If you think margaritas are neon green, sweet as a birthday cake, and served in glasses the size of a fishbowl, it's time to erase that image from your memory. Although chain restaurants may have given the drink a bad name, "some of the first accepted versions of the margarita included tequila, lime juice, and orange liqueur," says Javier Carreto, bartender at Industry Kitchen.
"Somewhere in the history of the margarita, people started adding sugar to make the cocktail easier to drink and more appealing to those who found tequila a bit too harsh. It eventually became standard for most bars to add simple syrup or sugary fruit concentrates to their margaritas," he says. "But margarita drinkers are looking for healthy versions of this happy, festive cocktail."
If that's you, the next time you want to shake things up, try these easy tricks to upgrade your margarita with new tastes and less sugar. We're talkin' flavors so good you wouldn't dream of trying to mask them.
1. Use the right tequila.
In Mexico, the preferred style of tequila is unaged, which is labeled as "silver," "blanco," or "plata," explains Gates Otsuji, cofounder of Swig + Swallow. "Even master distillers will tell you that the purest expression of sweet, roasted agave, in the youngest bottling, is their favorite," he says.
2. Swap in mezcal.
Replace the tequila with a good mezcal to add a little smoke to your drink, says Carlos Terraza, bar manager at Barrio Chino in New York City. He recommends Mezcales de Leyenda.
3. Squeeze your own limes.
A little elbow grease goes a long way in margs. "We're all-natural at Swig + Swallow, so we juice all our own citrus. When citrus juice sits exposed to air and/or heat, it develops an unpleasant bite in its taste, and too many margaritas are loaded with sugar in an attempt to cover that up," Otsuji says. Rather than using the juice in those plastic limes, squeeze your own. "Once you taste the difference, you'll never go back," Otsuji adds.