Riff Diaries: The Margarita

A simple sour at heart, the Margarita is one of the most riffable cocktails in the classic canon. Here are four versions that mix in everything from carrot juice to avocado.

Plenty claim credit for the Margarita’s invention—most notably a restaurateur based south of Tijuana in the 1930s and a socialite in Acapulco in the 1940s. Others believe it evolved as a south-of-the-border twist on the Daisy (the Spanish word for “daisy” is “margarita,” after all), dreamed up during Prohibition when Americans would travel abroad to drink.

One thing’s for sure: Since December 1953, when Esquire named the Margarita its cocktail of the month, the drink has hardly flagged in popularity, rising in stature alongside tequila, which got a pop-culture boost from the Eagles (“Tequila Sunrise”), Rolling Stones (the Cocaine and Tequila Sunrise Tour of ’72) and of course, Jimmy Buffet (“Margaritaville”).

A simple sour at heart (1 1/2 to 2 parts base spirit + 3/4 parts citrus + 3/4 parts sweetener), the Margarita is highly riffable. Its requisite base, tequila, can be split to include its brother-in-agave, mezcal, as in Scott Beattie’s Beachfire Margarita, a smoky play on the classic structure. The citrus factor—lime—can be swapped or pumped up to include any sort of juice including grapefruit, pomegranate or a homemade carrot blend as in Dylan + Jeni’s spicy Californian Carrot Margarita. (This one also goes through the blender to create a smoothie consistency—just add equal parts crushed ice to any margarita recipe and toss in a blender. See a blender 101 here.)

While orange liqueur is a traditional piece of the Margarita puzzle, a modern classic—the Tommy’s Margarita, hailing from Julio Bermejo in San Francisco—omits Cointreau altogether in lieu of sweet, Mexican agave nectar. And lastly, every Margarita under the sun loves accessorizing. Muddle in cucumbers, herbs or a mix of avocado and spicy peppers like in Eric Prum and Josh Williams’ Jalapeño Avocado Margarita, and you’ve got a drink that doubles as lunch.

Salt or no salt, on the rocks or up, it’s up to you.