A traditional margarita recipe is special in the pantheon of classic cocktails. Like the venerable daiquiri, the drink is primal enough that it can be made from commonly found ingredients yet has enough complexity to offer endless possibilities for riffing and customization. The basic recipe—tequila with triple sec and fresh lime juice—is forgiving for beginners but has enough room for experimentation that seasoned pros can add their own touches of flair.
There are a lot of riffs and variations of the popular cocktail (frozen margarita pie, anyone?), but as long as you have ashaken drinkwith tequila, lime, and orange liqueur, you are safely in Margaritaville. As someone who likes a more spirit-forward margarita, my go-to recipe is:
- 1¾ oz. tequila
- ¾ oz. lime juice
- ¾ oz. orange liqueur
- ¼ oz. agave syrup (equal parts agave nectar and water)
- Combine everything in a cocktail shaker, add ice, and shake vigorously for 15 seconds. Strain into a coupe or rocks glass with ice, salt rim optional. Garnish with a lime wheel.
At its fastest, it can take about 30 seconds to assemble from start to finish. But knowing how to adapt, whether to your environment or to the people you’re making drinks for, is one of the most essential tools available to you as a drinks-maker. There are a ton of levers to pull when deciding the ultimate fate of a drink so that you won’t be caught off guard if you’re with a group of people who love sweet drinks or insist on using a bottle of mezcal they just discovered.
Here are seven key ways you can dial in the recipe to make ityourperfect margarita (or, you know, how to make a margarita to suit your friends):
There’s no such thing as the best tequila for a margarita—each bottle has its own merits. The taste of any given tequila is influenced by how much time it spent aging in oak barrels. Blanco tequila is bottled without spending any time in oak, Reposado tequila sees up to three months in oak barrels (usually ex-bourbon casks), and Añejo tequila is aged up to a year in barrel. All tequilas offer a base level of roasty vegetal notes, but blancos give a bright, sparkly sheen to cocktails, whereas reposados and añjeos add a layer of warmth and spice. The bottle you pick out can change the entire vibe of your drink.
A warning: You really do want to stick to tequilas that have “100% de Agave” on the label. This is how you know the tequila is made from only agave and is high quality. Other tequilas, known as “mixtos,” can be made from up to 49% non-agave spirits and usually are full of unappetizing additives. It is worth the splurge to get good quality tequila.