Like the memory of many events that occur in drinking establishments, the origin of the margarita is somewhat cloudy. Many bars and restaurants claim to have “invented” the drink- most of these are in Tijuana and most claim to have done so during Prohibition. To be honest- we need not look any further than the the English translation of the name to find the inspiration for the drink. Margarita is Spanish for Daisy. The Daisy is a classic cocktail made from a base spirit, citrus juice and a flavored sweetener such as curacao. Sometimes soda water is added.
As you can see, it is a short hop from a Daisy to a Margarita- so it is more likely that the margarita was evolved than actually created. I do not say this to diminish the drink but to diminish those claiming to have created it.
Although it is frequently tortured and abused, a proper margarita is the perfect expression of a tequila cocktail. Stripped down to the basics- every ingredient is allowed to shine. The recipe includes blanco tequila, lime juice, simple syrup or agave syrup, and orange curacao.
When selecting a tequila, I highly recommend choosing one made from 100% agave. Avoid any tequila labeled “mixto”. These tequilas are only required to contain 51% agave spirit with the balance being made up by another spirit, frequently sugar cane spirit. Mixto tequilas are usually a little cheaper than 100% agave tequilas, but the price difference is usually only a few dollars per bottle and the difference in quality is great.
The second key to a great margarita is fresh squeezed lime juice. Some recent studies have shown the the flavor of lime juice is best if allowed to sit for ten minutes but is best used within ten hours. Generally speaking, the fresher the juice, the more acidic it is. The older the juice the more bitter it is.
There is some room to play with the juice. Limes can be relatively dry when they are out of season and you can spend all day juicing to only get a couple of cups of juice. Limes can also be expensive at certain times of year- or due to market conditions. A few years ago lime prices skyrocketed due to cartel control in certain lime growing regions. If you find yourself short on limes for one reason or another lemon juice can be substituted for up ½ of the total volume needed without significant reduction in flavor. Additionally, some popular Mexican restaurants will add a little orange juice to the mix for a little sweetness and complexity of flavor.
When it comes to sweetener you can choose between simple syrup (50/50 sugar to water) or agave nectar. For simple syrup, I recommend using evaporated cane juice or turbinado sugar which adds a complexity to the flavor. Agave nectar is sweeter than simple syrup and should be diluted to about 2 parts agave to one part water.
Some from of orange liquor is the last ingredient. The most basic would be Triple Sec. If you would like to step it up a little, you can use Cointreau or Grand Marnier. Additionally Copper & Kings produces a delicious orange curacao called Destillare.
2 oz. Blanco Tequila
1 oz Lime
½ oz Simple syrup
½ oz Orange Curacao
Add all ingredients to a shaker. Fill with ice and shake well. Strain into double old fashioned glass full of ice. Garnish with a lime wedge.
It is quite easy to modify this basic recipe through the addition of muddled fruit. Try muddling a handful of strawberries, blackberries, or blueberries in the shaker before adding the other ingredients.
Pineapple Cilantro Jalapeno Margarita
1 oz Blanco Tequila
1 oz Mezcal
1 oz Pineapple Cilantro Jalapeno Juice
1 oz Lime Juice
1/2 oz Orange Curacao
Squirt of simple syrup
Add ingredients to shaker of ice. Shake until well chilled. Strain into double old fashioned glass and add ice.