Start by reading a recipe. For some reason, many of us follow a recipe when we’re cooking up a meal that’s new to us (especially one we’re serving to friends), but just start throwing around proportions like we’re Tom Cruise in Cocktail when we’re playing bartender at our own party. This is a recipe for drink disaster. “Work off of a recipe just like you do with food—stick to it and then tweak it after to your own tastes,” says Berlic.
Use quality tequila. The star of your drink should be good enough to stand on its own. “One of my favorites is Fortaleza,” says Sánchez, while Berlic recommends any tequila that is 100 percent blue agave. “One hundred percent of the alcohol come from the distillation of the agave plant. It’s a better tasting product, plus lower quality alcohols can actually encourage hangovers.” And nobody wants to leave your fiesta with a headache as a favor.
Make all your other ingredients just as good. A good margarita has three ingredients, says Berlic—tequila (already discussed), lime juice and a sweetener. For your lime, he recommends visiting your local farmers market. “The smoother the rind, the juicier the fruit,” says Berlic. Then, skip the syrupy mix and use sugar cane, agave nectar, Cointreau or Grand Marnier to sweeten your sip.
Use good ice. Berlic says to ask yourself if you drink your tap water without filtering it. If your water isn’t tasty enough to drink on its own, it doesn’t belong in your ice cubes. Once you’ve made sure your ice is up to par, consider its shape. “A nice big ice cube will keep a margarita, or a sipping cocktail like Scotch, cold for a long time without diluting it,” says Berlic.
Keep it simple. Just like with food, if you use great ingredients you don’t have to fuss too much to get a great result. And usually, less is more. “2 parts tequila, 1 part fresh lime, 1 part sweetener, shake with ice and strain and pour into a glass. Then, allow those flavors to come through and marry together,” says Berlic.
Say sayonara to that syrupy mix. Sour mix is the biggest mistake home mixologists make when mixing up margaritas, says Sánchez. “When someone has a premade sour mix and triple sec, the sour mix is usually artificial or has tons of sugar, and that detracts from the flavor. And triple sec is a watery synthetic ingredient, “says Sánchez.
Don’t be afraid of fun flavors. Even purists like Berlic and Sánchez say they wouldn’t send back a flavored margarita—but it has to be made with the same natural ingredients as the original. “I’d never use a processed product like Rose’s Lime Juice. But you can puree fresh fruit and mix that into the drink or muddle frozen blueberries into your margarita, or put the whole thing in the blender,” suggests Berlic.