Words by: Simon Difford
Part of the ‘sour’ cocktail family, the Margarita traditionally consists of three ingredients; tequila, triple sec orange liqueur and lime juice, often served in a glass with salt on the rim. Margaritas are mostly shaken and served either straight-up in the eponymous margarita glass (coupette) or over ice in an old-fashioned glass. They may also be blended with ice and served ‘frozen’.
Classically a margarita consists of 2 parts tequila, 1 part triple sec liqueur and 1 part lime juice. This tends to produce a drink which is a little on the sour side of balanced (depending on your limes and liqueur sweetness). Hence it is common to subtly up the degree of sweetness by adding a spoon or two of sugar syrup. I prefer adding agave syrup in place of sugar and our Difford's Margarita recipe is a classic 2:1:1 with a spoon of agave syrup.
The 2:1:1 Margarita formula - with or without an additional spoon or two of sugar/agave syrup (to taste) works well either served straight-up or on-the-rocks. However, if blending to serve 'frozen' then the drink will benefit from dramatically raising the degree of sweetness by increasing either the amount of liqueur, sugar or agave used.
I like to add half a pinch of salt to a Margarita rather than salting the rim. Although barely detectable by the drinker, this small amount of salt subtlety enhances the drink's flavour.
A salted rim on a Margarita delivers a hit of salt that is too intense and masks the flavour of the drink. However, the salt rim is so synonymous with the Margarita that drinkers expect it - even if they do drink from the same area of the glass to avoid another hit of salt. So consider only salting just half or two thirds of the rim to give the drinker the option of avoiding the salt altogether.
When salting a rim run a lime wedge around the outside of the glass' rim and then roll the rim in salt rather than dipping the rim into juice and then salt. The dipping method coats the inside of the glass with salt which is inevitably washed into the cocktail so polluting it with too much salt.
While triple sec liqueur is the classic sweetener in a Margarita, other liqueurs are often used and thanks to drinks industry legend, Julio Bermejo, and his Agave Sec liqueur. This is a triple sec sweetened only with agave syrup and without sugar. It is formulated to replicate the sweetness of a triple sec such as Cointreau and allows a true, subtly orange flavoured sugar-free Margarita to be made.
Margaritas are classically made with Mexican limes - Key lime (Citrus aurantifolia) or Persian lime (Citrus latifolia) varieties with the ubiquitous availability of Persian limes making their use by far the most common. However, Margaritas made with equal parts lime and lemon juice are more delicate and I'd argue better. It's perhaps worth mentioning that the first known printed Margarita recipe, in the December 1953 Esquire Magazine, calls for an ounce of tequila, a dash of triple sec and the juice of half a lime or lemon.
Margarita is the Spanish word for 'daisy'. (Incidentally, 'daisy' is thought to be a corruption of 'day's eye' due to the flower head of the daisy closing at night and opening in the morning.) And its probable that the Margarita cocktail is simply a tequila-based Daisy - a style of drink made with citrus juice, sweetened with a syrup or liqueur, and fortified with a base spirit that dates back to Victorian times.
The Daisy was a category of cocktail popular in the early 20th century with the 19 July 1939 edition of the Albuquerque Journal describing the Daisy as being "ubiquitous", while the first specific mention of a Tequila Daisy appeared in the Moville Mail on 23rd July 1936 (pg. 4, cols. 1-3) in a piece titled "Graham's Sightseeing". James Graham was the newspaper's editor and owner and in the piece he recounts his visit to Tijuana and Augua (sic) Caliente, Mexico.
"When we parked, the driver told us of places of interest that are now not so interesting as in the days of Prohibition in the States. Then there were 150 bars open, now there are nine. One of these is run by an Irishman named Madden. The driver had told us of his skill in mixing drinks. One of his inventions has given his saloon the name of "The Home of the Famous Tequila Daisy." As a newspaper man seeking information, I entered the joint and told Mr. Madden my curiosity was aroused regarding The Daisy. He was not as talkative as his prototype, Mr. Dooley, but I imagine he looks like that gentleman, the creature of the imagination of the late Peter Finlay Dunne. After a while he told me The Daisy was not an invention, as no skill was employed in its creation, it was a mistake. "In mixing a drink I grabbed the wrong bottle and the customer was so delighted that he called for another and spread the good news far and wide," said Mr. Madden."
Shortly after, in the 19th August 1936 edition of the Syracuse Herald (pg. 24, col. 3), an advertisement for "Leo Lighter and His All-Girl Band" mentions "Syracuse's newest and refreshing drink Tequila Daisy". If Leo Lighter and His All-Girl Band and Tequila Daisies weren't enough the ad also promises "Eddie Vanzill" the "Dancing Waiter" as an "Added Attraction".
The 1937 Café Royal Cocktail Book by William J. Tarling includes a British antecedent of the Margarita called a 'Picador'. This predates the first known mention of the Margarita by 16 years with the recipe in proportions identical to that recognised today as a Margarita. So the Margarita is obviously a British invention!
1937 Café Royal Cocktail Book
The first (suitably flowery) printed mention of a Margarita cocktail is in the December 1953 issue of Esquire magazine: "She's from Mexico, Señores, and she is lovely to look at, exciting and provocative". The recipe given is one ounce tequila, a dash of triple sec and the juice of half a lime or lemon. It's worth mentioning that Margarita as an American girl's name reached its peak of popularity in the 1930s and 40s so there were plenty of Margaritas around in the 1950s when it would appear the Margarita cocktail was christened. Margarita is also the name of an island, Isla de Margarita (Margarita Island) a popular holiday destination in the Caribbean north of Venezuela, two-and-a-half hours from Miami.
There are many people who either claim to have invented or named the Margarita cocktail. The following are the most notable, in rough chronological order, rather than by probability:
1. Vernon Underwood was president of Young's Market Company, which in the 1930s had started distributing Cuervo tequila in America. He is said to have asked Johnny Durlesser, head bartender of the Tail O' The Cock in Los Angeles, to create something using his newly acquired spirit, then named the new drink after his wife Margaret (Margarita).
2. Sara Morales, an expert in Mexican folklore, claimed the Margarita was created in 1930 by Doña Bertha, owner of Bertha's Bar in Taxco, Mexico.
3. Daniel (Danny) Negrete is said to have created the drink in 1936 when he was the manager of Garci Crespo Hotel in Puebla, Mexico. His girlfriend, Margarita, apparently liked salt in her drinks and the story goes that he created the drink for her as a present. In 1944 Danny moved to Tijuana, Mexico, and became a bartender at the Agua Caliente Racetrack, a place which claims to be the birthplace of the Margarita in the early 1930s.
4. Francisco 'Pancho' Morales said he created the Margarita whilst working in a bar called Tommy's Place in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, after being asked to make a 'Magnolia' on the 4th July 1942. Unable to remember the recipe he is said to have created the now famous drink. Who knows, the customer's name may even have been Margarita.
5. Carlos 'Danny' Herrera is also said to have created the cocktail either in 1947 or 1948 at his Rancho La Gloria bar in Rosarito, Mexico, for an actress called Marjorie King who drank no spirit but tequila. He added Cointreau and lime, and the unique salt rim that caught people's attention at the bar, then named his creation Margarita, the Spanish for Marjorie.
6. The socialite Margaret Sames held a Christmas party in Acapulco, Mexico, in 1948, where she is said to have created the first Margarita. She thought nothing of it until, when flying home to San Antonio from Acapulco airport, she saw a bar advertising 'Margarita's Drink', a cocktail with exactly the same ingredients as her own.
The Margarita can be categorised as being a Tequila Sour, a Tequila Sidecar or a Tequila Daisy, but it is now such a well-known and served drink that it has become a category of cocktail in itself with numerous variations. It even has its own day, Margarita Day which falls on the 22nd February each year.
Our favourite Margarita recipes
Margarita on-the-rocks (Difford's recipe) - classic Margarita 2:1:1 proportions with agave and salt
Mezcal Margarita - a mezcal based Margarita
Tommy's Margarita - made with agave syrup in place of triple sec/orange liqueur
Deluxe Margarita - a classic Margarita made with a premium tequila
Blood Orange Margarita 4.5/5 - tequila, triple sec, Campari, blood orange juice, lime juice and sugar
Blue Margarita 3.5/5 - tequila, blue curaçao, lime juice, sugar
Blue Velvet Margarita 4/5 - tequila, triple sec, blue curacao, lime juice
Cadillac Margarita - a classic Margarita made with a premium tequila
Celtic Margarita 4.5/5 - blended Scotch whisky, triple sec, lemon juice
Chihuahua Margarita 3.5/5 - tequila, pink grapefruit juice, agave syrup, bitters
Christmas Margarita 3.5/5 - tequila, cranberry juice, lime juice, Grand Marnier
Elegante Margarita 4.5/5 - tequila, triple sec, lime cordial, lime juice, sugar
Floridita Margarita 4/5 - tequila, triple sec, cranberry juice, lime cordial, pink grapefruit juice, lime juice, sugar
Frozen Margarita 4/5 - tequila, triple sec, lime juice, sugar
Ginger Margarita 4/5 - tequila, ginger liqueur, lime juice
Grand Margarita 4/5 - tequila, Grand Marnier, lime juice
Hibiscus Margarita 4/5 - tequila, lime juice, hibiscus tea
Italian Margarita 3.5/5 - tequila, triple sec, amaretto, lime juice
La Rosa Margarita 4/5 - tequila, Crème de mûre (blackberry) liqueur, hibiscus tea, lime juice
Lavender Margarita 5/5 - tequila, lime juice, lavender sugar syrup
Lolita Margarita 4.5/5 - honey, tequila, lime juice, bitters
Lucky Lily Margarita 4.5/5 - honey, tequila, pineapple juice, lime juice, black pepper
Margarita with Salt Foam - as the name suggests: a classic Margarita topped with a brine foam
Mango Margarita (served up) 4/5 - tequila, mango purée, triple sec, lime juice
Mango Margarita (served frozen) 4/5 - tequila, mango purée, triple sec, lime juice, sugar water
Maria Theresa Margarita 4/5 - honey, tequila, cranberry juice, lime juice
Margarita Straight-up (Standard Recipe) 4.5/5 - tequila, triple sec, lime juice, agave syrup, bitters
Maya Margarita 4/5 - tequila, agave sec liqueur, Grand Marnier, lime juice, orange juice, calamansi juice
Melon Margarita (served 'up') 4/5 - cantaloupe melon, tequila, melon liqueur, lime juice
Melon Margarita (served 'frozen') 3.5/5 - cantaloupe melon, tequila, melon liqueur, lime juice
Million Dollar Margarita 4.5/5 - tequila, Grand Marnier, lime juice
Mock Margarita 3.5/5 - lime juice, lemon juice, agave syrup, ginger ale
Passion Fruit Margarita 4/5 - passion fruit, tequila, triple sec, lime juice, passion fruit syrup
Pineapple Margarita 4/5 - tequila, triple sec, pineapple juice
Pineapple & Sage Margarita 4.5/5 - sage leaves, tequila, pineapple juice, lime juice, agave syrup
Pink Grapefruit Margarita 4/5 - tequila, grapefruit juice, lime juice, sugar
Pomegranate Margarita 4.5/5 - tequila, pomegranate juice, pomegranate syrup, lime juice
Quince Mustard Margarita 4.5/5 - quince mustard jam, black pepper, tequila, triple sec, lime juice, sugar
Raspberry Margarita 4/5 - raspberries, tequila, triple sec, lime juice, sugar
Rosarita Margarita 4/5 - tequila, Grand Marnier, cranberry juice, lime cordial, lime juice, sugar
Royal Velvet Margarita 3.5/5 - tequila, amaretto, berry liqueur, lime juice
Rusty Margarita 4.5/5 - tequila, Drambuie, lime juice
Sage Margarita 4/5 - sage leaves, tequila, triple sec, lime juice, syrup
Saúco Margarita 4.5/5 - tequila, elderflower liqueur, lime juice
Strawberry Margarita 4/5 - tequila, lime juice, sugar, strawberries
Swedish Margarita 4.5/5 - tequila, Swedish punch liqueur, lime juice, lemon juice
Hypnotic Margarita 4/5 - tequila, triple sec, hpnotiq liqueur, lime juice
Tiki Margarita 4.5/5 - tequila, almond syrup, lime juice
Tres Compadres Margarita 4.5/5 - tequila, triple sec, berry liqueur, lime cordial, lime juice, orange juice, pink grapefruit juice
Vanilla Margarita 4/5 - vanilla infused tequila, triple sec, lemon juice