The following article is brought to you by guest blogger Doctor Bamboo, a.k.a Craig Mrusak. Aside from being Pittsburgh’s premier cocktail & spirits blogger, we’re proud to have him behind the stick at Verde! Please visit his blog for more insights.
What makes a good Margarita?
We’ve all seen (and likely tasted) Margaritas in an variety of colors, flavors, sizes and textures. Some are respectfully slight variations on the original, while others are Margaritas in name only, bearing little, if any, resemblance to the venerable drink introduced in the first half of the last century. In either case, the Margarita’s basic template (Tequila, orange liqueur and lime juice) has both encouraged and withstood a staggering amount of experimentation over the past few decades, resulting in a cascade of concoctions that threatens to overwhelm rather than enlighten us as to what makes it such a classic.
But as with many things, simpler is often better. In its purest form, the Margarita is an unfussy, elegant cocktail that remains one of the most popular drinks in the world. Despite all the tinkering it has been subjected to, the Margarita’s ability to endure in its original state is a testament to the robustness of its recipe.
So what is the Margarita?
In order to properly impress, always pass on the Gold (mixto), and upgrade to 100% blue agave
The Margarita falls in the category of drinks known as sours
, which are nothing more than a spirit, some form of sweetener (most often a liqueur, cordial, or simply sugar), and a souring agent (usually citrus juice). With the Margarita, the three-part combo of Tequila, orange liqueur and lime juice fills these roles admirably, providing a succulent sting when served up, on the rocks, or frozen.
So how can we make a good one?
As with all cocktails, the importance of using quality ingredients in a Margarita can’t be overstated. This is not to say that only the priciest stuff will give you the best results (there are many moderately-priced spirits that make outstanding drinks), but the cheapest bottle on the shelf isn’t going to give you a stellar drink either. Here’s a few guidelines:
Tequila is the backbone of the Margarita. When making one, look for a 100% agave Tequila. While a perfectly serviceable Margarita can be made with a mixto Tequila (Tequila with a combination of sugars, extracts, flavorings and colorings added to the agave as a cost-saving measure ), using Tequila made with 100% agave is ideal. To determine if a particular Tequila is 100% agave , look on the bottle for phrases like “Tequila 100% de agave ” or “Tequila 100% puro de agave.”
Another choice to consider when making a Margarita is whether to use blanco, reposado, or añejo. [Editors note: for more, see our blog entry on tequila from last summer.]These three terms reflect the age of a given Tequila, with blanco being the youngest, and añejo the oldest. Blanco (also sometimes referred to as “white,” “plata” or “platinum”) Tequila is the type most commonly used in the Margarita. Many reposados and añejos will also work, although these two types are often best enjoyed on their own where their smoothness, complexity and subtle character can be showcased. Experiment with as many as you like until you find a few which suit your taste. Remember: when it comes to the Margarita, trial-and-error is an enjoyable process!
There are many orange liqueurs available, and while they all have the common element of orange flavor, they vary widely in terms of sweetness, bitterness, texture, etc. Those on the sweeter end of the spectrum can have a near-syrupy consistency with a predominant candied-fruit flavor. Others lean closer to true fruit distillates, possessing a drier, sharper flavor profile that resembles those found in brandies and schnapps. As with Tequila, finding one that will work well in your Margarita (popular choices include triple sec and curaçao) is largely a matter of experimentation and personal preference.
The Sunkist Commercial Juicer. Your bartenders will love you for getting one.
Using freshly-squeezed lime juice is a must. As tempting as it may be to use commercially-processed lime juice or packaged sour mixes for speed and convenience, there is no substitute for what you get from a ripe, juicy lime. The bright, tart zing that fresh lime juice imparts to the Margarita is a crucial component, and one that can’t be overlooked. There are various inexpensive gadgets designed to extract citrus juice, so making a small investment in one is one of the easiest steps you can take toward making a quality Margarita. Speaking of which…
Making & Shaking:
Given that the Margarita contains a healthy dose of juice, it should be shaken rather than stirred to ensure all three ingredients are fully combined . The type of shaker really isn’t important … just make sure you use lots of ice and shake vigorously enough to get the contents cold and thoroughly mixed. Then strain it into the glass of your choice (Yes, you have a choice. Read on ….)
Glass, Ice & Garnish:
A traditional cocktail glass works well for a Margarita served up. A rocks glass unsurprisingly works well for a Margarita served on the rocks. And the traditional Margarita glass can handle both of those (although an ice-less Margarita will look a bit skimpy in a glass of that size) as well as being the preferred vessel for the frozen variation which is blended rather than shaken.
However, the Cocktail Police will not break down your door if you mix n’ match your ice and glass configurations (I happen to like mine in a traditional glass filled with crushed ice). Likewise, you commit no crime if you prefer to leave the rim of the glass unadorned by salt. Just keep in mind that what you put in the drink is far more important than what you put the drink in.
As a final touch, perching a lime wheel on the side of the glass is the conventional approach to garnishing, but there’s no harm in getting more creative. Either way, it’s not going to make or break the drink.
So what’s the recipe already?
Here’s the thing: Very few people make a Margarita exactly the same way. There are several recipes out there claiming to be the “real” or “authentic” Margarita, as well as countless variations from both reputable and dubious sources. Try a few on for size and see if any of them hit the mark … it won’t take long to determine if any of them merit a second look. With a little earnest fiddling (and the correct ingredients) you’ll soon know what makes a good Margarita.
Or even a great one.
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