Here’s how to make the classic Margarita. It’s the simple combination of Tequila, Cointreau (Triple Sec), Lime Juice and optionally salt that makes up arguably the most popular cocktail in the world.
This iconic drink has a somewhat frustratingly sketchy origin. Several bars and bartenders have claimed to be the drink’s inventor, they all came out of the woodwork in the late 1960’s, after the drink had established itself as a staple of every restaurant and bar and party’s cocktail menu. Bartenders from LA, San Diego, Tijuana, Texas and others stepped forward, declaring that they were Spartacus and like the famous scene from the Kubrick movie, it was hard to tell which on was the real deal.
Most people like to declare that the Margarita was a derivative of the Sidecar (https://youtu.be/5X3XZNGX0GI). And, while it’s plausible that the Brandy was swapped out for Tequila, the lemon swapped for lime and the sugar for salt, it wouldn’t explain how the drink seemed to pop up all over the place around the same time. There are others, like Jim Meehan, who say that it stems from the Picador, which first appeared in print in a London bar book in 1937. There was also the Tequila Sour with the salted rim in the New York Cotton Club book from 1939. Then there was all of the Spartacuses from all over the post-war US, particularly in the border states.
The most likely explanation, and one that David Wondrich seems to subscribe to, is that this Zeitgeist of Margarita invention came about because this combination of spirit, citrus and orange liqueur was a classic—yet nearly forgotten by today’s standards—category of drinks called Daisies. A Daisy started off as a whiskey drink in back in the 1870’s, but later became a template in which to plug in different base-spirits, so you’d swap out the Whiskey for Gin and it would become the Gin Daisy, Brandy for Whiskey would make it the Brandy Daisy, so the combination of Tequila, orange liqueur and citrus would be the Tequila Daisy. This is a tempting theory to believe because the Spanish word for “Daisy” is “Margarita.”
This is the theory that makes most sense to me, but the true origin and the basis for it’s popularity is ultimately something of a mystery. Whatever the story, it’s a classic for a reason. It’s a really great combination of flavors and it’s a real easy sipper.
The drink was of course bastardized in the 1970’s and 1980’s. When it was made with sub-par tequila (mixto tequila), cheap triple sec and a tube of frozen lemon-aide, it’s no wonder people get killer hangovers from them and have to swear off tequila for life.
Make sure to spend the extra couple bucks on quality ingredients. Your head will thank you in the morning. Cointreau is my go-to triple sec and the one the 1937 recipe called for. There are other high-grade triple secs out there, so be sure to use one in this drink.
Along those same lines, you’ll want to use a quality, 100% agave tequila, something with a full-bodied flavor. Some recipes specify Reposado (tequila thats been aged for 2-12 months), but as long as it’s a good, funky, earthy, flavorful tequila, a Blanco or Silver will work wonders in this drink.
This probably does without saying, but don’t mess around with anything other than fresh lime juice for this drink.
Jim Meehan recommends adding a little agave nectar to the drink, but I prefer the classic ingredients. I use a little more Coinreau than lime juice (the 1937 recipe called for equal parts) and I find that that is enough sweetness to offset the sour and strong. But if you need a little more sweet to make the medicine go down, don’t let me stop you.
Technically speaking, the salt rim is optional, but the drink is not the same without it. Maybe I’m just used to it and maybe I’m a sucker for salt, but the drink really seems to cry out for it’s salty rim.
I also prefer the drink up. On the rocks or blended feel like different drinks. This simple combination served up is a beautiful thing, one befitting of the drink’s fame and fortune. Cheers!
0.75oz Lime Juice
Shake with ice. Rim coupe glass with salt. Double strain into coupe.
Dust Bowl 2 by Håkan Eriksson
via Epidemic Sound
Featured in this Episode:
Coarse Kosher Salt
Coupe Glass (1 oz larger)
OXO SteeL Double Jigger
Fine Mesh Strainer
OXO SteeL Cocktail Shaker
Citrus Juicer (Lime)