When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. And when you're dealt a hand of limes, make margaritas.
"The best nights I don't remember are when I've had margaritas," Bryan Schneider freely admits. We've all been there (remember "one tequila, two tequila, three tequila, floor"?), and, apparently, so has the head bartender at New York's Quality Eats. But the timeless cocktail deserves your love, even when Cinco de Mayo isn't right around the corner. Here's what you need to know in order to make a knockout margarita.
Nail the essentials. Schneider's ideal margarita is simple in its necessities: "ice cold and fresh juice." There are many things you can do to a margarita, but, as many of us have learned from our scrappy college days, you don't need them at all. An acceptable three-ingredient margarita can have just tequila, simple syrup and lime juice. Fancy? Maybe not, but it gets the job done.
Break free. Once you grasp the basics, let loose—not that you'll have a choice, come tequila. Try adding fruit purée like mango, or juice from watermelon or cucumbers. For the adventurous (and already slightly tipsy), forgo glassware and try what Schneider calls the "mouth margarita": "You pour all the ingredients into someone's mouth, then grab his or her head and shake it."
Think big. Margaritas love company, especially frozen ones. Beverage director Jason Eisner at Gracias Madre in L.A. serves about 1,000 of his classic margaritas each day. "When we opened in 2014, we would churn out so many margaritas per day that my entire staff literally threatened to quit on me, so I had to figure out a way to solve this," he says. The solution: making a fresh batch before the shift starts and putting them on draft, meaning instant margs for customers and less stress for the bartenders. "It's a win-win."
Salt your rim. Though we keep it basic in our recipes, you can easily add flavor via the characteristic salt rim. Pour salt onto a plate, then dip the rim of your glass into water or simple syrup, and immediately onto the salt pile. "I like making homemade funky salts for the rim," Eisner says. "It adds a different dimension of flavor, and is super easy to do." How funky? He's currently experimenting with a coconut-bacon one. If you're more of a sweets lover, dip your glass into sugar. No one will be able to see any difference. Better yet, use both: Eisner makes a sweet orange salt by adding orange zest to salt and sugar, or uses chile de árbol for a spicier take.
Now, Jimmy Buffett is waiting—make these five versions and get carried off to Margaritaville.
—Make It Classic—
We keep it simple for the basic recipe, sticking to classic ingredients of tequila, lime and sugar. Where Eisner uses orange bitters, we use both triple sec and orange juice for bonus citrus. Agave syrup makes sense in place of familiar simple syrup, as tequila is an agave-based spirit.
1½ oz silver tequila + ½ oz triple sec + ½ oz lime juice + ¼ oz orange juice + ½ oz agave syrup (equal parts agave and water) + ice + kosher salt
In an ice-filled shaker, combine all the ingredients, except the salt. Shake and strain into an ice-filled glass with a ½ rim of salt.
—Make It Smoky—
Beer gives this one a michelada-like edge, and mescal is tequila's smoky agave-based cousin. Here's a chance to play with the salt rim; try a spice-infused mix or use smoked salt to complement the mescal.
¾ oz agave syrup + ½ jalapeño, thinly sliced + 1½ oz mescal + ¾ oz lime juice + ice + kosher salt + 1 oz Mexican beer
In a cocktail shaker, muddle the agave with the jalapeño. Let sit for 10 minutes, then add the mescal, lime juice and ice. Shake and strain into an ice-filled glass with a ½ rim of salt. Top with Mexican beer and serve.
—Make It Tiki—
If you like piña coladas and tequila, you'll love this dangerously chuggable slushie-like version. Whereas the other versions make only one cocktail, this recipe is for a batch of four, so find some friends and get your frozen marg on. Paper umbrella not optional.
¾ c pineapple chunks + ½ c silver tequila + ½ c coconut milk + 2 oz lime juice + 3 oz agave syrup + 3 c ice + fresh cracked coconut flesh
In a blender, combine all the ingredients, except the coconut, and purée until smooth. Serve in a chilled glass and garnish with a piece of fresh coconut.
—Make It Cadillac—
To pull a 180 on the three-ingredient marg, we're heading to the top shelf for the bottles you need a step stool to reach. For complexity in his drinks, Eisner uses reposado, which is tequila that's been aged in oak barrels for at least two months.
1½ oz reposado tequila + ¾ oz Grand Marnier + ¾ oz Meyer lemon juice + ½ oz lime juice + ¼ oz agave syrup + fleur de sel
In an ice-filled shaker, combine all the ingredients, except the salt. Shake and strain into an ice-filled glass with a ½ rim of fleur de sel.
—Make It Sparkling—
The view is nice from the top shelf, so stay up there—and grab a bottle of bubbly on your way down. This slightly fizzling version feels even more sophisticated, thanks to savory, fragrant basil and a citrus upgrade.
½ oz agave syrup + 3 basil leaves, plus 1 for garnish + 1 oz reposado tequila + ½ oz fresh grapefruit juice + ½ oz fresh lime juice + ice + 1 oz cava
In a cocktail shaker, muddle the agave syrup with the basil leaves. Add the tequila, grapefruit juice, lime juice and ice, then shake and strain into a coupe glass. Top with cava and garnish with a basil leaf.
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