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How to Make an Ideal Margarita Like a Top Bartender

A great margarita is not a given. Even at your favorite bar or restaurant, something can go wrong.

It’s not a complicated cocktail, but given the delicate balance of sweet, sour, salty, and a warm earthiness only tequila can provide, it’s important to get it right. So we reached out to a couple of our favorite bartenders to extract some wisdom on making the ideal margarita.

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Alicia Perry tends bar at Polite Provisions in San Diego. 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.

margarita tequila cocktail lime strainer

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.  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

  • 2 oz tequila of your choice (Perry likes El Tesoro Reposado or Tequila Ocho Blanco)
  • .75 oz fresh lime juice
  • 1 oz Cointreau
  • .25 oz agave nectar

Method: Combine all ingredients in shaking tins or cocktail shaker with ice. Strain over ice into your preferred glass.

Sean Pearson’s Margarita

  • 1.5 oz tequila blanco (preferably from the Lowlands)
  • 1 oz fresh squeezed lime juice
  • 1 oz fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • .25-.5oz organic raw agave

Method: Mix all ingredients in a shaker, add ice, and shake vigorously. Strain into glass.

Read more: Best Tequila Cocktails

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