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Drink What You Want: Margarita

This drink is similar to the daiquiri, but the sweetener has been replaced with orange liqueur. My favorite liqueur in a margarita is Cointreau. Alternatively, Grand Marnier is slightly richer, or go for blue curaçao if you’re a cool person and love life and joy. Any of these have a fair amount of sweetness as well as 20% ABV or more. This means that the alcohol balance point of a margarita is higher than that of a daiquiri―it’s a stronger drink. I do still include ¼ ounce of agave syrup to give the drink a fuller body and to balance out the acidity from the lime juice and orange liqueur. Most orange liqueurs have a bit of bitterness to them―they are flavored with the skins of bitter oranges―so yes, a margarita should be a tiny bit bitter. It provides a nice backbone for the rest of the flavors, making this drink slightly more complex than a simple daiquiri. Many people salt the rims of their margaritas, which helps to balance out a bit of the bitterness from the orange liqueur as well as amplify some of the briny notes from the tequila. Also, salt just makes things taste better. 

Aromatically, this drink is all about the interplay between the green, fruity, vegetal (and sometimes floral and mineral) notes from the tequila and the citrus notes from the orange liqueur and lime juice. The agave syrup offers a bit of an earthy, almost maple syrup–like aroma, which makes it a superior choice to simple syrup, but your margarita will be just fine if you don’t have access to agave nectar or you don’t feel like using it for whatever reason. 

The biggest margarita-related crime is using bad tequila. Many people hate tequila because they overdid it on bad tequila shots in high school* and never experienced the good stuff. Kind of like if you thought all cheese was Kraft Singles and Polly-O string cheese and never tasted a decent Gruyère or mozzarella. 

Some people like their margaritas on the rocks, either because they nurse them slowly or because they simply like the experience of having ice in the glass and the little extra dilution it offers. It’s a personal choice. 

You can find a tremendous variation in margaritas simply by switching the kind of tequila and orange liqueur you use. Try one with blanco and Cointreau, and try another with reposado and Grand Marnier, or swap the tequila for mezcal. This drink can take many forms, including a slushy frozen variety, but you won’t find a recipe for that here. 

The margarita, and its fraternal twin, the sidecar, belong to a category of drinks I call Daisies. This category―with 1¾ ounces base, ¾ ounce citrus, ¾ ounce liqueur, and ¼ ounce sweetener―is so named because margarita means “daisy” in Spanish. You can use the Daisy template to rifle through a ton of spirits and fruit liqueurs to create an innumerable variety of cocktails. 

* Middle school? 

Drink What You Want: Margarita

Course Cocktail, Drinks
Servings 1 drink


Makes 1 cocktail

  • 1 3/4 ounces tequila
  • 3/4 ounce orange liqueur, such as Cointreau
  • 3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
  • 1/4 ounce Agave syrup (recipe follows)
  • Optional Garnishes Salt and/or lime wheel

Agave Syrup

  • 3/4 cup agave nectar
  • 3/4 cup filtered water


  • In a mixing glass or shaking tin, combine the drink ingredients. Add ice and stir for 20 seconds. Strain into a chilled coupe. Garnish with Luxardo cherries speared on a toothpick. 

For the Agave syrup

  • In a small bowl, whisk together the agave nectar and water. Store the syrup in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks or in the freezer for up to 6 months. 


Reprinted with permission from Drink What You Want: The Subjective Guide to Making Objectively Delicious Cocktails by John deBary, copyright © 2020. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House.” Illustration copyright: Sarah Tanat-Jones © 2020
Keyword Agave, Cocktail, Lime, Orange liqueur

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