The margarita may very well be the most democratic of all cocktails, though this may be difficult to prove empirically. Its pedigree is well-established such that even the haughtiest mixologist will deign to make you a classic one, but its fresh simplicity is accessible enough for baby’s first cocktail. It also pairs well with food (nachos, please!), which not every cocktail can do so gracefully. Margarita translates to “daisy”; named for the friendliest of flowers, it is essentially the friendliest of cocktails. (Yeah, yeah. Tell that to your last margarita-fueled hangover.)
The name also fits because the margarita comes from the daisy family of cocktails, a slight variation on a classic sour cocktail. A sour typically consists of two parts spirit to one part citrus and one part sweetener. A daisy, by contrast, displaces some of the sweetener element by an orange-flavored liqueur such as Cointreau or triple sec. A brandy daisy is considered the oldest variant, which was popular as early as the late 1880s. The margarita, essentially a tequila daisy, was established (based on whomever’s claim to it you best believe) in the late 1930s or early 1940s.
So then what’s all this noise about the current craze for a skinny margarita? The dirty truth is a skinny margarita bears a tremendous amount of resemblance to a properly made, classic margarita, with maybe just a lighter hand with the triple sec and sweetener. But what the skinny margarita is responding to is the moment (in actuality, a few decades) where the margarita strayed from its sophisticated pedigree and became synonymous with slushy machines, syrupy sweet and sour mix, and happy hours that resulted in not-so-happy mornings-after. Those libations delivered a wallop of calories, hence the need for a skinnier version. The good news is, the rising trend in cocktails that are actually classics means that more and more people are enjoying a properly made margarita, skinny or otherwise.
Dale DeGroff Margarita
The classic. Do yourself a favor and go to a cocktail bar or reputable restaurant and simply ask for a margarita, full stop, no modifiers. With or without salt, up or on the rocks, it is the perfect triangulation between strength, sweetness, and acidity. Or make yourself one at home with this bedrock recipe.
A lovely interpretation of a lighter style margarita, with some fresh orange juice to soften the citric bite of the lime, and a gentle touch of agave for roundness. Get the recipe.
A classic variation on the classic margarita that nudges it back into the sour category from the daisy category. Orange liqueur is omitted and a generous dose of agave syrup emphasizes the natural agave flavor of the tequila. Get the recipe.
A tart variation on the skinny, with extra tequila and lime, and just a splash of orange liqueur for contrast. Get the recipe.
A richer style margarita made with aged (reposado) tequila and brandy-based Grand Marnier in place of triple sec. The impact is slightly sweeter because of the inherent richness in the aged tequila, without actually being sweeter. Get the recipe.
Blood Orange Margarita
Because of its relatively clean slate, the margarita provides an excellent palate for different components to come along for the ride. This dramatic variation brings the crimson juice of the blood orange, as well as a hint of Campari for bitter tension and to really sell the sanguine factor. Get the recipe.
Header images courtesy of Liquor.com and Cookie + Kate.