Despite its obvious similarities with the classic, the frozen Margarita exists on a plane discrete from its traditional, nonfrozen counterpart. It is not a drink that demands much from the drinker, other than, perhaps, an appropriately relaxed setting. “When I’m drinking a frozen Margarita, all I want is to be outdoors,” says Channing Centeno, head bartender at Bonnie’s in Brooklyn. “Or at least be able to see the outdoors.”
But, counter to its laid-back vibe, mastering the frozen Margarita is not as easy as it might seem. The biggest hurdle to getting it right lies in accounting for the added dilution that comes with the extra ice in the equation. At our recent tasting at Rule of Thirds in Brooklyn, where I was joined by Centeno and Brian Evans, director of bars for Sunday Hospitality (which includes Rule of Thirds) and head bartender Victoria Rivera, who blended the drinks, the submitted recipes took several approaches to solving for this common issue.
Many opted for agave nectar, a robust option that, while a little difficult to jigger and pour, adds body and flavor without the added dilution of an agave syrup that’s been cut with water. In a similar vein, some selected granulated white sugar, which adds no liquid volume to the recipe at all, but can sometimes integrate unevenly or not at all, leaving the sensation of having to “chew” on your drink. Others still added flavored syrup, like one made with orange pekoe tea, in an effort to counteract the potential for the drink to taste watered down.
The worst of the bunch tasted as though no adjustments had been made from their standard Margarita recipe, other than, of course, adding more ice. These were not only overly diluted, but exceptionally dry. “You need a lot more sugar for frozen drinks,” explained Centeno, noting that colder temperatures dull the perception of sweetness. The best in the bunch, on the other hand, tweaked the ratios to yield a balanced drink despite the challenges of the format.
Haley Traub’s Frozen Margarita
A winning frozen Margarita recipe made with an unexpected splash of orange juice.
The unanimous first-place winner was the frozen Margarita of Haley Traub, general manager at New York’s Attaboy. The judges found it to be the most “textbook” in the tasting, with Evans describing it as the most “universally palatable” and a frozen Margarita that would never be sent back. The recipe, however, is not quite so textbook. To the expected blanco tequila (Traub favors Milagro), Cointreau, lime juice and agave nectar, Traub adds a splash of orange juice, a subtle touch that adds some necessary extra sweetness and roundness, while remaining almost undetectable.
Second place went to Kristina Magro, whose recipe stood out chiefly for its inclusion of lime zest grated directly into the blender, integrating oils from the peel into the drink for an exceptionally bright and floral take. “It’s almost like a cartoon version of a frozen Margarita,” said Evans, who found that it also channeled the cordial quality of Rose’s Lime Juice, “in a good way.” A pinch of pink Himalayan sea salt helped the flavors pop. (The only other recipe to include lime zest was Leanne Favre’s frozen Margarita, which likewise stood out to the judges and would appeal to drinkers looking for a slightly drier version of Magro’s recipe.)
Third place went to Christine Wiseman, whose recipe ticked all the boxes: sweet, acidic and tequila-forward. Wiseman calls for a full two ounces of tequila (she prefers Ocho Plata)—a half-ounce more than the other winners—alongside a half-ounce of Cointreau, an ounce of agave nectar, two ounces of lime juice and a Tajín-salt rim. Evans deemed it the “most intense flavor-wise” in the group, while Centeno found it to be perfectly “juicy.”
Though there were a few wild cards in the mix, notably two recipes that called on yellow and green Chartreuse, respectively, the standouts proved an adage that Evans found to encapsulate the entire tasting: “Simplicity is best.”