Moctezuma’s Mexican Restaurant is known for its street tacos, tequila-flamed fajitas and molcajete.
Now the Tacoma-based restaurant company has launched its own line of orange liqueur for its margaritas. It’s also created a fancy bottle to dispense that liqueur.
Grandeza Orange Liqueur is the name of the spirit designed by Bernie Garcia, son of Moctezuma’s founder, Arturo Garcia.
How Garcia wound up launching an orange liqueur begins with a late-night internet search for a novelty bottle.
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He was inspired by CoronaRitas. It’s a Texas thing in which a tiny bottle of Corona beer is tipped into a margarita to add a boozy swirl.
Garcia wanted a bottle that easily would clip onto the glass to trickle orange liqueur — turning it Cadillac style — into the margaritas at Moctezuma’s.
He had used small bottles of Grand Marnier rigged with a holding clip, but he had bigger ideas and a problem.
“I don’t like the flavor of Grand Marnier in a margarita,” said Garcia.
“It’s cognac based. It’s like mixing whiskey into a rum cocktail or vodka into a gin cocktail. You shouldn’t mix two kinds of liquor into a cocktail like that.”
He added, “When you add it to tequila, it overpowers the flavor of the tequila. All you can taste is cognac.”
The practice evolved from restaurants using cheap tequila to build a margarita.
“In order to mask that cheap tequila flavor, they’d use the strong liqueurs like Grand Marnier to overpower it, but now people are more aware of the higher quality tequilas,” he said. “They’re more savvy, and the explosion of the popularity of Patron and higher-quality tequilas has improved the image of tequila.”
Garcia said his restaurant shifted to serving only 100 percent agave tequila in its margaritas.
The big question was: How to deliver a good quality orange liqueur into a margarita using something similar to the Grand Marnier bottle clipped to the glass?
His internet searches yielded no results for a non-branded bottle he could attach easily to the margarita glasses. That set him off on months of contemplating a question — could he make his own?
It turns out that he could.
He consulted equipment experts and got a patent for the bottle design. He blew through several iterations before settling on the one that’s been used for several months in the Moctezuma’s restaurants.
He calls it a sidecar bottle and it looks like a mini airliner-sized liquor bottle, but with a handy elbow jutting from the top. Servers crack open the little bottles table side and dunk them upside down into the glass.
The next step was to find the perfect orange liqueur.
Except that Garcia couldn’t.
Once again, he asked the question — could he make his own?
Lacking a license to do such a thing — the feds are pretty strict about moonshining, after all — he turned to a local spirits company based in Woodinville (a non-disclosure forbids his publicizing which company).
“Most orange liqueurs are made with brandy or cognac, but we created one that’s a neutral-grain spirit at the base. The sweetener is really important. We use dark agave nectar from Mexico. So the agave nectar is derived from the agave plant where tequila comes from, so they’re automatically complementary. The bitter orange peels and a hint of vanilla round out the flavors. It took us 20-25 tries to fine tune to come up with our recipe,” said Garcia.
The result is an aromatic liqueur.
The bottles deliver a boost of boozy citrus flavor deep into the margarita glass. The bottle’s design means the spirit slowly melds into the drink. Those who want to evenly swirl the liqueur into the margarita can simply lift it and tip the liqueur into the drink.
They come with a bit of a high price, $15.95 each, by typical Mexican restaurant standards, but one thing to remember is that they’re a double cocktail with a shot of tequila and another of liqueur (they’re also available in raspberry and blackberry flavors). And, of course, they come with that fancy little bottle.
Here’s some big news: Grandeza is now available at other local restaurants, including El Toro, and eventually will be distributed in stores via distributor Southern Glazer Wine and Spirits, said Garcia.
Moctezuma’s Mexican Restaurant and Tequila Bar
Tacoma: 4102 S. 56th St., Tacoma; 253-474-5593; moctezumas.com.
Gig Harbor: 4628 Point Fosdick Dr., Gig Harbor; 253-851-8464
Other locations: Silverdale, Tukwila