February 22 strikes me as a strange day to celebrate National Margarita Day. To my taste, the thirst-quenching, tequila-based cocktail is best enjoyed on hot summer nights, but for many Canadians the margarita is an all-season drink, whether it’s served on the rocks, frozen or skinny. In that case, today is as good a day as any to celebrate the rise of this increasingly popular mixed drink.
In its classic recipe, a margarita is a shaken mix of tequila, orange liqueur and lime juice, often served in a 2:1:1 ratio. The drink originated in the 1930s when it was known as a picador, tequila sour or tequila daisy. Margarita means “daisy” in Spanish, which is the name that stuck in the 1950s.
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That deceptively simple formula has spawned many variations. You can adjust the ratio for a more spirit-forward drink, or mix up a less potent cocktail by using equal parts tequila, lime and orange liqueur. There is space to play when mixing a margarita. It’s easy to add your own take with different ingredients. Hence the legacy of avocado margaritas, blackberry margaritas, limeade margaritas, mango margaritas, pomegranate margarita, raspberry margaritas, strawberry margaritas, spicy margaritas and watermelon margaritas. Any would pair nicely with your fish tacos or quesadillas.
Starting with quality tequila is a must. Blanco Tequila is a common base, although opting for an oak-aged reposado makes for a delicious variation. Using mezcal results in a bolder, more flavourful margarita. You can level up your margarita, which is to say build more depth and complexity, by combining tequila and mezcal for the spirit base.
The choice of orange liqueur will also impact the style of the finished cocktail. The orange liqueur helps balance the zing of the lime juice while contributing orange and other flavours. Using Triple sec or Cointreau plays up the refreshing character of the cocktail, offering subtle orange and spice flavours to the mix. For a richer and more complex margarita, opt for Grand Marnier, which is a blend of cognac and triple sec, that offers bitter orange, spice and brandy notes to your drink. Curacao, meanwhile, supplies its distinctive blue hue along with attractive sweet and bitter orange notes.
Salt isn’t just a garnish, it’s a key component. It dials down the bitterness and makes the sweet and sour flavours really shine. I prefer to add a sprinkle of sea salt to the shaker to enhance the cocktail’s flavour. But if you do want to add salt to the rim of your glass, use the technique of this suggested recipe from Grand Marnier and only apply it to half the rim.
Grand Margarita Recipe
1.5 oz | Grand Marnier® Cordon Rouge
1 oz | Espolon Tequila
0.75 oz | freshly squeezed lime juice
0.5 oz Agave Nectar or Simple Syrup (Optional)
Fill a wide, shallow dish with 2-3 mm of fine salt.
Cut a lime in half at the width and rub around half of the rim of a margarita glass.
Cut a thin, crosswise slice from one of the lime halves for garnish.
Holding glass upside down, dip wet half delicately into the salt.
Shake Grand Marnier, Espolon Tequila and lime juice with ice in a cocktail shaker.
Strain into glass and apply lime garnish to the rim.
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