How to Make the Perfect Margarita


Since Today is National Margarita Day, this is a great time to reflect on the origin of this very popular cocktail.

Unfortunately, no one knows for sure. Might have been Galveston, Texas in 1948. Could have been Ensenada, Mexico in 1941. Or maybe it was introduced to the Aztecs by ancient aliens (OK, it wasn’t that one).

Oh well. How the first one was invented is much less important than how your next one should be made: without a sugary, neon-colored mix.

A margarita only requires three ingredients — the same number as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Do you use a mix for your PB&J? No, you just grab your peanut butter, your jelly and your bread. Your margarita deserves at least that level of craftsmanship. So bust out your favorite margarita tumbler and your shaker top, and let’s do this right.

Some prefer their margaritas blended — after all, a wise man dubbed it “that frozen concoction” that helps him hang on. But I like mine on the rocks; here’s what you’ll need:

  • 2 parts 100 percent blue agave tequila
  • 1 part Cointreau
  • 1 part fresh squeezed lime juice

This is slightly less potent than the International Bartenders Association recipe, which includes these same ingredients in a 7:4:3 ratio. (Our recipe is effectively 6:3:3.) If you prefer a stiffer drink, by all means use the IBA recipe.

Either way, combine the ingredients in a 16oz Tervis tumbler full of ice, attach your shaker top and shake well. Boom, there’s your margarita.

(If you want to drink it out of a glass with a salted rim, start by pouring kosher — not iodized — salt into a saucer. Rub a wedge of lime around the rim of your glass, then hold the glass parallel to the saucer. Dab the outer edge into the saucer, coat the rim all the way around, shake off any excess, add ice and pour your margarita into that glass.)

Easy, right? Making a great margarita is a breeze — if you select the right ingredients. To wit:

Only use tequila that says “100% agave” on the label. Anything else is a mixto, which must only contain 51 percent blue agave. That means it’s as much as 49 percent other stuff (like cane sugar, sugar-based syrup, artificial flavoring, artificial coloring and glycerin), and 100 percent likely to give you a brutal headache. Don’t be fooled by a label that says “100% natural;” this is not synonymous with “100% agave.” Gold or oro tequilas are mixtos — but so are many blanco (or white, silver or plata) tequilas, so choose carefully. Look for a 100 percent blue agave blanco tequila; it’s aged 60 days or less, and its fresh, earthy flavors pair well with the citrus in margaritas. Many are in the $20-$25 range for a 750ml bottle, and closer to $15 when on sale. Bigger spenders might opt for the mellower taste of a reposado, which is aged 2-12 months. That’s fine, but for margaritas, there’s no need to spring for an añejo (aged at least one year) and certainly not an extra añejo (aged at least three years). These have a natural golden hue and can be fantastic, but save them for sipping neat.

Obtain lime juice by squeezing it from actual limes. Don’t pour it from a bottle or squeeze it out of a plastic ball. Limes are cheap, and the effort required to squeeze them is minimal — but the reward is great. If you cut corners on this one, your margarita will suffer. Please don’t make your margarita suffer, especially on its national day.

Use a decent orange liqueur. Ideally, this would be Cointreau. If you prefer Grand Marnier (which is Cognac-based), balance it out with extra lime juice, as it’s twice as sweet as Cointreau (which is brandy-based). In lieu of Cointreau, Combier is slightly less expensive and tastes about the same in a margarita. The more moderately-priced Luxardo Triplum Triple Sec and Patron Citronge offer good combinations of taste and value. Or in place of Grand Marnier, Gran Gala is a popular substitute. Just don’t scrape the bottom of the barrel with a cheap triple sec, if you can help it.

Follow those simple guidelines and you’ll know how the perfect margarita tastes — and with less effort than you’ll expend searchin’ for your lost shaker of salt.

– Matt Rehm