DRINK UPGRADE

How to Make Your Margarita Less Basic

Before you make a Cinco de Mayo margarita, check out these secrets from America’s best bartender, Ivy Mix.

Andrew Kist

No matter if it’s a sub-zero January evening or a sweltering August afternoon, you can now find drinkers enjoying margaritas around the country.

The amazingly refreshing concoction has made the ultimate jump for a beverage from seasonal favorite to year-round staple. So what do you mix up on a special occasion like Cinco de Mayo?

Well, to help you take your margarita to the next level we got Ivy Mix, who was named best American bartender at last year’s Tales of the Cocktail conference and is co-owner of Brooklyn pan-Latin cocktail bar Leyenda, to give us some of her expert tips. (And, yes, that is her real last name.)

THE BASIC RECIPE

While there are a number of recipes for making a margarita, at Leyenda Mix uses a pretty simple and delicious formula calling for: One-and-a-half ounces tequila, three-quarters of an ounce fresh lime juice, three-quarters of an ounce Cointreau and a quarter-ounce simple syrup (one part sugar and one part water).

It all goes into a shaker with ice and can be strained into a margarita or rock glass filled with fresh ice. One of the reasons why she likes this ratio is that it’s not overly boozy. On Cinco de Mayo “you probably want more than two drinks before hitting the floor.”

THE LIQUOR

For a classic margarita, Mix recommends using a blanco or silver tequila, which gives the drink more agave flavor and is a bit more drinkable than aged versions of the spirit. While you can certainly use a richer reposado or anjo tequila, she admits “I have a hard time crushing a few of those.”

If you’re looking to give your Rita a bit of muscle, she suggests using tequila’s smokier agave sister mezcal. One of her favorites to use is Del Maguey Vida, which is “made for mixing” she says and is a great buy at under $40. If you’re looking for a less smokey mezcal try Ilegal Joven.

THE SWEETENER

Mix adds simple syrup (essentially sugar water) to her margarita recipe “more for mouth feel than for sweetness.” If you’re tempted to leave it out, she suggests reconsidering given that without it the drink “is a little bright and thin.” But you can replace it with more complex agave nectar, molasses, or honey. If you go that route, you’ll probably need to dilute the sweetener with some warm water to increase its mixability and you may not need a full quarter-ounce.

THE TRIPLE SEC

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Leyenda uses the classic triple sec Cointreau, which is a robust 80-proof. There are a number of other fine orange liqueurs on the market but you can also experiment with other types of the spirit, like the elderflower St-Germain. While it may not be a classic margarita, these variations can certainly be delicious.

FRUITS, HERBS & SPICES

Many bars and restaurants put their own spin on the drink by adding a variety of fruits, herbs, and spices. Why? It’s an easy way to give the drink a signature flavor. Some of Mix’s favorites to add are passion fruit, mango puree and just about “any kind of berry.”

You can also add a few pieces of watermelon to your shaker, which works beautifully. She does suggest skipping mint and cinnamon but “sage is delicious and goes particularly well with mezcal.”

If you want to give your margarita some heat, Mix suggests skipping the incendiary habanero and instead using the less fiery jalapeno.

No matter which hot pepper you choose, if you use just the skin you’ll get more of a vegetal flavor or if you