Few cocktails are as iconic as the beloved Margarita—or as popular to riff upon. After all, the ever-popular Tommy’s Margarita, created by San Francisco bartender Julio Bermejo at Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant in the 1990s, is itself a variation, and one credited with sparking broader bartender interest in the drink. Made with fresh-squeezed lime juice instead of sour mix, and agave syrup instead of orange Curaçao, the revamped cocktail served to remind a new generation of bartenders that the Margarita is versatile, and ripe for elevated variations.
That point is clearly illustrated in this Recipe Remix, in which two Punch Bartenders in Residence worked to revamp the same drink template (the Margarita) with the same base spirit (El Tesoro Blanco tequila). From that starting point, each bartender, working independently, found ways to express their unique points of view.
“The simpler a cocktail is, the more open to interpretation it is,” says Portland, Maine, bartender Hayley Wilson, who describes her personal drink-making style as classic-leaning with “a kind of punk-meets-tropical edge.” She tends to lead with a drink concept first, then consider the flavors after.
For her riff, she homed in on a dressed-up version of the Tommy’s Margarita, adding a bespoke Salted Citrus Cordial for unexpected dimension.
“When I think of a Margarita, I want it to be super refreshing, salty, and something that leaves me ordering another sooner rather than later,” Wilson says. She tried to hit all those notes with her Margarita Remix. Although her rendition, incorporating El Tesoro Blanco tequila and lime juice, appears classic at first, the addition of orange and grapefruit adds nuance; the orange nods in the direction of both the classic Curaçao-laced Marg, while grapefruit hints at tropical appeal (also echoed in the elaborate garnish).
“I wanted to bring in some other citrus notes besides lime that were reminiscent of Curaçao,” Wilson explains. “The grapefruit and orange add some nice layers and depth to the drink.”
A sprinkle of Maldon sea salt intensifies the complexity, for a hint of salinity without a flaky halo of salt around the glass rim. “The sea salt adds a brininess to the cocktail that I think is really fun and hits differently than a salt rim,” she says. Bonus: “It also allows you to control the saltiness of your cocktail better.”
The final details include a burnt cinnamon stick, to contribute baking spice complexity, and a burst of citrus oil expressed from a fresh grapefruit peel, which echoes the citrus notes found in El Tesoro tequila.
Taken all together, Wilson concludes, “this is a fun, salty take on the classic that doesn’t get overcomplicated, but highlights all the best parts of a Margarita.”
By comparison, the Coming Up Daisies from Brooklyn bar pro Leanne Favre offers a more austere, stirred take on the Marg. Favre, currently head bartender at a venue that specializes in drinks made with Latin American and Caribbean spirits, is no stranger to working with tequila, or to Margarita variations.
To build the drink, Favre focused on showcasing El Tesoro Blanco, in which she detects “notes of cooked agave, black pepper, citrus and grass.”
“Because this cocktail is stirred instead of shaken,” Favre says, “the more subtle flavors of the tequila shine through.”
Cointreau builds upon those citrus notes in the tequila, while contributing sweetness and viscosity. Instead of the usual lime juice, lime bitters and lime oils expressed from a fresh peel evoke the same aromatics, while verjus provides the acidity. Dry fino sherry and a dash of saline solution add depth and salty tang, without a salted rim to detract from the drink’s sleek appearance in its Nick & Nora glass.
“When I think about a Margarita, I think about a drink that is a balance of salty, acidic, sweet and spirituous,” Favre explains. With this combination of carefully considered components, her stirred version “hits all the same notes as a Margarita, but has a completely different texture.” The result: a silky, nuanced take on the classic that is both revelatory and recognizable, as good remixes are.