Bad Margaritas are a sad fact of life. From using cheap, horrible tasting tequila or three-year-old sour mix to skimping on ice or neglecting to measure out your pours, it’s unfortunately easy to make a subpar cocktail. To get the inside scoop on how to make a better Margarita (and how to identify a bar that’s making them), we tapped Ignacio “Nacho” Jimenez, the bar manager at New York’s Ghost Donkey. Here, Jimenez reveals his secrets for making the best Margaritas, without fail.
The Best Tequila Is Blanco
While it is perfectly acceptable to use a reposado tequila, mezcal or even a spicy tequila as the main ingredient in your Margarita, Jimenez prefers using blanco tequila. “I like the sharpness and the greenness of the agave that blanco tequilas have,” he says. The piquant flavors commonly associated with a blanco tequila compliment the lime, and make the cocktail vibrant and bright. Unlike other Sours like the Whiskey Sour, it is not necessary to use a higher proof tequila for your Margarita. The cocktail should be refreshing and light, and you should be able to have more than one in a sitting.
The Question of Triple Sec
“A Margarita should really just be three ingredients,” he says. “Good tequila, fresh lime juice, and agave.” So, skip the triple sec and stick to agave syrup only. At Ghost Donkey, Jimenez uses an updated version of the Tommy’s Margarita formula: two ounces tequila, three quarters of an ounce lime juice, and half an ounce of agave syrup. “When you add only half an ounce of agave you can really taste the expression of the tequila, and you still have a little bit of sweetness and the roundness it gives the drink,” says Jimenez.
To Sour Mix or Not to Sour Mix
“Definitely a no-no,” says Jimenez. “You’re just adding extra sugar.” Another outdated ingredient, sour mix is essentially lime juice from concentrate (aka heavily cooked and processed lime) with a lot of sugar, preservatives and citric acid to keep it vibrant and shelf stable—and it’s nowhere near as good as the simple mix of fresh lime juice and agave syrup. “It doesn’t take much effort to just buy some limes and squeeze them,” says Jimenez. “And just that will make the perfect Margarita every time.”
The Salt Is Non-Negotiable
Salt is a great modifier in cocktails. It gives drinks depth, makes you want to drink more of them, and evens out both bitterness and sweetness. Using salt in a Margarita is no exception. “It makes the drink more fun and flavorful,” says Jimenez. At Ghost Donkey, he always garnishes his Margarita with salt—but opts for only half a rim of the savory ingredient. “That way people can just have make their own choice whether to drink the cocktail with or without salt,” he says.
The Glassware Conundrum
“Your Margarita should always be served on the rocks,” says Jimenez. And that means it should be served in a rocks glass. The one exception is if you are making a frozen Margarita. In that case, you can spring for the giant coupe with the cactus stem.
The Secret to a Perfect Frozen Margarita
“People have this idea that all frozen drinks from a machine are bad. They have this idea of going to Bourbon Street in New Orleans and getting a horrible frozen Hurricane—but it’s not always the case,” says Jimenez. The secret to making the perfect frozen Margarita relies on two crucial factors: dilution and freshness. In order to properly freeze a cocktail, there must be more water than booze—but your cocktail also shouldn’t be too watery. To find the perfect consistency, experiment with your ratio of ice to booze to sugar (we like two parts tequila to one part lime to one-half part agave to one-half part ice). And, as with a classic Margarita, using fresh ingredients will also dramatically up your frozen Margarita game.