The Secret to the Perfect Margarita (Hint: It Does Not Include Agave Nectar)

Categories: Last Call

Heather Hoch
I just took a look at the calendar, and realized that Cinco de Mayo is right around the corner. Never mind that it's barely a blip on the radar in Mexico; around here, it's become Cinco de Drinko, where it's socially acceptable to get wasted on crummy margaritas and horrible Mexican beer. If you're going to have some margaritas, you might as well make them right.

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In my travels, I have noticed a disturbing trend in margarita making: Agave nectar is becoming the sweetener of choice. In some recipes, it completely replaces the triple sec commonly found in a margarita. It's time to stop this madness. The only agave in your margarita should come from the tequila; anyone who claims that agave nectar is the proper or traditional sweetener in a margarita is full of it.

I'm perfectly fine with never seeing agave nectar in a bar again. The stuff is incredibly expensive, and doesn't bring much more flavor than plain old simple syrup. Proponents of agave nectar claim for a number of reasons that it's healthier than regular sugar. There's one problem. You're drinking it with alcohol, the emptiest calories you can possibly consume. If you want to have healthier margaritas, have one really good one instead of two crummy "skinny" agave-sweetened ones.

People who market agave nectar gleefully point out that humans have used and consumed agave for centuries, if not millennia. While this is true, its use as a sweetener is a recent development. Agave nectar has been a commercial product only since the mid-1990s, and has only taken a foothold in the US in the last ten years. Meanwhile, the margarita dates back to the 1930s or 1940s.

Then there's the whole matter of the drink's name. There's an old category of drink, the daisy. It combined a base spirit with lemon (or sometimes lime) juice and orange liqueur. Sound familiar? Make it with tequila, and you have a margarita. And what do you call a daisy in Spanish? That's right... margarita. If you're making margaritas without the triple sec (or at least some other kind of liqueur), you're just making tequila sours.

While I'm on my margarita soapbox, I need to get into the topic of the salt rim. Few things in a bar make me cringe more than the plastic thing with the sponge soaked in Rose's Lime. The glass goes into the sponge that's been collecting bacteria for god knows how long, then rubbed around in a pile of kosher salt. When the drink is poured into the glass, it knocks the salt on the inside rim off the glass and into the bottom of my drink. Just what I didn't want, half a teaspoon of salt sitting in the bottom of my drink. Gross.

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Quick hint on rimming the glass. Lime juice can dry out quickly, and let too much salt fall off. Dip your finger-tip in contreau or triple sec and run it around the rim. Salt sticks like a champ! Ilso agree that reposado and anejo are gret for sipping (or slamming with limes & salt) but tequila plata is best for 'Ritas. In bars, they will often bumnp the price a couple bucks for anejo, but it's subtlety is lost.


@Geezer1948 I'll keep that tip for home use; somehow, I don't see my guests appreciating the trick very much. I give the lime wedge a little squeeze to get some extra juice flowing; they come out great pretty much every time.


Totally agree!!  Not a big fan of this Margarita trend.  Either use an orange liqueur or call it what it is, a Tequila Sour!  I'm not totally against agave syrup, however.  If it's on hand, I'll use a dash or two (1/4 oz. at the most) the same way you use simple syrup.


What do you think of using anejo tequila for this?


@NoFestRequired I don't bother. The subtleties that aging brings are lost to the orange and lime. And, much like mojitos, it's supposed to be a light, fresh drink. The deeper notes of añejo run counter to that.

That said, I'm quite fond of Sauza Hornitos reposado in my margaritas.

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