Our brother lives in Detroit, where old American cars go to not die. On the streets of the Motor City, you will see all manner of holey-mufflered, salt-rotted, spring-sagging Big Three iron plowing along shoddily. Our brother's next-door neighbor is a connoisseur of such vehicles, and thus populates his driveway with a cache of Malaise Era Cadillacs. (His dog lives in one.) His latest addition, which our brother texted us a photo of recently while we were eating fish tacos in Los Angeles, is a Desert Rose 1977 Coupe DeVille (seen below).
Since we're always thinking about cars or drinking (or both), and we were eating Mexican, this put us in mind of a cocktail our cousin's trashy bridesmaid made us try at her wedding in Charleston: the Pink Cadillac Margarita. Suddenly, we were thirsty.
The Pink Cadillac Margarita is, quite obviously, a pink drink – a somewhat cloying, if deliciously chuggable concoction colored with a spritz of Ocean Spray, or Chambord liqueur if you're classy. Pink drinks get a bum rap. Blame it on the Cosmopolitan, and everyday misogyny, but many people find pink drinks frivolous. As expert drinkers, and drink experts, we would counter that the consumption of alcohol is, at its essence, about being frivolous. Never mind that the chemical is a depressive; Consuming it is about putting on your rose (or rosé) colored glasses, and getting ready to make some mistakes.
The Pink Cadillac is apparently so named not just because of its signature color and the irresistible musical connection between Cadillacs and pinkness (see: Aretha, Springstein, Natalie Cole). The moniker also derives from the quality of the ingredients – drawing on the historical expression "The Cadillac of..." to signify something top-shelf.
"It's difficult to know quite how that name was derived," says Melody Lee, Cadillac's director of brand strategy. "But it's certainly not the only time in which our brand name has been invoked to describe something designed to be a cut above the rest!"
In that, the drink is its own rosé colored glasses, in a glass, because, while the margarita was seemingly invented in the Twenties or Thirties and popularized in the Fifties, none of the experts we spoke with could find any historical mention of the drink from around 1908 to the Jet Age when Cadillac was unquestionably equated with superlative quality and could rightfully deem itself "The Standard of the World," as it did in its ads.
"It's not in Savoy," says international cocktail expert and Tokyo resident Nick Coldicott, referencing the foundational 1930 bible of cocktail preparation. Neither could we find the Cadillac version in Mr. Boston, Straub's, or any of our other classic recipe books. "This one Japanese cocktail database includes a Cadillac Margarita recipe, but explains that it's named after 'luxury cars from England,' so maybe that can't be trusted," Coldicott says.
This suggests to us that the drink was invented in more modern times. We imagine this occurring at a pseudo-Mexican place in Long Island around 1978, the kind of place founded by two hirsute, puka-bangled brothers who returned home after a stoned year surfing in Baja and considered themselves not only experts of the national cuisine, but ambassadorial missionaries with a need to elevate cheap "ethnic" food via that classic American maneuver: the upsell. Their Uncle Myron owned a Caddy dealership. Presto!
Given its lack of true mid-Century context, it almost seems that the drink represents a fallen, ersatz notion of authenticity and excellence, kind of like the Cimarron. "We only get Cadillac Margaritas in grotty Tex-Mex chains here," Coldicott says. "So, ironically, if you're drinking a Cadillac Margarita here you're probably having a lousy drink. Maybe that makes sense. Nobody in Japan wants Cadillac cars either."
Perception is reality when it comes to brands. Cadillac has been making great efforts to overcome its senescent rococo heritage. It just needs to get consumers to try its products again. But barriers like these can be huge, especially when they're based on experience. We never liked pasta aglio e olio because our mother prepared it using Prince spaghetti, garlic salt and dried parsley flakes. Now, when it's made right, we love it. Perhaps the same is true of the Cadillac Margarita, a quality product hidden beneath a vinyl roof and gilded opera windows?
"The Pink Cadillac Margarita has a bad rap due to it typically being made with too much sweetener and fillers, which causes it to taste way too sweet and feel syrupy," says Rande Gerber, nightlife impresario, husband to Cindy Crawford, and founder – with his friend George Clooney – of Casamigos Tequila, a top shelf liquor used in many of the Cadillac Margarita recipes we found online. "The key is to keep the ingredients fresh, lose the orange liqueur, and pour more Casamigos." Way to drum up business, Rande.
Gerber suggests a few tweaks to the standard recipe in order to brighten, lighten, and balance the flavor. No sour mix, just fresh lime juice and a bit of simple syrup. No Gran Marnier or orange juice, but two dashes of orange bitters. Real cranberry juice instead of some high-fructose cocktail or the raspberry IHOP syrup that is Chambord. And instead of just using salt on the rim, you can add orange zest and a bit of sugar as well.
We wouldn't be doing our job if we didn't follow Gerber's instructions, and those of Kristin Clark, Casamigo's master mixologist. We're bitter, in a loveable way, so fruit-forward margaritas get our hackles up – that's why we toned down the simple syrup even more than recommended. Our modified Gerber version made the cocktail far more palatable than the one we barely remember from that South Carolina wedding.
The most famous example of a pink Cadillac in popular culture is probably Elvis' pair of mid-Fifties Series 60s, one of which burned up in a brake system failure, and the other of which still resides at his tacky house in Tennessee. Elvis' car is more like the traditional Pink Cadillac Margarita, all saccharine, swell, and froth.
A few days after our brother's Coupe DeVille text, we were on our way to LAX and saw a recent Mary Kay Cadillac on The 10. A second generation CTS, it was painted the modern version of the cosmetic company's signature giveaway color, chromatic and silvery. From across the freeway, it looked lithe and iridescent, like an OLED film. That was our Cadillac Margarita. It was crisp like that car's Arts and Science design, a bit outré and technical, but memorable, and it didn't make us sick like Elvis' Pepto-Bismol Fleetwood. Now if only we can make it the standard of the world. At Chili's.
Casamigos Pink Cadillac Margarita
2 oz. Casamigos Blanco
1 oz. Cranberry Juice
1 oz. Fresh Lime Juice
.75 oz. Sugarcane Syrup (Simple Syrup)
2 Dashes Orange Bitters
1/2 Thick Rim of salt, sugar, orange zest (equal parts)
Garnish with Lime Wheel through skewer
Serve in Rocks glass
Combine all ingredients into tin shaker. Add ice. Shake vigorously for 8-10 seconds. Strain into rimmed rocks glass. Add fresh ice. Garnish.