The average imbiber rarely stops to wonder where their drink of choice came from. This can be a good thing, since so many cocktails have hard-to-prove origins and multiple apocryphal histories—it would muddle one’s head, even before the booze itself kicks in. The margarita, summer savior and Cinco de Mayo mainstay, is one of these variously attributed concoctions, but we do know exactly who to thank for the proliferation of the frozen version: Dallas native and restaurateur Mariano Martinez.
While he wasn’t the first person to ever blitz up a slushy margarita or icy-thick mixed drink in general, he did invent “The World’s First Frozen Margarita Machine.” The humble brown box now rightfully rests in the hallowed halls of The Smithsonian, alongside other modern marvels like the incandescent light bulb and the telephone.
But let’s backtrack a bit, to the perfect plain-old margarita, since of course it had to exist before it could be slushified. The star ingredient, tequila, is Mexico’s most globally beloved spirit, being distilled from agave, which is native to Jalisco. Pulque, tequila’s great-granddaddy of sorts, was fermented from agave sap by the Aztecs thousands of years ago, but tequila, which is made by roasting the core of the spiky agave plant, then grinding it to extract the liquid, is a slightly more recent (and refined) 16th century invention. The first large-scale tequila factory opened for business in Mexico in 1600. The spirit was usually enjoyed neat in its home country, but in the mid-1880s, it began to be exported to America, where it was more often mixed.
The creation of the margarita, though, is as hazy as the drink itself; it’s claimed to have been invented by at least six different people, from various bartenders mixing up drinks (for 1930s Ziegfield showgirl Marjorie King; for actress Rita Hayworth—real name: Margarita Cansino; or for singer Peggy Lee, among others), to Dallas, Texas socialite Margaret “Margarita” Sames, who allegedly needed a batch-able party drink while vacationing in Acapulco in 1948 and hit upon that refreshing sweet-sour combo—and those are only an abbreviated few of the many tales of attribution. Most likely, the name derives from the fact that it’s a “daisy” cocktail (liquor, citrus, and sweetener), and “margarita” is the Spanish name for the flower—which still doesn’t settle who exactly dreamed it up in the first place, but is good enough for most.
The “when” is slightly less disputed—or at least, multiple origin stories have a late 1930s setting in common, and longtime tequila purveyor Jose Cuervo ran an ad in 1945 proclaiming that Margarita was more than just a girl’s name, suggesting the drink was at least fairly well-known by then. The first publicly printed recipe for a margarita by that now-famous name was in Esquire in 1953 (a 1937 cocktail manual contains an extremely similar recipe, but it’s called the Picador).
Around the same time as the Esquire piece did its part to spur the rise in popularity of the margarita, home blenders began to turn up in more and more American kitchens. To help move them along, “Electric Blender Recipes” was published in 1952; it contained the first known recipe for a blended strawberry daiquiri. It’s only natural to assume that fans of getting sozzled via slushies tried making other icy versions of their favorite cocktails.
Which brings us to Dallas a couple decades later: by 1971, when Mariano Martinez opened his first restaurant, people had a taste for margaritas, and blenders were commonplace, but they weren’t the ideal tool for making batch after batch of the drinks, at least not with any consistent quality. He knew he needed a better way to bring his customers what they craved (and to make his bartenders happier too). He found it in the Slurpee machine—sort of.
Invented by happy accident in late 1950s Kansas, the slushy-making device was eventually branded the ICEE machine, but when 7-Eleven (which also got its start in Dallas) licensed the technology in 1965, they gave it and the drink it produced the more onomatopoeic name Slurpee. It seemed the perfect contraption for making uniformly mixed margaritas, with just one problem—the company wouldn’t sell one of the machines to an outsider. That might have discouraged a lesser man, but Mariano Martinez wasn’t stymied; he simply got a standard soft-serve ice cream maker instead, and with a friend, Frank Adams, started tinkering with it, until they finally perfected The World’s First Frozen Margarita Machine. This required rejiggering the margarita a bit too, since the standard alcohol-heavy recipe wouldn’t freeze; more sugar is necessary to achieve the proper consistency, which partly explains why machine-made frozen margaritas are sweeter (the other part is usually all the artificial ingredients and corn syrup-heavy mixes).
America had no problem with that, though, and copycat machines meant frozen margaritas quickly became a staple of Mexican and Tex-Mex restaurants everywhere. These days, you can even buy miniature frozen margarita makers for home use, but in your own abode, you really only need a blender—and not even that (although without one, the process takes a little longer). Try one of these easy recipes if you’re feeling thirsty, but keep in mind that even the man who made frozen margaritas a phenomenon prefers his on the rocks.
High-quality 100% agave tequila, fresh-squeezed lime juice, simple syrup, orange liqueur, and ice—simple as that, and a snap to whip up. Chill everything before blending to make the margaritas stay slushy longer, and feel free to salt the rim of your glass if you like. Get our Slushy Blended Margarita recipe.
If you want to branch out beyond the traditional flavors, adding fruit to your margarita is a great way to start. Using frozen strawberries helps up the slush factor, but otherwise, this is a pretty classic version—with a touch of salt mixed right in to punch up the sweet-tart flavors. Get our Strawberry Margarita recipe.
Going a bit farther afield, this fruity frozen margarita boosts the sweet taste of peaches with a little peach liqueur, while ginger liqueur adds spice and reposado tequila (which is oak-aged anywhere between 2 and 12 months) rounds it out. Get our Frozen Ginger Peach Margarita recipe.
What to do if you don’t have a blender? Break out your zip-top plastic bags! Yes, this version uses frozen limeade concentrate, but if all you’re after is an easy, pool-worthy drink, it’ll hit the spot. Feel free to just stick a straw straight into the bag too, if you’re among non-judgmental friends. Call it an adult Capri Sun. Get the recipe.
Another, potentially more appealing option if you’re blenderless is to mix up a margarita with frozen fruit sorbet added right to the shaker; try various tropical flavors til you find your favorite. This version uses mango and adds a little smoky ancho chile powder. American ingenuity strikes again! Get the recipe.
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