Margaritas are simple to make, yet it's oh-so-easy to encounter a bad margarita. The classic version is made from only three ingredients: tequila, triple sec and lime juice. The trick is in the quality of the ingredients - the better the quality, the better the 'rita.
The base of a margarita is the tequila. There are so many brands and types that it can be tricky to know which one to use. There are three main types of tequila: blanco, reposado and añejo. Each one has its own distinct personality based on how long its been aged. Blanco, sometimes referred to as silver tequila, isn't aged at all. Reposado is aged in wood barrels for a minimum of two months but less than a year, and añejo has been aged for at least one year in oak barrels.
Next comes the lime juice - freshly squeezed, of course. If the limes aren't yielding enough juice, pop them in the microwave for five seconds and then roll them around on your cutting board while pushing down on them with your palm.
You could stop just there if you wanted to, or you could add some triple sec, an orange liqueur. Cointreau and Grand Marnier are both triple secs, but you can substitute cheaper versions.
Vajra Stratigos is the Food and Beverage director at Fifth Group Restaurants in Atlanta. He's also somewhat of a tequila nerd. Stratigos notes that when it comes to margaritas, there are two different styles that are prevalent these days. The first has more citrus tones, like orange juice or triple sec. These flavors favor a reposado tequila. "The oak contact adds more richness, more depth," he said.
The second style is clean and bright - "lean, green and mean," according to Stratigos. This type suits a blanco tequila that will keep the drink crisp and fruit forward.
If you're serving margaritas for a crowd, consider making your own mix. Sweeten freshly squeezed lime juice with some agave and/or sugarcane juice (per Stratigos).
These days, margaritas come in all sorts of different flavors - from pomegranate to prickly pear and everything in between. You can add different fruit juices to your mix, or you could start at the base and make infused tequila. The process is pretty simple: Empty a bottle of tequila into a sealable, non-porous container (preferably a glass canister with a spigot) and add your flavoring. Chunks of pineapple work really well, so do jalapeños and strawberries. Make sure to strain the liquid back into its original bottle to remove any seeds before serving. And, just be wary that the longer you let the infuser sit in the tequila, the stronger it'll be. You don't want to end up with japaleño tequila that burns like jet fuel.
Whether you make your margaritas frozen or on the rocks, with or without salt, might we suggest you heed another bit of Stratigos' advice? Make your margarita strong!