Festive hospitality on Cinco de Mayo calls for serving your party guests a refreshing selection of drinks with a real “south of the border” flavor. Lay out your bar area with a variety of authentic Mexican beverages or popular drinks that are inspired by the colourful culture of Mexico, with plenty of sharp citrus flavors to counter the spicy foods we love, and make sure those thirst-quenching liquids are ice-cold. The warmer the weather on an early May night, and the hotter the salsa, the colder we love our drinks to be!
Alcoholic Drinks or Non-Alcoholic? Serve Both!
Be sure to stock lots of non-alcholic drinks for your Cinco de Mayo party – not just the hard stuff and giggly pop, even if you’re throwing a party for adult guests only. The good host and hostess won’t let any “designated drivers” feel left out of the festivities, and there’s bound to be at least a couple of nondrinkers in the crowd – especially as more of us tend to limit our booze intake these days, to dodge the extra calories and future headache!
Fortunately, there are all kinds of wonderful refreshing beverages you can serve, both spiked and virgin, in keeping with a Mexican Cinco de Mayo party theme.
5 Festive Mexican Beverages for Cinco de Mayo
Here are 5 of our top picks for the bar:
1 Mezcal or Tequila
Serve the traditional agave-based distillation in moderation and as a beverage to savor, either as a straight shot or on the rocks. There are some wonderful single-village varieties of mezcal made in Oaxaca, Mexico, following a process that’s 500 years old, but it can be pricey and hard to find.
Much of the lower-priced product we find on liquor store shelves up north is less subtle, best used as an ingredient in a cocktail – try a long slow Tequila Sunrise, very retro – or to give a Mexican kick to the traditional Spanish wine punch, Sangria.
2 Margarita Cocktails or Frozen Margaritas
Easily one of the most popular cocktails going, the lime-spiked Margarita is another fine use for Tequila. You’ll find a huge number of Margarita recipes online and in “mixology” guides, but the traditional Margarita recipe is as easy as “3-2-1”:
- 3 parts Tequila
- 2 parts lime juice (fresh squeezed is best)
- 1 part Triple sec (orange-flavored liqueur)
Ideal for early in the evening – at cocktail hour, before a meal – when the party is still at a stage where host or hostess is still up for tending the bar, willing and able to rim those stemmed glass with lime salt. For a self-serve option, mix up a big frosty pitcher of Margaritas and set out the saucers of salt for your guests to prep their own – or indulge in one of those lovely gadgets that turn out frozen slushy drink concoctions. The frozen variety may not be traditional, but they go down a treat with party guests!
3 Cervezas de México
You and your friends have probably discovered the pleasures of Mexican beer already, and have your own favorite brands – but if you are looking for a suggestion, it’s hard to go wrong with a selection chosen from mainstream brands such as Corona, Estrella, Tecate, Modelo, Indio, Dos Equis, and so on, all familiar to American fans of Mexican beer. If hot temperatures are in the forecast for Cinco de Mayo, however, you might want lay in a supply of the lighter, more thirst-quenching pale pilsners rather than the heartier and slightly heavier amber brews. It’s hard to go wrong with Corona if you only have fridge space for one kind of beer.
How to serve Mexican cervezas? Chill the bottles well in a tub of chipped ice, and set out a tub of lime wedges. Amber beer is best poured into a tall beer glass, like North American and European brews, but the party-preferredway to tip back a crisp cold Corona is straight from the bottle, with a wedge of lime tucked into the bottle’s neck.
4 Agua Fresca
The traditional soft drink of Mexico, aqua fresca (Spanish for “fresh water”) is a non-alcoholic drink made primarily from fruit and water, puréed (I love my Cuisinart stick blender for this), strained (optional), and lightly sweetened. Some versions also use grains such as chia seeds or rice, and some even contain milk. For a party, unless you know the tastes of your guests very well, you might want to stick with pure fruit.
Pineapple, peach, mango, watermelon and lemon-lime are my favorite flavors for an aqua fresca, along with the slightly unusual combination of cucumber and lime (try it – very refreshing!), but you can use any fresh fruit in season. Choose fruit that is well ripened but still at peak quality for the finest flavor.
If your party beverage budget is on the tight side, I’ve found you can toss in a can or two of frozen fruit juice concentrate to make the fresh fruit stretch a little farther. But nothing beats a homemade aqua fresca made entirely from fresh fruit to quench your thirst on a hot night, or when you’re dining on spicy Mexican food. For extra pizzazz, give it a shot of seltzer or soda water just before serving.
5 Jamaica Tea
Jamaica (pronounced something like “Ha-my-ka”) is another non-alcoholic drink that’s perfect for Cinco de Mayo. It is as refreshing as a fruit-based agua fresca, but it’s made with the dried flowers of the hibiscus plant. Yes, the same beautiful flowering plant you may have in your garden or in a container on the patio! Steeped in water and lightly sweetened, hibiscus tea is a gorgeous ruby-red drink that’s incredibly rich in Vitamin C.
In Oaxaca at any corner store we could get a squeeze bottle of Jamaica syrup, very thick and heavy and sweet, that could be mixed by the spoonful into tonic water, mineral water, or spring water – when we weren’t devouring the ruby-red syrup as a topping for creamy vanilla ice cream. I don’t know if you can find the syrup in your part of the world, but nowadays even in the northern countries it is getting quite easy to find dried hibiscus flowers online or in a local bulk health food store. And if all else fails, lots of grocery chains and department stores now carry Hibiscus tea or tea bags, which will do in a pinch.
You can enjoy the Jamaica drink either hot or iced, and sweeten it with sugar or honey according to taste. Some people like to toss in a cinnamon stick or other spices while the concoction is getting brewed, but I prefer to let the full flavor of the flowers come through in the finished drink. To serve cold as a refreshing party drink, just pour the Jamaica over ice in a tall glass and add a splash of lemon juice.
Ready for the Fiesta?
With a few key decorations, a whimsical piñata hanging over your bar area, and Mexican-theme cocktail napkins with matching or coordinating tapas plates, your side table or poolside bar is transformed into the perfect setting for your Cinco de Mayo party.
You could even plan your drinks layout to reflect the red, white and green colors of Mexico’s national flag! Think hisbiscus, watermelon, tropical fruit mixes and aguas frescas, with crisp clear spring water or mineral water as a palette cleanser in the center, and the inevitable lime-based libations in vibrant green to round out the Mexican color scheme. Light up the patio lanterns, tune the guitars, and let the fiesta begin!
Featured photos in public domain, modified by the author; Product images courtesy of the manufacturers and Amazon.com