In this month’s cocktail post, contributor Jesse Goldstein goes deep into the margarita well (or pitcher, as it were). Everyone loves a good margarita on Cinco de Mayo—but here are a few options that will carry you through the rest of the summer in high style. From Jesse:

I catch myself feeling sorry for inanimate things every now and then. You know, the chair in the living room you never sit in, the vegetables people love to hate, and tequila. My sorrow for the latter really comes from how it’s been vilified by memories of college parties gone wrong and bright green, sickly-sweet margaritas served in many restaurants and bars.

I set out on a personal mission to make up for all that disdain and rediscover how good a margarita really can be when made with simple, fresh ingredients and good-quality tequila. In the process, I discovered a variety of ways to punch up this spirited concoction into new drinks. They don’t have to be the color of kryptonite. They can be light, bright, and delicious.

Better yet, these tequila cocktails are the perfect warm weather cocktails. Coupled with bright citrus flavors, they’re barely sweet and easy to make even more refreshing with a splash of seltzer on top.


The Classic Margarita
As with many recipes, a great margarita’s success is directly linked to the quality of ingredients used. In this case, it’s freshly-squeezed lime juice, a good orange liqueur like Grand Marnier or Cointreau, and really good tequila. Look for tequila that is made with 100% blue agave. Some people seem to think that you shouldn’t waste good tequila in a margarita, but I wholeheartedly disagree. Wholeheartedly. When using a simple recipe like the one below you will certainly taste the difference between good tequila and budget tequila.

2 ounces blanco tequila
.75 ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice
.75 ounce orange liqueur
.25 ounce agave nectar

Combine all your ingredients in a cocktail shaker and fill with ice. Cap your shaker and shake vigorously for at least 15 seconds before straining into a glass with fresh ice.

Lemon Margarita
While limes are certainly the traditional option for margaritas, you can make an equally delicious version using lemons instead. With a quick swap of limoncello for the orange liqueur, you’ll have the perfect summertime cocktail.

2 ounces blanco tequila
.75 ounce fresh-squeezed lemon juice
.75 ounce limoncello liqueur
.25 ounce agave nectar

Combine all your ingredients in a cocktail shaker and fill with ice. Cap your shaker and shake vigorously for at least 15 seconds before straining into a glass with fresh ice.


Marmalade Margarita
Once you get the hang of a classic margarita, try your hand at some non-traditional versions. This one uses bitter orange marmalade in place of the orange liqueur and agave nectar. The marmalade is a perfect balance for a more flavorful tequila. The word reposado means rested in Spanish, and this tequila is just that. Aged for up to 364 days in oak barrels, it takes on just a little complexity without the full, robust flavor of anejo tequila that is allowed to sit in barrels for much longer.

2 ounces reposado tequila
.75 ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice
1 Tablespoon bitter orange marmalade

Combine the ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Use the glass you will serve it in to measure the amount of ice needed and add that to the shaker. Cover the shaker and shake it for 15-20 seconds before emptying entire contents into your glass.

Kumquat Margarita
Most commonly used in jams and marmalades, kumquats can be eaten whole, skin and all. Surprisingly, their skin tastes sweet and the center fruit is quite sour. When you can find them fresh, snatch them up and proceed immediately to making cocktails. Since they’re full of seeds, you’ll need to strain this margarita before serving. It’s barely sweet and just slightly bitter, making it the margarita of choice for those who would otherwise choose a whiskey cocktail.

3 fresh whole kumquats
2 ounces reposado tequila
.5 ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice
.25 ounce agave nectar (use more if you prefer it to be a little sweeter)

Slice the kumquats and place in the bottom of your cocktail shaker. Using a wooden muddler or spoon, press them to release the juice and aromatic oils from the peel. Add your remaining ingredients before filling the shaker with ice. Cover your shaker and shake it extra hard, for at least 15 seconds. Once done, fill your glass with ice and strain the cocktail through a fine mesh strainer into the glass.


Tequila Mojito
Though not technically a margarita, this cocktail deserves a seat at the bar. It takes the classic rum-based refresher and swaps it for good-quality blanco tequila. I find that the key to making a great mojito is lots of bubbles, so instead of using simple syrup, I opt to make it with granulated sugar, allowing even more room for seltzer.

It’s important to add a note here about muddling. All too often I see people pulverizing the mint for mojitos when they simply need to bruise it. Give it a few good presses and that will help release the aromatics without getting bits and pieces floating around.

2 ounces blanco tequila
1.5 ounces fresh-squeezed lime juice
8-10 mint leaves
4 teaspoons granulated sugar
4 ounces of seltzer
Fresh mint sprig for garnish

Place the mint leaves and sugar in the bottom of a tall glass. Using a wooden muddler, press the leaves with the sugar to bruise them and release the flavor. Add the lime juice and tequilas and stir with a spoon until the sugar dissolves. Fill the glass with ice and top with seltzer before stirring lightly. Top with a sprig of mint before serving.

Spicy Paloma
Traditionally made with Mexican grapefruit soda, a paloma can often be a little too sweet for my personal taste. Instead, I use fresh grapefruit juice and just a touch of agave nectar. To add a little more interest, I’ve also added fresh habañero pepper. Just a small amount adds a peppery finish, but be sure to strain it well so you’re not biting into bits of the hot pepper.

A quarter-sized piece of habañero pepper
2 ounces blanco tequila
1.5 ounces fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice
.25 ounce agave nectar
Splash of seltzer

Roughly chop the piece of pepper and add it to the bottom of a cocktail shaker. Using a wooden muddler or spoon, muddle the habañero a bit before adding the tequila, grapefruit juice, and agave nectar. Fill your cocktail shaker with ice, cover and shake it for 15 seconds or so to chill it. Strain into an ice-filled glass, using a fine mesh strainer to remove all pieces of the pepper. Top with a splash of seltzer.

Mezcal Mule
Mezcal is technically not tequila, but this “second cousin” deserves to be included in this list. With an intense smoky flavor, mezcal is admittedly not for everyone. I’ve really come around to it in the past couple of years, using it for robust cocktails where the complexity of mezcal balances stronger flavors like ginger. Instead of using a store-bought ginger beer, I use a ginger liqueur. If you prefer to just use ginger beer, omit the simple syrup from the recipe below and try adding just a touch of seltzer to bring down the sweetness.

1.5 ounces mezcal
.75 ounce Canton ginger liqueur
.5 ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice
.25 ounce simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water)
6 ounces seltzer

Add your mezcal, ginger liqueur, lime juice and simple syrup to a large (16 ounce) glass or copper mule mug. After giving it a quick stir, fill with ice and seltzer. Stir it lightly to combine and add garnish with a wedge of lime.


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