The Current

Make a Margarita That Demands Respect

It’s simple, really. Just buy decent tequila, go with Cointreau, and for God’s sake, get some fresh limes.

Using real limes in the face of a national lime shortage just makes a marg that much more upscale, right?     Photo: European Project Studios/Thinkstock

It’s margarita season, friends, a time when we fill our glasses with a drink that is not only refreshing, but will keep you from dying of scurvy if stranded at sea.

Unfortunately, the margarita gets a bad rap, and for good reason: It’s made terribly 90 percent of the time. And that’s a shame, because it’s so damn easy to make so damn good.

Here’s how to do it right. Follow these basic rules, and you’ll be a legendary ‘rita-maker in no time.

1. Use Fresh Limes

As in the actual fruit that comes wrapped in a green peel. Never buy bottled lime juice—freshness is your friend, and it’s the difference between a lively, refreshing marg and one that just kinda lies there in your mouth. Also, if you’ve ever had a margarita that tasted like sugar and chemicals, then you already know why off-the-shelf margarita mixes suck.

You want to find limes that are fully ripe. (If they’re like little green rocks, the drink will turn out overpoweringly sour and/or bitter.) Before your guests arrive, cut your limes in half and squeeze them through a strainer and into a container, so you’re ready for action.

2. Go Cointreau

A lot of recipes call for Triple Sec or the generic “orange liqueur.” Generally speaking, this is a mistake. These cheaper liqueurs will crowd out the subtle flavors of the tequila with sweetness and often a weird, artificial, chemical aftertaste. Cointreau isn’t cheap, but a little goes a long way.

3. Buy the Right Tequila

The only hard and fast rule here is to use a 100 percent agave spirit. Really, 100 percent is the bare minimum.

Tequila is the heart of this drink, and if you give your drink a rotgut heart, your guests will know and you will bring shame unto your house.

That said, you don’t need to go top-shelf. Yes, a margarita made with Milagro will taste better, but it may not be worth it. Hornitas is reasonably-priced and goes very nicely in a margarita. Avoid Cuervo at all costs.

Generally speaking, you want to use a silver tequila (also known as white, or blanco tequila). It's unaged and gives you the most un-tampered-with agave flavor.

If you want something with a slightly richer flavor that’s a little bit smoother, you can upgrade to a reposado (tequila aged up to one year), but it’s likely money wasted. An añejo tequila (aged one to thee years) is definitely overkill—it’s much more expensive, and the subtler flavors aren’t likely to shine through anyway. Alternatively, if you want a smoky margarita, reach for a decent mescal.

4. Go Heavy on the Extras—If You Must

There are a lot of ways to gussy-up a margarita. Do you want to add pineapple, or strawberry, or mango? It’s all good, really, just follow the same rule as the limes: Go fresh or go home. 

Juice them if you can, blend them in a pinch. What about salt on the rim? Personally, I’m against it, as I think it detracts from the more subtle flavors of the tequila (which makes sense since the original point of the salt was to disguise the cheap hooch).

That said, Americans can’t get enough of it, so if that’s your thing, go and enjoy your extra sodium in peace. You’re certainly in good company.

Recipe

It seems like no two elite bartenders have exactly the same recipe, but for all the recipes I’ve tried, I lean toward this very simple one.

• 2 ounces silver tequila

• 1 ounce fresh lime juice

• 0.75 ounces Cointreau

• Ice cubes

• Lime wheel as garnish (optional)

Directions

Combine the above ingredients in a shaker and give them a good shake. Strain into rocks glass. Add a wheel of lime as garnish if you feel so inclined. Enjoy.

Bear in mind that there are some variables here and you’ll have to adjust accordingly. Are the limes sour? You might want to add some simple syrup or agave nectar to sweeten it up a little (adding more Cointreau can throw off the flavor profile). 

The tequila you chose has no flavor? Add a little more until you can taste the drink’s centerpiece. Experiment with ratios until you dial in on exactly what you like.

Nothing is set in stone. But for crying out loud, please trust us on the fresh limes.

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