In its pure and simple form, the Margarita is a damn good drink. But, as many bartenders and tequila lovers already know, it’s also one of easiest drinks to manipulate. Its simple, sweet-sour mix of blanco tequila, lime juice and simple syrup or agave nectar is a perfect blank canvas, ripe for remixing. Here are eight of the easiest and most delicious ways to customize and upgrade the world’s favorite tequila cocktail.
Use Aged Tequila
Blanco tequila is the go-to for Margaritas. Its spicy, grassy flavor shines through the sour mix of lime juice and simple syrup. But sometimes, you want something a little heartier. To add a bit more depth, swap out that blanco for an aged tequila, ideally a reposado. Reposado tequilas are a bit softer than blancos, but you’ll also get some mild notes of oak and toasted goodness while maintaining that tequila bite.
Try Mezcal Instead
For a more extreme base-swap, try mezcal on for size. While still in the agave family, mezcal has an intense smoky flavor and complexity that will transform the Margarita into a layered sipper. We recommend first trying an Espadín on for size. It’s the most widely available type of mezcal, accounting for 90 percent of production in Oaxaca, and is extremely versatile in cocktails. Tobalá is also a great choice for Margaritas as it has an underlying fruity funk that works well with sour flavors.
Switch Up the Salt Rim
Swap out the traditional salt rim for smoked salt or jalapeño salt (or a combination of the two), and each sip will benefit from additional smoke or spice flavor along with a hint of salinity. Or, if you don’t like a savory Margarita, try swapping in white sugar or any other flavored sugar for a candied twist.
Freshen Up with Fruit
An overly sweet Margarita is nothing to celebrate, but there’s no shame in wanting a drink with a touch of fruitiness. Before shaking your cocktail, add a few pieces of your favorite fruit to the bottom of the shaker and muddle them just enough to release the juices. For a sweeter Margarita, go with a few strawberries or chunks of watermelon, or, for a tropical feel, go for mango or passion fruit. Think outside of the garnish box and opt for refreshing, cooling cucumber or bright blueberries—they’re not an obvious choice and can give your drink new life.
Make it Hot, Hot, Hot
If you have more of a hot head than a sweet tooth, try infusing your tequila (we recommend blanco tequilas for this) with jalapeños, cayenne peppers or Thai chilies. Or, cut the peppers into slices, discard most of the seeds (unless you’re a glutton for punishment) and muddle them in the shaker before making your Margarita. Fresh ginger is also a great source for heat. While you can muddle it in the shaker, a more effective way to capture its flavor is by making ginger syrup and using it in place of simple syrup.
Bring In the Herb Garden
Give your cocktail an aromatic edge by simply garnishing it with a basil leaf or a few sprigs of mint or cilantro. If that’s not enough to fulfill your herbaceous desires, try extracting even more of the flavor by muddling herbs into the drink or infusing them into a syrup. To make a syrup, combine one cup of water, one cup of white sugar and one cup of any herb in a saucepan over medium heat and stir until the sugar is fully dissolved. Remove the saucepan from the heat and let the leaves steep for about 30 minutes. Then fine strain the syrup and mix it into your Margarita for a subtle but super-fresh flavor.
Sadly, you can’t just grill a Margarita by pouring the cocktail directly onto the grates. What you can do, though, is grill some of the ingredients before mixing them in. For a classic lime-based Marg, cut limes in half and throw them on the grill, flesh-side down. Cook until grill marks have formed. Then, juice the limes and make your ‘Rita as usual. You’ll notice a depth of flavor and caramelized notes that weren’t there before. Of course, you can also try adding any other fruit firm enough to withstand grilling to the mix. Our favorite option: pineapple. Grill a few slices or chunks, juice them and use the juice to make a pineapple syrup (we recommend using equal parts sugar and pineapple juice). Or, simply muddle the smoky, charred chunks directly into the cocktail.
Frozen Margaritas may get a bad rap, but they hold a special place in our hearts. Fortunately, there’s nothing to making a slushy Marg at home. Just build the drink in the blender—along with any of the other fruits, peppers or herbs you’d like—add half a cup of ice and pulse until the drink is smooth. You can even scale the recipe up and make a pitcher full of frozen Margaritas to sip poolside with friends.