Friday Cocktail Hour: The Margarita. Photo by Donna Turner Ruhlman

Friday’s cocktail hour celebrates not simply a classic, but a cocktail that has been horribly debased even during its relatively short life span. Of unverified origins, the Margarita seems to have come into play in the 1940s.

But since then, America has trashed it. Served in pitchers of ice. Countless inane variations. Dispensed slushy out of spigots at bad tiki bars. Who invented the frozen margarita? Does anyone know? If drinks were for kids, I’d say, go to town, but adults drinking frozen margaritas, well, I think they’re embracing their inner Popsicle-loving six-year-old (and would be better off with a Popsicle in the afternoon, followed by a cocktail in the evening).

We’ve been on a tequila run these past few weeks after our return from Canyon country and will finish here with a classic Margarita, defiantly unslushy, defiantly iceless. The Margarita, neat, goddamit.

You can use these same proportions over ice and it’s superb, of course, but during these hot days I want to be able to taste the tequila throughout, not watered down with each successive sip. The Paloma is refreshing and is meant to be served with ice. The Margarita can be enjoyed either way.

You can go the generic triple sec route, but Cointreau orange liqueur is best. Some prefer Grand Marnier. Key limes are often used but can be overly tart. This is basically a “sour,” like a whiskey sour only using tequila, and no egg white, though you could certainly throw one in there if you wanted to call it lunch!

I eat plenty of salt as it is and don’t like it straight off the rim of a glass, stinging the corners of my mouth. But there’s something about tequila that loves salt, so if you wish, add a pinch, sea salt if you have it. My friend Paulius even likes a little chilli powder thrown in there.

The optimal ratio is 3 – 1.5 – 1, tequila, orange liquer, lime juice.

This is a true Margarita.

The Margarita, Neat

  • 90 grams silver tequila (3 ounces)
  • 45 grams Cointreau (1.5 ounces)
  • 30 grams lime juice (1 ounce)
  • pinch of sea salt (optional)
  • disk of lime for garnish (optional)
  1. Combine the tequila, Cointreau, lime juice, and salt (if using) in a cocktail shaker or mixing glass.
  2. Stir for 90 seconds or so.  Strain into a martini glass that’s been in the freezer for hours or days.
  3. Garnish with lime.

This will serve two, but I guarantee you’ll want another.

If you liked this post on the Margarita, check out these other links:

© 2012 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2012 Donna Turner Ruhlman. All rights reserved.


32 Wonderful responses to “Friday Cocktail Hour: The Margarita”

  • Wilma de Soto

    On a tequila roll, I see. This is Margarita done good and proper. I guess the tequila/sangrita thing is not for you.

  • Allen

    I love any sweetener, but tequila needs agave for sweetener since it’s made from agave, it doesn’t hide the flavor of the tequila. And my wife taught me a long time ago; avoid the brain freeze, order on the rocks, never blended.
    Cheers, happy Friday all!

  • Mantonat

    Depending on the tartness of the limes, I sometimes add a splash of simple syrup. I’m also a fan of reposado tequila or sotol in my margaritas. The sotol is great because it lends a smoky note which balances well against the lime. (Hacienda de Chihuahua is the only sotol brand I’ve seen in US liquor stores.)

  • Carly

    Good call on adding the salt to the drink. I add a pinch of salt to just about everything (adding it to smoothies has gotten me many disapproving looks), but I can’t think of a single time when having my glass rimmed with anything added to my drinking experience.

    • Melanie

      I add a salt/sugar 50/50 rim to my watermelon martinis, which to me really adds something to the flavor of the drink. But as to a rim adding to the drinking experience, I think I will never drink a cable car without a rim of raw sugar mixed with cinnamon, and then bruleed to the glass. It’s sublime. And when you try to eat it, it sounds like you’re chewing glass. 😉

  • Victoria

    I know it is plebian of me, but I always use Bols (only Bols) Triple Sec. I have always figured that if it’s good enough for Jimmy Buffett, it’s good enough for me. But it’s not good enough for you, so I’ll forego my new love, your Paloma, tonight and make a margarita YOUR way.

    And I’ll spare you by not going into the details of the night I did a taste testing of margaritas – one with Cointreau, one with Grand Marnier, one with Patron Orange Liqueur, and one with the Bols.

  • Susan

    My very first Margarita was served “neat,” much like a gimlet but with salt around the rim. I liked it at the steak house where it was served. The next was over ice at a restaurant bar; I liked that, better. The next was frapped at a summer barbeque and I like it best! There’s a mood or place for every application. No rules!

  • Michael Barrett

    Forgo the Cointreu and muddle a wedge of orange in the bottom of your shaker.

    Then follow a classic highball ratio: 2 parts tequila, 2 parts lime, 1 part simple syrup. You can reduce the simple syrup to 1/2 if you prefer it tart.

    Triple Sec and Cointro are far too sweet and heavy, the weigh down the drink and make it sludgy. Fresh orange is, derp, fresh and mellows out the lime without being cloyingly sweet.

  • Chris

    When does the Ratio bartender app come out? The Manhattan was a nice 2:1 bourbon/vermouth as well…

  • Ryan

    Great looking recipe. Keep it classic! If you want to kick up your triple sec another notch, try subbing the Cointreau with Pierre Ferrand’s Dry Curacao. Not as sweet and really delicious on its own. I’ve been using it in margaritas (and a bunch of other drinks) since I saw it reviewed in the WSJ. (

  • Kathy

    Now see, I make mine with Paula’s Texas Orange. Because I’m a hopeless locavore hipster, even when it comes to cocktails. Thank God Texas has so many distilleries and whatnot.

  • Chris

    Michael, let me know the next time you’re in San Francisco. The cocktail scene is phenomenal out here. I’m said to say, much better than the scene in NYC, which I’ve recently left after 17 years.

    With all respect to PDT, Pegu, EO, etc. none of them hold a candle to Comstock or Slow Club. I reserve the right to change my mind after Dave Arnold’s place opens. As long as I’m dropping names, why people in NYC don’t drop by WD-50 more often for drinks is beyond me… WD-50 clarify their bitters for a clear Manhattan!

  • Natalie Luffer Sztern

    OH YA !!!a ratio Bartending Book Genious! Just the word Whiskey Sour makes my taste buds quiver a bit cause I just love Whiskey Sours.
    Michael make sure you post Fridays early so I can get to the SAQ before dinner….

  • Mike

    Having one over the rocks with Patron silver right now – it is quite good. Is Herradura your preferred tequila?

    I usually do a 4-2-2-1, tequila, lime, agave nectar, Cointreau for propel who want something a bit sweeter.

  • Brian Beggarly

    Try using hot pepper infused tequila. The spice and the sweet and sour are a great combo. My wife made some great infusions this summer and we have been making some great cocktails.

  • Peter O.

    Just curious…I’m interested in how many folks out there use a scale to make a cocktail? Never something I thought of until I saw measurements in grams…

  • Peter O.

    …and to follow up, ethanol is about 25% less dense than water, so 1 g per ml conversion is slightly off…probably not enough to make much difference.

  • Adam

    great post. for additional flavor, i muddled a jalapeno with salt, and then proceeded with rest of recipe. neat (and spicy), goddamit


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