Weekend Cocktail: The Classic Margarita

Weekend Cocktail: The Classic Margarita

The margarita is sometimes unfairly maligned as a “lady-drink,” by simpletons. Often served in fishbowls at Mexican-themed restaurants, it has a reputation as a technicolor shortcut to getting well and truly plastered – the very thing to help you choke down a plate of execrable tamales. It’s a dreadful common cocktail; the commonest tequila drink of them all.

It needn’t be so! There’s no reason to limit your enjoyment of margaritas to those occasional forays out to the local Mexicanish eatery, with their signature tub of Cuervo, sugar, and food coloring. Nor should you pay $15 for one as you, along with thousands of middle-aged women wearing foam parrot-hats, listen to a lazy musician strum his six-string and sing about sharks, cheeseburgers, and volcanoes. You have better options.

The classic margarita is much better than its reputation would suggest. The drink’s origins are disputed, with multiple claimants to the title of inventor. It seems to have appeared in the late 1930s or early 40s, but it may have actually become popular during Prohibition. Nobody really knows, nor is it all that important. What concerns us here is that it’s tasty, it’s popular, and it’s easy to make at home.

It’s also adaptable, as it can be prepared neat, on the rocks, or blended with ice as your whims dictate. With or without salt; sweetened or unsweetened: you really can’t go wrong – until you’ve had three or so. Then let me tell you: it’s very likely you will go wrong, or at least slightly wobbly.

You can’t go wobbly until you get going, so let’s. For a single serving:

  • 1 1/2 oz tequila (100% de agave, hecho en Mexico, siempre)
  • 1 1/2 oz fresh squeezed lime juice
  • 1 oz Cointreau
  • dash agave nectar or simple syrup (optional)
  • lime wedge for garnish
  • salt to rim glass (optional)

As usual, quality tequila and fresh ingredients make all the difference and elevate this cocktail above the merely pedestrian.

Depending on how you choose to drink it, you’ll want to use the appropriate glassware. For frozen, use the margarita glass (unless you have one of those fishbowls I mentioned earlier – then to you I say godspeed). If you’re trying it neat, a standard cocktail glass is your vessel. If taking it on the rocks, as I do, an Old Fashioned glass will serve.

Rocks

If you take it with salt, rub the lime wedge along the rim of your rocks glass to get the salt to adhere. Add the liquid ingredients to a shaker with ice. If you’d prefer a little sweetness add the agave nectar, but it is delicious without.

Shake well, then pour over ice, being careful not to disturb the salt. Garnish with the lime wedge.

This is my preferred conveyance for margaritas, as I find it the most drinkable. It’s an easy sip; sometimes too easy. One of my local watering holes has instituted “$2 Margarita Tuesdays,” and be warned: that way, my friends, lies ruin.

Neat

As above, using a cocktail glass. Add the liquid ingredients to a shaker with ice, do the needful, then pour into the glass. Again, take care not to disturb the salt. Garnish with the lime, and serve it up.

The neat version gives a bit more bite than the others, flavor-wise. The citrus is less muted and the tequila shines through a bit more. Because of its more refined appearance and preparation, it’s possible to bring what is a decidedly middle-brow beverage into a more elegant setting.

Frozen

For this method, you’ll quite obviously require a blender. In addition to that and the ingredients listed above, you’ll need:

  • 1 cup of ice
  • 3 oz sour mix (use fresh)

Add all the ingredients to the blender, and blend until smooth. If the mixture is too thick, add more lime juice. If it’s too thin, add more ice and blend again. Pour into a salted margarita glass, garnish with a lime wedge, and enjoy.

The sour mix pumps up the flavor and counterbalances the tart lime with some lemon and sweetness. It’s a necessity if you go the frozen route.

However you choose to drink your margarita – be it with your toes in the sand, or on a plastic lawn chair, or at a restaurant with a beer sticking out of it, or even using the classic recipes I’ve provided – just remember to enjoy it.

Neal Dewing lives and works in Portsmouth, Virginia. He is the co-host of The Fifth Estate, a podcast examining culture and politics.
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