Despite its greatness in the glass, there’s not much to a good margarita. Meaning that the spirit in question — traditionally tequila but sometimes mezcal or even sotol — needs to be solid. It’s the foundation on which the complementary citrus, sweetener, and salt are stacked.
While we have a good palate for these things, we like to put our trust in the tried-and-true professionals. In this case, we’re talking bartenders, the skilled mixologists who have made countless margaritas. They’ve had the good fortune to test many tequilas and have come away with some of the best options when putting together this timeless cocktail.
Here are the 12 best tequilas for margaritas, whether you’re mixing some up for Cinco de Mayo or just need a refreshing classic cocktail as warmer weather sets in.
Many of our surveyed bartenders selected clean, lightweight blanco (unaged) tequilas as their picks for margarita inclusion. Lead bartender Lauren Mathews of Urbana in Washington, D.C. tells us that, “One of my favorite tequilas to put in a margarita is Casa Noble Blanco. It’s such a fresh tequila, and I love the undertones of mint in it. It’s a great addition to a margarita!”
Co-bar director Othón Nolasco of Hermanito in Los Angeles opts for Tequila Tromba Blanco when making his bar’s signature margs, explaining that “the Hermanito Margarita features Tromba Blanco as its lush tropical flavors burst with a viscosity that cuts through citrus and lingers with a smooth finish. My partners and I at Va’La Hospitality are proud to pour Tromba as it’s family owned, ethically sourced, and produced in batches small enough to be consistent.”
“My favorite tequila to make cocktails with is Suerte Blanco, for good reason. I’ve tried lots and lots of tequilas, and I’m always coming back to this one. It is made traditionally with 100% Blue Weber agave, crushed with a traditional tahona wheel and slow-roasted in a brick oven. It has a smooth, clean finish, along with citrus notes and a subtle sweetness that lends itself to making the perfect margarita,” says bar manager Cara Frink of Comida in Denver, Colorado of her preferred margarita tequila.
Blanco tequila is also commonly known as “silver” tequila or silver’s Spanish translation, “plata.” Beverage director Weng Lee of Halifax in Hoboken, New Jersey likes Clase Azul Plata in margaritas “because [Clase Azul is] a truly artisanal tequila family – each type comes in its own unique, handcrafted bottle. They harvest 100% organic Blue Weber (Tequilana) agave plants and cook them in old brick ovens prior to their fermentation process. At Halifax, we use Clase Azul Plata, the silver tequila of the family. It offers a delightfully smooth flavor with a pleasant hint of sweetness. The flavors complement the tanginess of a traditional margarita well.”
A popular prestige tequila, Don Julio Blanco is the margarita tequila of choice for beverage director Andrea Cornwell of Ocean Prime, who tells us that “[Don Julio Blanco] is clean, soft and a great complement to fruit notes. The grapefruit and lime in [Ocean Prime’s signature margarita] pair perfectly with the agave spirit.”
According to bar manager Cari Hah of Big Bar in Los Angeles, “Balance is the key to any great cocktail. Each ingredient is meant to complement the others. Tequila Ocho Blanco’s signature flavor profile – clean, crisp, peppery, bright – works beautifully with the sweetness of Cointreau and sourness of fresh lime juice [in a margarita].”
While the light texture and refreshing profile of blanco tequila make it a margarita favorite, some bartenders prefer the rich and nuanced notes present in an aged tequila for this cocktail. Lead bartender Chris Burmeister of Citizen Rail in Denver, Colorado counts himself among this number, recommending a reposado tequila for a margarita with appealing flavor depth. “Tapatio Reposado is a great tequila from Arandas, located in the highlands of Jalisco.
It’s a beautiful tequila with ever-present floral and vegetal agave notes, [it has a] light sweetness and provides the perfect amount of wood and baking spice, which stems from being aged for eight months in old bourbon barrels. It’s perfect for a margarita because [it has a] balance of fresh agave like you would get in a blanco, but also brings roundness and complexity from the wood aging. It’s an awesome tequila for the home bar,” Burmeister tells The Manual.
Beverage director Jenn Ramos of Big Night in Boston also uses reposado tequila in her margaritas, and she particularly enjoys the version made by Avion. “A favorite of mine is Avion Reposado. Avion is from the ‘highland’ region of Mexico, where the soil naturally produces sweeter agave, thus yielding tequilas that are more fruit-forward. Avion Reposado has hints of peach and pear and subtle notes of oak and vanilla; all of these elements make it a great tequila to mix cocktails with,” Ramos explains.
“This is a great new tequila that focuses on what our consumers are looking for, [which] is Certified Organic [spirits]. This Reposado is [my] favorite for making a margarita. From the resting of the tequila, you can taste layers in the cocktail, like sweet spice and vanilla,” claims lead mixologist Francis Mojica of Above Ash Social in San Diego of Solento Organic Reposado.
Añejo tequila receives 1-3 years of aging in oak barrels, and it’s commonly considered a “sipping” tequila rather than a cocktail spirit. However, mixologist Daniel Rodriguez of Cantina Rooftop in NYC appreciates Añejo’s complexity when making a “Cadillac” margarita, a spin on the classic marg that utilizes aged tequila and Cognac in lieu of blanco tequila and triple sec. “Don Diego Santa Añejo Tequila is very smooth and elegant with aromas of hazelnut, clove, and vanilla. This tequila is very affordable and can compete with some of the most expensive tequilas. You can sip it or prepare the ‘Don Diego Old Cadillac’ Margarita with this tequila,” Rodriguez says in support of his Añejo preference.
With a rapidly rising profile and a spectacularly popular smoky taste, the agave spirit known as mezcal often replaces tequila as the primary liquor in margaritas. Taproom manager Lamarr Hawkins of Brooklyn Cider House in NYC favors the rendition made by Del Maguel Vida, stating that “when making margaritas, I find myself reaching for a mezcal in place of tequila. The smoky flavor of mezcal is a great contrast to the citrus of lime and triple sec. My bottle of choice for a mezcal margarita tends to be Del Maguey Vida. The notes of this particular mezcal lean towards tropical fruit and honey, which add a unique pop to the classic margarita.”
“Joven” — or “young” — refers to mezcal that hasn’t undergone an aging process, like Recuerdo de Oaxaca Joven, the must-have margarita spirit for bartender Emilio Dominguez of Casa Maya Grill in Deerfield Beach, Florida, who tells us that, “El Recuerdo de Oaxaca is Casa Maya Grill’s new favorite mezcal. The flavor is approachable, smooth and balanced — something the mezcal market is missing right now. Appropriately smoky, it’s perfect for blending into cocktails without overpowering them.”
Play around with some of the above and enjoy the results. Your margarita moves are about to improve, just in time for summer and the need for refreshing drinks. Just remember to always use fresh citrus and never shy away from trying a great lesser-known liqueur (like Ancho Reyes, ideal in a margarita).
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