The best margaritas do not grow on trees, nor do they show up in a can (although there are some tasty canned drinks these days). No, the tastiest version of the tequila classic is made fresh, with love and care and some wisdom from a couple of top bartenders.
It’s a balancing act, for sure, but when it’s dialed-in, the margarita is one of the best and most refreshing cocktails ever devised. The classic mix of agave spirit, lime, salt, and a touch of sweetness is great alone or with any number of dishes, especially within Mexican cuisine (the nation where the drink was born).
So how do you make the king of the classic tequila cocktails? It’s all about freshness and catering to your liking of both brightness and sweetness. Oh, and the tequila plays a major role, so be sure you know what you’re working with. We like to think we make a mean margarita but we can’t compete with the best in the business. So in order to improve our overall game, we reached out fo a few top bartenders.
How to Make
Alicia Perry is the beverage director at Consortium Holdings. She likes a well-rounded margarita, one that does not lean too much in any given direction. “The margarita, for me, is all about balance,” she says. “I certainly do not prefer mine to be utterly sweet, or boozy. I prefer a partially salted rim of the glass, and a healthy lime wedge for expression.” Her recipe, below, stresses a good tequila as well as lime juice, which always ought to be freshly squeezed.
Perry’s recipe calls for some restraint when it comes to salt. “I mention the partially salted rim of the glass; what I mean by this is one half of the rim salted, the other half unsalted. The reason being is that I like having the option to add salinity to the cocktail throughout my enjoyment of the cocktail,” she says.
In terms of the added citrus, Perry prefers a lime wedge to wheel. “I enjoy the acidity and brightness a wedge contributes with the ease of a squeeze,” she says.
Sean Pearson echoes this sentiment, going for balance in his ideal margarita. He’s the general manager at La Esquina, a buzzing NYC taqueria. “Most often, when people make them at home, they either use too much tequila, the wrong type of tequila—something super sweet like Casamigos—triple sec, or synthetic juices and sweeteners,” he says. “All of these things will ruin your Margarita!”
Pearson goes with a blanco tequila to achieve the classic flavor profile. “The best tequilas for a margarita are 100% blue agave, and are more agave-forward in flavor, meaning peppery, vegetal, and even a little bit spicy,” he says. “Search for a lowlands tequila, or a more floral highlands tequila to familiarize yourself with this flavor profile. All lowlands tequilas are representative of those characteristics.”
In terms of juices, Pearson says it’s all about lime and lemon and nothing else. “Sometimes people use orange juice, but OJ is so sweet by nature, that even the slightest bit just overpowers all the other flavors,” he says.
Perry and Pearson agree on just about all of the basic ingredients, including the sweetener. “Agave is native to Mexico, so naturally, it makes sense to use it to balance tequila,” Pearson says. “Organic raw agave is less refined than the light blue agave, so the flavor is more pungent and rich. It’s also one of the lowest glycemic sweeteners you can use so technically, even when used, the margarita can be classified as ‘skinny.'”
What about prep? Pearson says you have to shake the thing over ice. “Do not stir, and never just mix the ingredients and sip,” he says. “Shaking the margarita is essential to marrying all of these beautiful components together, with water from the ice being the binding agent.”
Here are their two ideal and sibling margarita recipes. Shake ’em up and see which one you like best, you can’t go wrong.
Alicia Perry’s Margarita
This version utilizes fresh citrus, agave, nectar, and the candied orange quality of Cointreau.
- 2 ounces tequila of your choice (Perry likes El Tesoro Reposado or Tequila Ocho Blanco)
- .3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
- 1 ounce Cointreau
- 1/4 ounce agave nectar
- Combine all ingredients in shaking tins or cocktail shaker with ice.
- Strain over ice into your preferred glass.
Sean Pearson’s Margarita
Mixing fresh lemon and lime, this margarita is as bright as the sun and a great way to take the sting out of spicier snacks.
- 1 1/2 ounces tequila blanco (preferably from the Lowlands)
- 1 ounce fresh squeezed lime juice
- 1 ounce fresh squeezed lemon juice
- 1/4 ounce organic raw agave (go with a half-ounce if you prefer)
- Mix all ingredients in a shaker, add ice, and shake vigorously.
- Strain into glass.
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