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What makes the perfect margarita?

In honor of the upcoming Cinco de Mayo holiday, I have been hard at work investigating the margarita. I know it's tough, but someone has to do it. So when I tell you the perfect margarita is very personal, don't think I am copping out. I hosted a margarita tasting this weekend and we delved deep into the margarita. There are eight variables to consider when looking for the perfect margarita. Here is what we learned:

1. It starts with the tequila

There are 5 categories of tequila:

Blanco

Also called silver, white, plata or platinum. This tequila is made from 100% pure blue agave and is unaged, or aged no more than 2 months. This is your best choice for a margarita when mixing on a tight budget. Furthermore, once you add the other ingredients, you may not be able to taste the difference between a blanco and a higher end tequila.

Gold

Also called oro or joven, tequila gold is a mixto tequila, made with a minimum 51% blue agave. Gold tequila may include other types of distilled alcohols, sugars, flavoring, coloring and stuff. While commonly used in bars to make margaritas, I recommend you avoid most of these tequilas. The exceptions are 100% agave gold blends that include blanco tequila and either an anejo or reposado tequila.

Reposado

Reposado tequila is 100% blue agave that has been aged or "rested" two months to 11 months in wooden barrels. It has a light golden color and takes on some of the characteristics of the wood it is aged in. Some reposado tequilas are aged in French or American oak, others in wine, whisky or cognac barrels. If your budget is deeper, you may find a reposado tequila makes a fine margarita.

Añejo

Añejo tequila is 100% blue agave that has been aged at least 1 year, and in barrels no larger than 600 liters. Añejo tequilas are meant for sipping, and are not intended for margaritas. That said, I am not a tequila sipper and have been known to mix a margarita with the good stuff.

Extra Añejo Tequila

Extra Añejo tequila has been aged at least three years. These aged tequilas are smoother and more complex and definitely not meant for margaritas.

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2. Fresh citrus

Let's start by saying the perfect margarita is made with fresh citrus. Forget any sweet and sour mixes or pre-mixed margaritas. Most recipes call for fresh lime juice, but we found that a mixture of predominantly lime juice, plus a little lemon and/or orange juice was also very good. Some people prefer to use the little round Mexican limes, also called Key limes or Bartender limes.

3. After tequila and citrus

After tequila and citrus, there are two schools of thought about what goes into the perfect margarita.

Orange liqueur

Most margarita recipes add an orange liqueur such as Triple Sec, Cointreau, Grand Marnier or Citrónge. Triple sec is the cheapest. If it is in the budget, I prefer grand Marnier for its deeper flavor. Remember when you are adding these orange liqueurs they are 40% alcohol, just like tequila. Adding them does not make a sissy drink.

Agave

If you like your margarita a little sweeter, try adding a splash of agave syrup.

4. The ratios

The potency of margaritas can vary significantly. At the light end, there may be a ratio of 1:1:1, tequila to citrus to orange liqueur. A strong margarita will have a 2:1:1 ratio, and some people may boost the tequila even more. To find your perfect margarita start with the 1:1:1 ratio and then tweak the ingredients up or down to suit your taste.

5. Tommy's margarita

There is another school of thought on what makes the perfect margarita. And that is to bypass the orange liqueur altogether. This is the way margaritas are served at Tommy's Mexican Restaurant in San Francisco, with 2 parts tequila, 1 part agave and 1 part lime. The thinking is the orange liqueur masks the taste of the tequila. For some this may be a good thing, but if you like the taste of tequila, you might give Tommy's approach a try. Tommy's has been a tequila legend since they opened in 1965. They claim the largest collection of 100% agave tequila outside of Mexico.

6. Shaken or stirred? Never frozen!

Frozen margaritas are not included in the search for the perfect margarita. Why? The ice melts and dilutes the ingredients. Frozen margaritas are also generally loaded with sugar, flavorings and additives. Nuff said. So that leaves the choice of shaking or stirring. I am a fan of shaking, because I like my margaritas really cold.

7. Rocks or neat?

Margaritas are usually served on the rocks, but shaken and served neat like a martini can be particularly nice when you are using good ingredients.

8. Salted rim or plain?

For me, a margarita definitely needs a salted rim. The salt pops the flavor of the margarita, reduces the acidity of the lime, and gives a nice contrast to the sweetness of the orange liqueur and agave. And I plain old just like salt. Do not use iodized table salt, it is much too harsh. Margarita salt, flakey sea salt or kosher salt is best.

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The perfect margarita

So, what is the perfect margarita? It is very personal and one recipe will not work for all. But now you know the variables, and can have a very good time figuring out your own personal perfect margarita. After all my research I did come up with my personal perfect margarita. You can check it out here.

What is your perfect margarita?

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