Tasting Away In Margaritaville

For best margaritas, taste test your ingredients.

Although stories conflict about who originally invented the tangy Margarita, there is no disagreement about the cocktail's popularity. Most experts on the subject agree that the Margarita is the most popular cocktail in America today.

The basic concoction of fresh lime juice, orange liqueur and tequila served in a salt-rimmed glass is now considered the classic margarita recipe for the drink. But people love to add their own twists, from frozen strawberry confections to blends made with everything from apricots to watermelon.

People who research such things often trace the beginnings of the Margarita back to a Mexican bartender in Juarez who, in 1942, answered a customer's request for a "magnolia" with a blend of French Cointreau and Mexican tequila.

Texas Monthly magazine credits Dallas restaurateur Mariano Martinez, Jr. with inventing the frozen Margarita made with triple sec, an inexpensive orange liqueur, and transforming it into a drink for the for the masses.

What's in a margarita?

Today, connoisseurs of the drink contend the only "true" Margarita is one made with the four original ingredients (lime juice, tequila, orange liqueur and salt), shaken and served over ice. But the brands and flavors of those original ingredients can vary quite substantially. For example, tequila is available in several styles, including plata (silver) or blanca (white), reposada (rested or aged six months in oak barrels), and anejo (aged for one year in wood barrels.) The reposada and anejo are gold in color partly because of the oak aging and partly because of the addition of food coloring. Which style you choose is mostly a matter of personal preference.

"Across the United States, gold tequila outsells white about 80 percent to 20 percent," said Keith Voswinkel of Terk Distributing in Abilene. "Gold gives a Margarita some color and makes it a more attractive drink. In some Margaritas where you're using a lot of limeade or other ingredients as mixers, I don't know if it matters which type of spirits you use. But if you're making the classic Margarita recipe, it becomes more important what you put in it."

As consumers become more interested in "boutique" or specialty tequilas like handmade, 100 percent agave, it becomes more important to consider what goes into that Margarita, according to some experts. "We are drinking less, but we are drinking better. We want more flavor for the punch," asserts Steven Olson, a New York City-based sommelier who teaches, lectures and writes about wine, beer and spirits and their cause and effect relationship with food.

To get the most desirable flavor, you might want to hold an informal, blind taste testing of all the separate ingredients for your favorite Margarita before sloshing them together. Line up small glasses of such items as packaged sweet-and-sour mix, fresh lime juice, Rose's Lime Juice, different brands and styles (silver or gold) of tequila, and different orange liqueurs like Grand Marnier, Cointreau and triple sec.

I was surprised after testing different tequilas.

Taste these items a bit like you would taste wine - look at what's in the glass, smell it, then taste it by swishing it around in your mouth. With spirits, clear your palate by swishing the liquid around once, then spit it out and take another sip. Concentrate your senses on the second sip. The results of your taste test may be surprising. For example, I've always made Margaritas with triple sec, but my blind taste test of the spirit by itself surprised me. The triple sec tasted mostly like sugar with a slight artificial orange flavor. I found Cointreau a bit medicinal, and settled on Grand Marnier as my favorite, preferring its flavors of vanilla, cinnamon and cloves which come from its aging in oak barrels.

Similarly, I was surprised after testing different tequilas. I, like many consumers, had been taken in by marketing promotions that told me gold was better. I discovered that I really preferred the plata style of tequila. And fresh-squeezed lime juice beats canned frozen limeade anytime. (Plata is also a solid tequila to incorporate as an ingredient in dishes like Tequila Chicken.)

Of course, over the years people have tinkered with the basic Margarita recipe, creating all sorts of blends and flavors. Many people guard their secret Margarita recipes just as they would the recipe for their homemade chili. One of the most popular recipes around the state for homemade frozen Margaritas calls for emptying one 6-ounce can of frozen limeade concentrate into a blender. Measure 2/3 of that limeade can full of tequila and 1/3 can of orange liqueur into the blender. Add crushed ice until the blender is full and blend the mixture until smooth.

Margarita Recipes

But other recipes are more elaborate or refined. Here is a good sampling of the many different ways one can enjoy this vivacious tequila cocktail. What's your favorite margarita recipe?

Cadillac Margarita

This is the classic margarita on the rocks recipe.

  • 2 oz. Cuervo 1800 tequila
  • 1/2 oz. Grand Marnier
  • 2 oz. lime juic
All ingredients poured over ice into a tall mixing glass, shaken briskly, strained into chilled cocktail glass with salted rim (optional). Garnish with lime wheel.

Strawberry Margarita

  • 6 oz. can frozen limeade concentrate
  • 2/3 limeade can tequila
  • 1/3 limeade can triple sec
  • 1 small carton frozen strawberries
Put all ingredients into blender container. Fill blender with ice and blend until smooth.

Brandy Margarita

  • 9 oz. Cuervo gold tequila
  • 3 oz. E&J VSOP Brandy
  • 1 6 oz. can frozen limeade concentrate
  • 3 cans of water (use limeade can)
  • 3 1/2 oz. Cointreau
Mix ingredients together, pour over ice. Can also be put in blender with ice to make frozen drinks. The use of brandy is very popular for making top shelf Margaritas. Makes one pitcher.

Cabo Waborita

  • 1 oz. fresh lime juice
  • 1 oz. triple sec
  • 2 oz. Sammy Hagar's Cabo Wabo tequila (100 percent weber blue agave)
Mix in a shaker over ice. Serve in a salt-rimmed glass.

Apricot Margarita

Margaritas, especially in the Summertime, taste great when mixed with fresh fruit flavors. Such as this one with apricots.

  • 1-1/2 cup fresh apricots, halved and pitted (or 16-oz. can juice-packed, unpeeled apricot halves, drained)
  • 1/2 cup tequila
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
  • 1/2 cup apricot nectar
  • About 3 cups ice cubes
Combine apricot halves, tequila, sugar, lime juice and apricot nectar in a blender; cover and blend until smooth. With blender running, add ice cubes, a few at a time, blending until slushy. Serve in salt-rimmed glasses. Makes 4 Margaritas.

Lower-Cal Margarita

The famous Low-Cal margarita continues to be popular fot those seeking to stick to a daily calorie count.

  • 1 tub Crystal Light lemon-lime or lemonade flavored drink mix
  • 2 cups water
  • Juice of one lime
  • 8 oz. tequila
  • 6 oz. Grand Marnier
  • 4 oz. Presidente Mexican Brandy

In a 2-quart pitcher, mix water with the Crystal Light. Add all spirits. Fill with enough crushed ice to make 1 quarts; stir and serve in salt-rimmed glasses. Garnish with a wedge of lime.

Watermelon Margarita

  • 1-½ oz. tequila
  • ¾ oz. triple sec
  • ¾ oz. Midori
  • 2 oz. sour mix
  • 6 oz. cubed, seeded watermelon
  • 8 oz. ice

Blend all ingredients together; serve in a 14-ounce glass. Garnish with lime and watermelon wedge.

Cool Mint Margarita

  • 1-½ oz. Cuervo gold tequila
  • ½ oz. Cointreau
  • ½ oz. of Dekuyper Creme de Menthe
  • 3 oz. Margarita mix
Shake ingredients with ice. Pour into a salted cocktail glass. Garnish with fresh mint or lime.


A Margaritini is a combination Margarita & Martini that's conspicuously close to a Mexican Margarita. Notice the splash of margarita mix.

  • 2 oz. El Tesoro silver tequila
  • 1 oz. Cointreau
  • Splash of Margarita Mix
  • Fresh lime juice
Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into a Martini glass.