Tommy’s Margarita can be enjoyed everywhere in the world. In Kuala Lumpur, Moscow, Mumbai … that’s the greatest impact in terms of a cocktail.

Bermejo is also instrumental in the rise of 100% agave tequilas in the US and around the world.

Bermejo is also instrumental in the rise of 100% agave tequilas in the US and around the world.

“I took my mother to South Africa about five years ago and we walked into a bar we had never been to, with two African bartenders there. I went up to them and asked for two Tommy’s Margaritas for me and my mother, and they said, ‘sure’. My mother almost fainted!” he recalled, laughing.

His proudest moment was when in 2006, the International Bartenders Association (IBA), the largest global association for bartenders in the world, named the Tommy’s Margarita a New Era Classic cocktail alongside, the Bramble, Espresso Martini, Cosmopolitan and Dark and Stormy.

“There are some incredible cocktails in that list, so it was unbelievable to be on it as well,” he recalled.

“We’re also the only tequila bar on the list of top 50 bars in the world, we’re the only bar outside of New York City in the US to make the list so many times, and it’s a great honour that people are taking note of the work we are doing.”

After being in the business for so long, there is one more tequila-related dream left for Bermejo – to make his own tequila. “My dream has always been to make tequila. It’s easy to criticise people, but if you have a knowledge and passion for it, go try and make it. My wife and I have been trying to build a distillery, and that’s my next dream,” he said.


Michael Cheang will never order another non-Tommy’s Margarita ever again. Drop him a note at the Tipsy-Turvy Facebook page or follow him on Instagram.

Our 5 favourite gin & tonics from Gin Jubilee 2018

Our 5 favourite gin & tonics from Gin Jubilee 2018

If you love gin, then last week’s East Imperial Gin Jubilee would have been the perfect event for you.

The three-day festival, held from Aug 22-25, consisted of several events happening across Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya, including masterclasses and bartender guest shifts and the hugely popular Gin Lane party at Plaza Batai, KL, which attracted more than 2,000 gin lovers.

Presented by premium beverage producers East Imperial and organised locally by Malaysian craft spirits distributor Wholly Spirits, the East Imperial Gin Jubilee is an annual regional gin celebration that visits several cities across the Asia-Pacific region.

KL was its first stop this year, followed by Beijing (Sept 12-15), Shanghai (Oct 18-20), Hong Kong (Oct 27), Shenzhen (Nov 8-10), and ending with the grand finale in Singapore (Nov 30-Dec 8).

This year, 20 bars participated in the “KL’s Best Gin And Tonic” competition, with the winner chosen through a selection process based on a combination of points given by a judging panel and voting by the public via Instagram posts.

Gin Jubilee

Bartender David Hans shows off his flairing skills at the Gin Lane party.

What I found most interesting about this year’s entries was how the bartenders paired uniquely local flavours with the gins they were assigned.

For instance, JungleBird used curry leaves to complement the uniquely Australian wattleseed botanical in the West Winds Sabre gin; Pahit came up with the asam laksa-inspired Laksamana, emphasising the cucumber notes in Hendrick’s Gin; and PS150 infused the versatile Fords Gin with jackfruit for its Hit The Road Jack.

All in all, there were some really interesting cocktails this time around, which really highlights the creativity of the bartenders in Malaysia these days.

If you want to try them, the bars may still be serving the drinks, even though the competition period is over.

Here are five of my personal favourites, in no particular order:

Gin Jubilee

Love In June, by Sam Yap of Three X Co

Presenting KL’s Best Gin And Tonic for East Imperial Gin Jubilee 2018 winning gin and tonic!

Made using French artisanal gin G’Vine Floraison, East Imperial Grapefruit Tonic, olive juice, and Giffard Elderflower Liqueur, Love In June was inspired by Yap’s first love (who is born in June), as well as the floral notes of the gin, which he used to represent femininity, and the Grapefruit Tonic, which he considered the masculine side of the “relationship”.

The real star of the drink for me, however, was the olive juice, which gave a slight saltiness to the drink, balancing out the sweet, fruity and floral notes from the other ingredients.

Yap and his winning cocktail will be representing Malaysia at the East Imperial Gin Jubilee grand finale in Singapore.

Gin JubileeFleur De Vie, by Giri Pancha of Bar Zhen

This was arguably my favourite, thanks to the sheer simplicity of the drink.

Made using the wonderfully complex St George Botanivore Gin, East Imperial Old World Tonic, and a homemade butterfly pea flower syrup (which gave the drink a beautiful purple hue), Giri said his drink was very much influenced by the gin.

“Botanivore is such a complex gin that I wanted to make sure that the other ingredients didn’t cover it,” he explained.

The subtle and milder Old World Tonic certainly complements the gin, but it was the butterfly pea flower syrup that really elevated this drink from good to great for me.

Its sweet, floral notes accentuated the botanicals in the gin, and coupled with the gentle bitterness of the tonic water, made for a wonderfully balanced and refreshing drink.

Champ D’or, by Caden Chua of Coley Cocktail Bar

Citadelle No Mistake Old Tom Gin is a recreation of a classic gin style that is slightly sweeter than the usual gins we have these days.

For her drink, Chua added a chrysanthemum flower tincture with longan syrup and topped it up with East Imperial Old World Tonic before garnishing it with edible flowers, longan fruit and fresh sugarcane.

The result is a lovely, refreshing drink, balancing the sweet, citrusy notes of the gin with the floral fragrance from the tincture. My favourite touch, however, has to be the sugarcane stick, which can be used as a stirrer, a spoon to scoop up the longans, and can be chewed on at the end!

Pillar’s Pepper, by Josh Chew of Claret @ Troika Sky Dining

When I first heard the ingredients of this drink, I was a little apprehensive. Not only does Chew use homemade black pepper syrup, he also adds the incredibly spicy Scrappy’s Firewater Tincture.

But mixed into the drink with Australia’s Four Pillars Rare Dry Gin and East Imperial Yuzu Tonic, the spicy notes of the syrup and tincture actually mellow down to a more manageable level and adds a nice layer of spiciness that doesn’t overpower the gin nor the yuzu tonic.

All this makes for surprisingly balanced and quite original drink.

Green Hornet, by Ashish Sharma, of Bar Trigona @ Four Seasons Hotel

Bar Trigona has been gaining a reputation for being one of the best new bars of late, and its drinks really do live up to expectations.

Ashish’s Gin Jubilee drink mixes the Finnish 100% rye Napue Gin with St Germain elderflower liqueur, lemon juice, homemade torched ginger flower syrup, and East Imperial Grapefruit Tonic Water for a perfectly balanced gin and tonic that incorporates local flavours while bringing out the unique rye notes of the Napue Gin.

And to top it all off, there’s even a honeycomb of Trigona honey that is apparently sourced from a small farm in Negri Sembilan, which adds a lovely sweet finish to the drink.


Michael Cheang is all gin-ed out after Gin Jubilee. Drop him a note at the Tipsy-Turvy Facebook page or follow him on Instagram.

Bartender’s first love inspired KL’s best gin and tonic 2018 at the East Imperial Gin Jubilee

Bartender’s first love inspired KL’s best gin and tonic 2018 at the East Imperial Gin Jubilee

The winner of Kuala Lumpur’s best Gin And Tonic at this year’s East Imperial Gin Jubilee was inspired by bartender Sam Yap’s first love.

The bartender from Bangsar bar Three X Co beat 19 others to the title of KL’s best gin and tonic with his cocktail called ‘Love In June’. Yap made the drink using French artisanal gin G’Vine Floraison, East Imperial Grapefruit Tonic, olive juice, and elderflower liqueur.

Yap said the drink is named for his own first love, who is born in June. He was also inspired by the floral notes of the gin, which he used to represent femininity and the Grapefruit Tonic, which he considered the masculine side of the ‘relationship’.

The selection process was based on a combination of points given by a judging panel and voting by the public via Instagram posts. Yap and his winning cocktail will next be representing Malaysia at the East Imperial Gin Jubilee grand finale at Singapore, which will be held on November 30-December 8.

Yap's winning cocktail was made using French artisanal gin G'Vine. Photo: Wholly Spirits

Yap’s winning cocktail was made using French artisanal gin G’Vine. Photo: Wholly Spirits

Presented by premium beverage producers East Imperial and organised by Malaysian craft spirits distributor Wholly Spirits, the Kuala Lumpur Gin Jubilee was held last week, starting from Aug 22 and culminating in the Gin Lane Street Party at Plaza Batai, Damansara Heights, which saw more than 2,000 gin lovers show up to try the GnTs from the competing bars.

KL is the first stop of the East Imperial Gin Jubilee is a regional gin celebration that spans several cities across the Asia-Pacific region, including Auckland, New Zealand, Hong Kong, China’s Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzen, before ending with the grand finale at Singapore.

For more information on the event, visit Gin Jubilee or the Wholly Spirits Facebook page.

Low ABV cocktails are the way to go at Los Flowerpecker

Low ABV cocktails are the way to go at Los Flowerpecker

Let’s face it. Drinking cocktails can be expensive. A single drink at a decent cocktail bar in Kuala Lumpur will probably set you back at least RM30 to RM50, with prices going higher depending on the spirits used in the drink. the more premium a spirit, the higher the price, obviously.

With that in mind, keeping the drinks affordable was one of the priorities bartender Shawn Chong set when helping to set up new bar Los Flowerpecker in Damansara Utama (Uptown), Petaling Jaya.

At Los Flowerpecker, the drinks are currently priced at RM20 to RM25, and one of the reasons is that the bar puts much of its focus on low-ABV drinks. These are essentially drinks that use a base spirit with a lower alcohol base volume (usually less than 20% ABV) such as vermouth or wine, rather than the usual 40% ABV and above spirits.

Low ABV cocktails have been enjoying rising popularity around the world of late, so this was a good time to ask Chong for a crash course on this rising trend.

Los Flowerpecker began life in Bangsar as a specialised vermouth bar called The Flowerpecker, before moving to Damansara Uptown and rebranding itself into more of a Latin American theme rather than just a vermouth bar.

“Instead of limiting ourselves to just vermouth-based drinks, we also wanted to bring back old school rum and tequila classics like the mojito and frozen margarita, and put the focus on making our drinks affordable and fun,” said Chong, who is also the co-founder of cocktail bar Omakase + Appreciate.

Low ABV

Vermouth usually comes in three styles; dry, semi-sweet (bianco) and sweet (rosso). Photo: The Star/Michael Cheang

Vermouth

An aromatised, fortified wine flavoured with botanicals, vermouth (pronounced “ver-mooth”) is better known as one of the essential ingredients of iconic cocktails like the Negroni, Manhattan, and the Martini.

Los Flowerpecker currently has three main ranges of vermouth on the menu – Dolin (a Vermouth de Chambéry only produced within France’s Savoy region that uses maceration of real plants rather than pre-prepared infusions), La Quintinye (a French artisanal vermouth made with 18 to 28 aromatics and a blend of white wines fortified with Pineau des Charentes, a fortified “wine” that is a mix of unfermented grape juice with cognac aged in oak barrels), and Carpano, an Italian brand that also produces the “king of vermouths”, Antica Formula.

While in Malaysia it is primarily used in cocktails, vermouth is actually an aperitif that can be drunk on its own. In fact, some of the best vermouths, like the Antica Formula, deserve to be tasted that way.

“Anything that seems rather premium or on the sweeter side, I would recommend having it neat, chilled, or on the rocks,” Chong said.

Other than that, some of the more common serving styles of vermouth is with a fizzy mixer. “In vermouth, whether it’s French, Italian or others, there’s usually a dry, a semi-sweet, and sweet vermouth in the range,” Chong said, adding that the three basic mixers that are used with vermouth are soda water, tonic water, and ginger ale.

“I usually serve the sweeter vermouth with soda, the bianco (Semi-sweet) with tonic, and the drier one with ginger ale.”

However, Chong stressed that is just a suggested serving stlye though. Personally, I preferred having all three with just soda water, as I could get the flavours of the vermouth a lot better, and still get to enjoy a nice refreshing drink at the same time.

The Aperol (right) and Hugo Spritz are different variations of the popular Italian aperitif drink. Photo: The Star/Muhamad Shahril Rosli

The Spritz

An evolution of the Austrian spritzer drink (made with equal parts white wine and sparkling water), the Spritz is an Italian drink that is commonly served as an aperitif throughout the country.

One of the more popular variations of the Spritz is the Aperol Spritz. Aperol is an Italian aperitif made with an infusion of botanicals including gentian, rhubarb and cinchona, among others, Aperol is a slightly bitter, orange-y spirit that is commonly drunk on its own as an aperitif. A much more popular way to drink it, however, is in a low-ABV cocktail called the Aperol Spritz.

According to the official recipe on Aperol’s website, the drink is made with equal parts Aperol and prosecco (or sparkling wine), serve in a wine glass topped off with soda and garnished with an orange slice. The result is a refreshing, lightly fizzy drink that balances the orange bitterness of the Aperol and the sweet acidity of the wine perfectly.

Another popular variation is the Hugo Spritz, made with elderflower liqueur instead of Aperol, which produces a sweeter, more floral drink that is just as refreshing and pleasant.

The Americano is the forefather of the Negroni. Photo: The Star/Muhamad Shahril Rosli

Americano

Not to be mistaken for a caffe Americano (espresso + hot water), this long drink is actually the forefather of the hugely popular negroni cocktail (made with equal parts gin, Campari and vermouth). The Americano is made using equal parts sweet vermouth, Campari and soda water (the Negroni replaces the soda with gin), and if you like your negronis but want a longer (and cheaper) version of it, then this is for you.


Los Flowerpecker is located at 10M, Jalan SS 21/58, Damansara Utama, Petaling Jaya, Selangor (Tel: 012-302 6284)

Michael Cheang likes having a nice refreshing low-ABV cocktail when it’s really, really hot outside. Drop him a note at the Tipsy-Turvy Facebook page or follow him on Instagram.

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