Brash, hot and tempestuous, Tequila doesn't sound like a drink that will deliver the keys to paradise when the summer sun beats down, but put it in a Margarita and soon it will render, as the song goes, that frozen concoction that helps you hang on.
To get beyond Margaritaville and enter Eden, this cocktail must be done just right. Forget the sugary-sweet drink that recalls a bad night in college and the slush inside a machine. The perfect Margarita combines perfect ingredients in a perfect setting. You need good Tequila, fresh limes and Cointreau. No rot gut, no prefabricated powders, no uninspired generic Triple Sec.
Devotees of the spirit of the agave plant know that the variations between producers and grades of Tequila are as vast as they are with fine Bourbon, Scotch and rum. Just as superior Bourbon will produce a better Manhattan, premium Tequila makes for a great Margarita. The three grades of Tequila, defined by age, are Blanco (aged less than 60 days), Reposado (aged more than 60 days but less than one year) and Anejo (aged at least for one year). Each has its merits and its place in a great Margarita. We tasted seven Tequilas and lived to tell this story:
Two parts Tequila, one part freshly squeezed lime juice and one part Cointreau is a trusty ratio, but feel free to experiment as different Tequilas call for variations. Put the ingredients into a cocktail shaker with ice, shake well and pour into a glass; ice is optional. To salt the rim of the glass, moisten it with water or lime, then dip it down onto a plate of sea salt.
1800 Silver, made by Jose Cuervo and aged for 15 days, is a clear clean distillate. While not as complex as older Tequilas, it lets the cocktail's flavors shine through with none of the off-putting fusel oil notes of inferior Tequila.
Patrón Silver, another clear spirit, tastes of citrus, herbs and bell pepper and makes a similarly refreshing Margarita that is informed generally by the lime.
Herradura Reposado, aged for 11 months in oak, exhibits floral notes, citrus, and creamy vanilla, and adds buttery depth to the Margarita. A step towards alchemy.
The reposado from El Corazon shows off a salty nose with floral and perfumy tastes. A subtle wintergreen finish rounds out this food-friendly Tequila.
On its own, Don Julio Reposado is sweet with savory tastes of corn and nuts. In the cocktail, it seems to vanish and then reappear with a long buttery finish.
Gran Centenario Anejo can be enjoyed neat or in a cocktail. Aged at least 18 months in French oak, it offers notes of cream soda and cola with a buttery, creamy texture. Adds depth and character to your Margarita.
El Tesoro Anejo, aged two to three years in American oak, shows flavors of butter rum, graham cracker, maple and jalapeño. All flavors integrate very well in the Margarita, creating a smooth cocktail with complexity.