Cocktails and Tall Tales: Yu Yu Hakusho and the Margarita
Welcome back to another lovely pairing where he harken back to a super class, one of the OG’s of my generation and a piece that might just classify as a “Timeless Classic”. Yu Yu Hakusho is lauded as one of the best series in anime/manga history, with a banger opening song, iconic characters, a gripping story, and a wardrobe whose drip doesn’t stop for anything.
(Not even the credits)
And the Margarita might be one of the top 5 recognizable cocktails by name, flavor, or effect it has on people. Whenever someone wants to have a good time, a mention of a margarita isn’t far away. Is it Tuesday when you’re reading this?
So what brings the two together to become a perfect pairing you’ll be raving about all the way into the Spirit World? Let’s take a look at the anime first. Yu Yu Hakusho follows a high schooler, Yusuke Urameshi from being a school skipping, street fighting punk to one of the greatest Spirit Detectives the Spirit World has ever seen. His journey ferries him from our world to the next, after he loses his life saving a child from a runaway truck. It’s established that this seems to be out of character for Yusuke as far as most of the cast is concerned. He’s some punk that goes around fighting in the streets, skipping school, and having a smart mouth. There’s no way he would save anyone’s life!
(Look at that face, he’s a perfect gentleman)
The supporting cast from his human life is gathered around his funeral and each have a gripping, visceral response to his passing. His rival whose butt he kicked semi-daily was bawling his eyes out. His childhood friend sobs uncontrollably, and his mother gets real friendly with the sake bottle. “How does this punk have these people who care so much about him?” asks the jaded principal who feels he got what he deserved.
(Jaded teachers is so 20th century)
Luckily, his true reputation carries with him to the spirit world, where if he can complete a series of character affirming trials that will restore his life to him, under the condition that he becomes the Spirit Detective for he Jr. King of Spirit World, Koenma. Figuring it’d be better than being dead, Yusuke agrees and he puts his delinquency to good use. Each adventure takes him deeper and deeper into the culture of Spirit Energy, first learning from the psychic Genkai, and eventually into the Demon World to conquer their strongest in the Dark Tournament. It’s a definite glow-up from some random high school student with bad grades and great hair.
[!Spoiler Warning! - The following characterizations might be very revealing those new to the series]
The supporting cast behind him also have their own glow-ups. His eternal rival Kuwabara always had a knack for knowing when supernatural things were going on around him. Turns out his sensitivity to Spirit Energy allowed him to learn to craft his own into a sword. He uses it to carve his own future. Master thief Kurama escapes pursuit from Demon World by possessing a young boy and nurses his human mother back to health, while also regaining the power of his complete demon form. Hiei is a career criminal dabbling in everything from body modification to assassination, but he always finds time to check on and protect his little sister, wherever she may be.
Then we have the delicious, the marvelous, Margarita! It’s a Tequila based cocktail with sugar, lime and triple sec, or orange liqueur.
This kind of glow up with the whole squad becoming great characters of proportional calibers is what makes Yu Yu Hakusho a perfect pair for the Margarita. The base spirit in the Margarita, which is a particularized distillate of another, maybe lesser known spirit, mezcal. What’s mezcal, you ask? Good question, reader! Mezcal is a delicious distillate that can only be made from plants in the maguey family. Produced only in certain regions of Mexico like Durango or Oaxaca (any other cactus from anywhere else needs to be named differently. It’s a quality control thing), mezcal is fermented from the hearts of these noble plants that can grow for eight years before they’re harvested. Once harvested, the agave hearts are roasted to caramelize their sugars and bring a smoky flavor to mash before they’re pressed (in classical operations) by a stone wheel called a tejona (tay-hoe-nuh) and sent to be distilled.
(Maguey mash step by step. Neat, ain't it?)
There are lots of species of maguey that can be used to craft a signature flavor of a particular brand of mezcal and it can even be aged in a barrel like whiskey or wine. But what makes tequila a special kind of mezcal is first its mash composition of at least 50% blue agave. Second, it cannot undergo the roasting process that most other mezcals go through, resulting in a more austere, clean flavor where the taste of the agave can really shine through, without having to worry about the phenolic compounds from the smoke overpowering it. It’s a clean, cactus-ey distillate that can be some people’s best friend, but others worst nightmare. Ask your friends if they have a story about tequila and three out of five might have one for you.
So what brings Yu Yu Hakusho and the Margarita together? Look a the glow ups! Yusuke and his crew all had a rough time before they came together. Yusuke and Kuwabara boxed it out in the streets daily. Hiei and Kurama you meet as criminals, but they become some of the most important members of the Spirit Detective’s crew, carrying the team in their fair share of battles! The whole squad had a pride in taking their learned experiences and distilling that down into a greater scheme to overcome every obstacle they met. For the sake of the team, they showed they were not only resilient in battle, but compassionate and complex characters who needed a stage to show their true selves.
You can say the same for tequila's relationship to mezcal. Not that it’s batter or worse tasting than mezcal, but tequila is the more approachable flavor palate of the two. The bright, almost citrusy flavor of agave is the stage that theater of Margarita plays out on, linking the acidic character of the tequila to the citrus aromatics and orange flavor of the triple sec. Lime juice and simple syrup are there to link two spirits in the shake, providing a beverage that can highlight each of its ingredients strengths and leaves no room for a weakness. Yu Yu Hakusho and Team Urameshi are the Margarita of anime fandom, clean and approachable with all of the making of a great foundation, and the timeless cocktails that should never be forgotten.
Here's my recipe for a a margarita that'll take you'll want a pitcher of during the whole Dark Tournament:
Urameshi Drip Margarita
..5 oz simple syrup
.75 oz lime juice
.75 oz Grand Marnier orange liqueur (this has a bit of cognac in it as well)
1.5 oz Espolòn ReposadoTequila
Combine all ingredients in a shaking tin
Add ice and shake
Garnish with a lime wheel and finger guns *pew pew*
Which Team Urameshi redemption arc is your favorite? You have another timeless classic? Let us know in the comments and see you next time!