The Margarita Cocktail

It is a fact that the Margarita is one of the most popular cocktails in the world. Not only does it appear on the official, limited selection of ‘must know’ cocktails for bartenders worldwide. It even has a special day to celebrate its greatness – 22 February is National Margarita Day in the USA. But what do we know about this refreshing concoction?  Where is it from? How do you make it?  Lets dig a little deeper…..

Perhaps the most well-known Margarita is the ‘Straight Up’.  This is served in a coupe glass without ice and with a salt rim.  The beautiful glass, colour of the liquid and striking rim give this version of the cocktail great visual appeal.  There are, however, many, many variants of the cocktail.   

The Margarita cocktail seems to have first appeared in America as a ‘Tequila Daisy’ in the 1930s.  It is not known for sure how the Margarita got its name but margarita does translate from Spanish as ‘daisy’. According to reports at the time, Daisy cocktails could be found in all the bars.  Daisies were a popular group of cocktails dating back to the Victorian age.  Cocktails belonging to the Daisy family are simple but tasty and consist of a base spirit, a liqueur for sweetness and citrus – this is the Straight Up Margarita recipe. 

By 1953, the cocktail was referenced as a Margarita for the first time in a magazine.  However, in 1939 there is mention in Britain of a cocktail called a ‘Picador’, which has the same recipe as a Margarita: so it could be that someone from these shores took the drink over to the states where it was renamed…..

Margaritas can also fit into the ‘Sours’ family of cocktails (some say Daisies are a subset of Sours).  Sours are similar to Daisies in terms of mixing a spirit, citrus and a sweetener but there is more flexibility in terms of substituting and adding to those ingredients.  A variety of base spirits can be used such as whiskey, rum or gin; even liqueur as in an Amaretto Sour.  The citrus can also be lemon, the sweetener sugar, honey or agave. Bitters or spice can be added, as could egg white for foam.  Examples of a Sour cocktail include a Bramble, a Cosmopolitan, a Daiquiri, and a Corpse Reviver. 

The standard ratio of the ingredients in Daisy or a Sour is usually 2 spirit:1 citrus:1 sweetener.  The Margarita broadly follows this formula too.  Once you have learnt how to make a Sour or a Daisy, this opens the door to knowing where to start with a huge number of other delicious cocktails.  And by sticking to the ratios to keep the balance of flavour, you’ll be able to indulge in quite a bit of experimentation too. 

Straight Up Margarita

A Straight Up Margarita consists of Tequila, orange liqueur and limes.  The orange liqueur provides the sweetness.  Orange liqueur is also known as Triple Sec and a leading brand is Cointreau. It is essential that for whatever variant of the Margarita you are mixing, or for that matter any cocktail, it is essential freshly squeezed fruit is used.  The difference in flavour is immediately noticeable and superior. Stay away from the dreaded Margarita mix! The best bartenders recommend Persian limes, which are lovely and juicy.   I personally prefer to add a touch of agave to balance the flavours in  a Straight Up, otherwise I find it a little too sour for my liking.  I also tend to only salt half of the glass rim for decoration: I would rather taste the cocktail than a mouthful of salt but maybe that’s just me!  Salt the rim by rubbing a wedge of lime around the area of the rim you want the salt to stick to.

Tommy’s Margarita

A Tommy’s Margarita is the same as a Straight Up but the orange liqueur is substituted with agave syrup and it is served over ice in a rocks glass.  The variant was created by Julio Bermejo back in the late ‘80s.  Julio is a world renown Tequila expert and owner of the legendary restaurant, ‘Tommy’s’, in San Francisco, which features the largest selection of Tequilas outside of Mexico.  This Margarita version is sweeter than the Straight Up and with the addition of agave syrup, showcases the flavour of agave – the plant that Tequila is made from.  The ingredient ratios are slightly altered for a Tommy’s to 2 Tequila: 1 lime: ½ agave.  You can have a go at making a Tommy’s with our cocktail kit.

The Tequila you use in a Margarita is obviously very important.  There’s a lot to say about Tequila, which I’ll cover in another post but the essential point to make here is that it must be made from 100% blue agave.  If it is also artisanal Tequila, then even better.  Artisanal Tequilas tend to be produced by the older Tequila making families in Mexico, using traditional methods with care taken over the growing and selection of agave, fermentation and distillation, aging and bottling.  As the spirit becomes better understood, there is growing respect for the history and process involved in producing a good bottle of Tequila.