The Three Margaritas

The Three Margaritas

Is there a better summer cocktail than a classic margarita? The combination of citrus, ice, and tequila is super refreshing on hot summer days (and nights).

Our usual July 4 routine is to stick with chilled sparkling wine… but then my daughter’s boyfriend showed up at Linda’s house with a ginormous bottle of tequila. And you know the old saying: When God gives you tequila, you have to make margaritas.

I confess: I’m not much of a bartender. I don’t often drink margaritas outside of Mexican restaurants. If I really want one at home, I go to the supermarket for a pre-mixed Jose Cuervo (when I don’t care about the calories) or Skinny Girl (when I do).

But lately, I’ve been trying to cut out commercially made foods with stuff like high fructose corn syrup (one of the main ingredients in that Cuervo margarita mix). I’m also enough of a food snob to appreciate a good craft cocktail, even if I don’t have the patience to make one myself.

But Linda’s got tons of kitchen confidence, and she spurred me on to work together on finding a margarita recipe we could call our own. The result is a story I like to call:

Goldilocks and the Three Margaritas

Like all good 21st-century people looking for obscure information, our mission began on the Internet. We did a search and perused about a dozen recipes, and picked three to try.

And we had to do a little tweaking before we arrived at the one that was Just Right.

The most important qualification for picking a recipe was that we had to have all the ingredients: Besides the tequila, that meant fresh lime juice, orange liqueur, and some kind of sweetener.

Marking Margaritas
Tequila, orange liqueur, and lime juice are the main ingredients for a margarita. Bitters add complexity and flavor.

The first recipe called for agave syrup, which Linda already had in her pantry. But the agave didn’t dissolve very well; I ended up having to clean most of it out of the shaker, where it had stuck.

The resulting cocktail was too tart for Linda’s taste. I liked the flavor, but admitted it didn’t really taste like a margarita.

We were intrigued by the second recipe we tried, because it called for angostura bitters. It also included agave, but I wasn’t going to try that again. So I omitted the sweetener entirely and doubled up on the Cointreau.

That margarita tasted OK – but it wasn’t great. And we wanted a margarita that tastes great.

The One That Was Just Right

For the final recipe, we decided to whip up a batch of simple syrup to replace the agave (1 cup of sugar dissolved into 1 cup of water, which we brought to a simmer and then cooled).

I dutifully added the ingredients. But the resulting drink was a lighter color than the previous one. So I poured it back into the shaker and added in more tequila.

That’s when I realized that the darker color of the previous cocktail was because of the bitters. So this one ended up with double the tequila.

And of course: this was the one that tasted the most like an actual margarita.

I also found it too sweet, so I added in a couple of dashes of angostura bitter – plus an extra dash of Scrappy’s orange bitter for taste.

And that’s how we made a margarita that was Just Right.

Two Drinks Away Just Right Margaritas

(yields 2 cocktails)

Ingredients:

6 oz. tequila
2 oz. Cointreau
2 oz. freshly squeezed lime juice
2 oz. simple syrup
Angostura bitters
Scrappy Orange bitters

Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add the tequila, Cointreau, lime juice, and simple syrup and shake for about 15 seconds. Pour into a couple of glasses and swirl in bitters to taste (we added two dashes of Angostura and one dash of Scrappy Orange).

Although I like a good salt rim on my glass, it’s not necessary – these margaritas were great without it.

Also, most of the recipes we saw online were adamant about using premium tequila – which is a great way to sell expensive booze. The brand we were using doesn’t cost much, and the result was great.

It’s possible that dipping into a $30 bottle of Patron or Chinaco would yield a better drink… but I seriously doubt that the difference would be all that noticeable. Then again, the Cointreau we used costs a lot more than your average Curacao.

Maybe the next time, we’ll experiment with switching out the tequila and orange liqueur. That could be our next mission.