In the year 2019, thermoses can do anything. They’re leak resistant. They’re vacuum insulated. They can press your coffee, ice it, and reheat it. If social progress was measured by the sheer variety of vessels designed to keep your bean juice piping hot, we’ve arguably reached utopia.
But as a nondrinker of that bitter, brown liquid, I wanted to know: What can travel mugs do for me? So a few friends and I drove from Santa Fe to Juárez, Mexico, this fall and visited the extremely disputed birthplace of an alcoholic drink dear to the hearts of many: the margarita. After filling four thermoses with the frozen cocktail, we drove back to Santa Fe and taste-tested the concoction from each travel mug.
The test gave us the answer to that age-old question: Which container best keeps margaritas tasting cold and fresh after 24 hours of travel? These are the results of our investigation.
The 99-year-old Kentucky Club in Juárez opened during Prohibition, when distilleries from Kentucky and other states moved to Mexico to legally continue their craft. The bar and restaurant quickly became a destination for ethanol-deprived Americans, who would cross the border in El Paso, Texas, seeking refreshment. Legend has it that the establishment’s bartender in the late 1930s, Lorenzo “Lencho” Hernandez, first put tequila, lime juice, Cointreau, and crushed ice in a cocktail shaker. But in reality, the Kentucky Club is hardly the only bar that claims to have invented the drink, and the true origin story will probably forever be a mystery. But for our purposes, these margaritas did just fine.
We purchased eight margaritas on Saturday, October 12, at 2:35 P.M., and drank a few at the club (this round of drinks would serve as our control group). We then gingerly poured two margaritas each into insulated travel mugs representing four different brands: CamelBak, Hydro Flask, Stanley, and Yeti. On Saturday night, we camped at White Sands National Monument, outside Alamogordo, New Mexico, (and had a hard time resisting a swig from our vessels) before returning to Sante Fe on Sunday afternoon, October 13. At 5:18 P.M., three other journalists and I taste-tested the margaritas in each thermos (that’s is 26 hours and 48 minutes of travel time.) The four of us each awarded the drinks a score on a scale of one to ten, for a possible total of 40 points. We considered three criteria: coldness, taste, and drinkability. In order to preserve the purity of our palates, we did not order Domino’s Pizza until after the testing concluded.
Test Case 1: CamelBak Eddy + 20-Ounce Bottle
Sitting around the day-old margaritas, we didn’t know what to expect. Would any of them be cold at all? Would they all taste exactly the same, rendering our intended comparisons—and our entire journey south of the border—a waste of time? The CamelBak relieved our first concern. The margarita had remained colder than room temperature. But the crushed ice had melted, so the snow-cone texture that makes the cocktail so enjoyable on a hot day was absent. The drink was what can be best described as luke-cold, which was better than our worst fears.
Otherwise, we thought the margarita in the CamelBak tasted OK. The tequila wasn’t well masked, leaving the beverage with a somewhat harsh flavor. One reviewer succinctly summarized our collective impression: “I would definitely drink it, but I already have a pretty low bar.”
Taste Case 2: Yeti Rambler 18-Ounce Bottle
We had high hopes for our Yeti thermos. This high-end brand has made coolers so cool, they’ve become a lifestyle. And we did think the margarita in the Rambler tasted notably better than that in the CamelBak. Not only did this version seem smoother and saltier, it was even colder than the CamelBak’s. But there was also no sign of ice.
Two of our judges felt the drink took on a metallic taste while in the Rambler. It was the low note of a travel-mug margarita (mugarita?) that otherwise held up well.
Test Case 3: Stanley Master Unbreakable Trigger-Action Mug, 16 Ounce
This aesthetically pleasing Stanley travel mug may be unbreakable, but it broke our hearts a little. The green liquid in it remained about as cold as the CamelBak version, but the flavors were amiss. Two of our judges agreed that the adult beverage tasted “briney,” which some cocktail experts would surely agree is the spiritual antonym of “refreshing.” There was no ice.
It was almost as if Stanley thermoses weren’t explicitly designed to preserve the flavors of margaritas for more than 24 hours. (This mug is an excellent choice for coffee and tea, howver.) I think it is safe to say we’re never going to drive to Juárez to fill our Stanley Master Unbreakable Trigger-Action Mug at the Kentucky Club again.
Test Case 4: Hydro Flask 18-Ounce Wide Mouth
Rejoice, for the Hydro Flask version of the mugarita has no equal! All four of us gave the Hydro Flask the highest scores (an 8, an 8.5, a 7, and a 6.5 out of 10), largely because of how well the Wide Mouth maintained the margarita’s true and original flavor. We all concluded that the concoction in this thermos was just as cold as the Rambler version. Sadly, all the ice inside the Hydro Flask had melted, too.
“It has the best mouth feel,” said one judge (not a qualified sommelier). “It tastes as if the individual components have not separated but rather kept together nicely.” All of us agreed that the flavor reminded us of a multidimensional, fresh margarita.
We admit that, by now, several margaritas into the evening, the tequila may have altered the accuracy of our judgments as well as our mental states. But there was one thing we knew for sure: we had undoubtedly made the most of our weekend for the sake of science.