There are few cocktails that signal the start of summer like the Margarita. This tequila cocktail is refreshing, delicious, and ubiquitous and has seen its ebbs and flows in popularity for years. Some might write it off as a passé mixed drink that lacks authenticity and is reserved for fans of Jimmy Buffet. Others embrace the kitschiness of the cocktail and lean into its mainstream popularity. Still others simply enjoy it as a tasty way to beat the summer heat. Whatever the case, it’s hard to ignore that the margarita is an extremely popular cocktail that has been a mainstay on all types of cocktail menus and has seen numerous riffs and remixes.
Before we get into the making of a high-quality margarita, let’s look into the cocktail’s murky history.
The History of the Margarita
The margarita falls into the broad category of daisy cocktails, which calls for a combination of a base spirit, a liqueur, and citrus. Margarita itself is the Spanish word for “daisy” and the cocktail name “tequila daisy” has floated around in the past and could be linked to the margarita’s creation.
As with so many cocktails, it’s hard to pin down the margarita’s exact origins. There’s a very good chance that it was invented in northern Mexico though there are claims that it was created on the US side of the border, possibly in one of several different Texas or even California drinking establishments. There are claims from competing bars in Baja California, Mexico as well as a story that it originated in Galveston, Texas. Perhaps the most compelling theory is that one Francisco Morales concocted the very first margarita while bartending at Tommy’s Bar in Juarez, Mexico in 1942.
Regardless, the growing popularity of Tex-Mex cuisine cemented the margarita, a Mexican drink, as a true American favorite. The first publication of a recipe for a margarita was in Esquire in 1953 and the legacy of the margarita has been enshrined by Jimmy Buffet in the classic “Margaritaville.”
Today, the margarita is a staple at Tex-Mex and Mexican restaurants and will frequently appear on just about any cocktail menu. The rise in popularity of mezcal has led to some new riffs on the classic three-ingredient cocktail. But let’s start with the original.
How to Make a Margarita
There are in fact several ways to make a margarita though the ingredients largely remain unchanged. What differs is typically the style of service. Whether it’s served on the rocks (though that service could vary between large ice cubes, crushed ice, etc.), straight up in a chilled glass, or blended with ice a.k.a the Forezon Margarita. A pre-packaged Sour or Margarita Mix could be purchased at most liquor stores or even made at home by combining lime juice, Cointreau, sugar, and salt.
- In a cocktail shaker, combine 2 ounces tequila, 3/4 ounce orange liqueur (Triple Sec or Cointreau), 3/4 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice, and one teaspoon of simple syrup or agave nectar.
- Shake with ice until chilled, roughly 20 seconds.
- Strain into a rocks glass or margarita glass over ice with a pre-salted rim.
- Garnish with a lime wedge.
The Best Tequila for a Margarita
As tequila has grown in popularity here in the states, the quality of the agave spirit has risen. Alongside the largescale tequila producers owned by global corporations are small-batch, artisanal options hailing from Mexico. Choosing between two such options is a point of preference and trying out different tequila (or mezcal) options in your margarita could lead to some exciting experiments. The one thing to note is that typically a margarita calls for blanco tequila but any option could work well in your cocktail.
Our first pick is a stone-cold classic tequila. Patrón Silver has long been used in margaritas thanks to its smooth, gently sweet taste which plays perfectly with the acidity of the citrus. It’s a step up from bottom-shelf tequila but doesn’t overcomplicate the flavors of your margarita. Mix with pre-made Margarita Mix or go for a fully homemade cocktail.
JAJA Blanco Tequila
JAJA is one of several newer tequila brands that has found success through social media marketing and an authentic product. In fact, JAJA Blanco earned a gold medal at the International Spirits Review in 2019. With JAJA Blanco you’ll find a smooth, slightly herbal flavor profile that’s great for a margarita. Pair that with the brand’s sense of humor, colorful label, and you’ve got your new favorite tequila.
1800 Blanco Tequila
1800 Blanco is a cheaper, yet no less solid option than the others on this list. Notes of pepper and fresh citrus pop but overall it’s a very simple, crowd-pleasing tequila. Use it in a frozen margarita or with a pre-made margarita mix.
El Rayo No. 1 Plata
El Rayo is one of my favorite tequila brands. With excellent packaging and focusing on an extremely delicious beverage, El Rayo is among the best modern tequila brands. While they’ve tended to lean more on the Paloma side of things and have recommended pairing their tequila with tonic water for an extremely refreshing drink, El Rayo Plata is a great option for your next margarita.
Mijenta Blanco Tequila
Mijenta is another modern tequila brand leading the way when it comes to excellent design and product. Mijenta has focused on making a small-batch production using sustainable practices resulting in a truly memorable tequila. The flavors are a little complex with notes of spices, caramel, and vanilla, but the smooth drinking experience and unique characteristics will help you create a delicious margarita.
5 Margarita Drink Recipe Variations to Try
Mexican Firing Squad
The rather brutish name belies a truly delightful cocktail with the Mexican Firing Squad. This riff on the margarita subs grenadine for Cointreau and sugar while adding in a few drops of Angostura bitters. The vibrant, tart, and lightly sweet beverage is ideal for hot summer days and makes for an eye-catching cocktail.
The Tommy’s Margarita could be considered a dummed-down version of the classic cocktail. But despite the simple recipe, there’s a genuine flavor shift that makes it distinct from the OG margarita. Swap 1/2 ounce of agave nectar for the Cointreau and once you’re down shaking, you’ll dump the entire batch into a rocks glass, ice and all.
The spicy margarita was a trend all to itself that likely coincided with the rise of hot sauce culture. We’re left with a scorching yet delicious riff on the margarita. There are a few different ways you could make your marg spicy — either by infusing your tequila with jalapeno peppers or by simply muddling some jalapenos in your shaker and proceeding as normal. The choice of spicy pepper is up to you but jalapenos are a great first option before moving on to more punishing peppers.
As Mezcal has gone from obscure liquor to mainstream sensation, it only makes sense that bartenders would sub it into their favorite tequila drinks. As such, a simple mezcal margarita would just see you swap in your favorite mezcal in exchange for tequila. In this case, we’d recommend also opting for an herb salt blend for your rim to add a unique dynamic to this drink.
It’s worth noting that a Paloma is really considered a separate cocktail all its own. But, the crossover with tequila is fairly clear. The Paloma combines tequila and lime juice with the addition of grapefruit soda. Serve in a highball glass for a bittersweet, refreshing summer drink.