You’ve been making margaritas all wrong. Stop it. It’s not hard. All you have to remember is 3-2-1.
3 parts tequila, 2 parts lime juice, 1 part citrus (traditionally orange) liqueur. No simple syrup, no everclear, no fucking neon green pre-made mix from a plastic bottle. Nothing but 3-2-1.
Before we get into a discussion about the right way to make a Margarita, let’s talk about this drink. The Margarita is America’s most popular cocktail. It’s a goddamn classic — in the same league as the Manhattan or a Gin Martini. And like all great cocktails, it’s good because it’s simple. You need no fancy exotic bitters or hard to find syrups. Hell, all the equipment you need to make a perfect Marg is a shaker (or mason jar, or that protein shaker you never use). And like a Manhattan, Martini, Old Fashioned, or any other classic, the Margarita is a boozy son of a bitch.
Don’t get me wrong, I like a well-made frozen from El Alma on a hot day, but it’s almost impossible to make a quality Marg at home with a blender. The frozen pool-side Marg is fine, but that’s not what we’re celebrating today. That’s closer to some overly sweet bullshit umbrella drink like a pina colada or some shit. Don’t make Margaritas like that.
Back to the 3-2-1 formula. I heard a wise man once say (it was probably Bar Rescue‘s Jon Taffer, but I digress) “a cocktail is only as good as it’s shittiest ingredient.” It’s true, and contrary to common belief, the most important element of a Margarita isn’t tequila- it’s fresh squeezed lime juice. I cannot stress this enough. Although the Margarita is a simple cocktail with only three ingredients, they are time-consuming to make. Go to the store and get three handfuls of limes. Then throw another handful in your shopping bag. Limes are cheap and they last forever in the fridge. Trust me, buy more than you think you will need. Then squeeze them into a measuring cup. You’ll need two ounces of lime juice per drink — that could be 4 limes for each one, depending on how juicy they are.
Let’s talk about tequila. Everyone has a friend who refuses to drink tequila because of an incident when they were 18. The reason they vomited/committed a felony/died is because they drank Jose Cuervo. CUERVO IS TRASH. Don’t ever drink it. Granted, Cuervo makes a couple of decent (but very overpriced) tequilas, but the standard Jose Cuervo Gold is the worst swill you can possibly drink. Our cocktail is 50% tequila, therefore remember what Taffer said. For a good Marg you don’t need to break the bank. You need a blanco (clear) tequila. An aged reposado isn’t necessary and doesn’t actually pair with lime juice as well as a decent blanco. Just make sure the bottle says “100% agave” on it. (Cuervo Gold isn’t a blanco or a reposado, it’s a mixto, it’s not 100% agave, and it’s fucking trash.)
The third element is a liqueur. This could be something fancy like Cointreau or Grand Marnier. I’m partial to a local brand, Paula’s Texas Orange. It’s cheap, boozy, (40%) and it tastes good. And because it’s only one-third of the drink, it’s hard to justify spending $40 on Grand Marnier. It’s important to mention that you should avoid almost anything calling itself “Triple Sec,” and certainly avoid anything in a plastic bottle (the Taffer Rule is still in effect). Also worth noting is that while orange is traditional, any citrus booze will work in a pinch. If you’ve got a couple of shots of Deep Eddy Lemon laying around, use that.
Putting the drink together is easy. Fill a shaker with ice. Three ounces tequila, two ounces lime juice, one-ounce citrus booze. Shake the hell out of it. Now you have a proper Margarita. Pick a lowball glass, or a wine glass, or one of those fucking colorful Margarita glasses you never use. Rub a little lime on the rim, then apply some kosher salt. Or just throw a pinch of salt into the drink if you like. I like mine straight up- no ice needed. If you want one “on the rocks” you should be able to figure that out. Maybe you’ve got one of those molds that makes big fancy ice cubes you bought to drink with whiskey, but mostly sits in your freezer.
If you’re not a big drinker, this boozy beauty can be intimidating. That’s ok. Take a highball glass, fill it with ice to the top. Pour it halfway full with your 3-2-1 mix. Top off the drink with soda water (or if you can get one, an ice cold Topo Chico), drop in a straw, and enjoy what we call in Austin the “Ranch Water.” This is a great drink to enjoy for several hours poolside.
Another option is the deceivingly-named “Mexican Martini.” This drink is neither Mexican nor is it a martini, but it is delicious. Splash a little brine from a jar of green olives into your shaker. A little OJ (if you’ve got it in the fridge) brings a little sweetness, which helps balance the brineyness of the olive juice. Drop a couple of olives into a glass with a salted rim, then pour the 3-2-1 (+OJ and olive juice) straight from the shaker, and drink straight up. If you made a drink with 3 ounces of tequila, this should create at least a couple glasses of this elixir. You can use a martini glass if you want to be fancy. I’m a grown man, so a lowball is my preference.
Finally a word on the so-called “Skinny Margarita.” The perfect 3-2-1 Margarita IS a skinny Marg. Most restaurants selling “Skinny Margaritas” use so much additional sugar in their Margs that they offer a Marg made with Splenda to taste equally sweet and call that a “Skinny.” Don’t do this. Just drink the 3-2-1.
In conclusion, the Margarita is important. Respect it. Celebrate any day that ends in “y” with a simple, and well-made Marg. Easy as 3-2-1..
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