I tasted 66 different Margarita recipes (not all at once) and most of them were not good. The slight harshness of lime juice combines with the bite of tequila in most of them, while others have too much triple sec, which makes the drink unpleasantly sweet.
The secret of the Best Shaken Margarita Recipe comes from a Houston, Texas restaurant famous for Margaritas. A mere teaspoon of lemon juice brightens up the tequila and lime, and balances the sweetness of the agave nectar. Cointreau or other triple sec is no longer necessary.
1½ ounces of 100% blue agave silver or blanco tequila
2/3 ounce (2 measuring teaspoons) fresh lime juice
½ measuring teaspoon or ½ barspoon fresh lemon juice
½ ounce agave nectar (undiluted)
— Hold a tumbler glass upside down, and rub a cut lime on one half of the rim. Dip, but don’t twist, the outside of the wet rim into a shallow dish with a small pile of Morton Sea Salt (the kind without iodine) or other sea salt. To give you guests a choice of salt or no salt, merely dip half of the rim of the glass into the salt.
Add the tequila, lime juice, lemon juice, and agave nectar into a mixing glass with enough ice to fill the serving glass. Shake 36 times and dirty-pour the entire contents of the shaker into the salt-rimmed serving glass. Garnish with a lime wheel, half of a lime wheel, or a lime wedge on the rim of the glass.
Lunazul Blanco Tequila is an inexpensive tequila that is ideal for Margaritas.
Recommended tequilas are Milagro, Herradura, Avion, Siembra Azul, Dos Lunas, Tapatio, Patron, and Corazon. Your favorite silver tequila is recommended.
A few reposado (gold) tequilas mix well in margaritas, such as Dos Lunas and Izkali. Expensive tequilas like El Tesoro or Pura Vida are better left for sipping.
Pitchers of House Margaritas (makes 6)
9 ounces 100% blue agave silver or blanco tequila (Lunazul is recommended)
4 ounces freshly-squeeze lime juice
½ ounce freshly-squeezed lemon juice
2 ounces agave nectar (undiluted)
— Fill a pitcher with the tequila, lime juice, lemon juice, and agave nectar. Add ice, thin lime or lemon wheels, and thin orange wheels if you wish.
Premium shaken margaritas are great for small gatherings, but if you have lots of guests, the drinks take too much time to prepare. With different proportions, and a little triple sec or orange liqueur, you can make these terrific Cheap Margaritas. If you want Strawberry Frozen Margaritas, just add two fresh or frozen strawberries per drink before blending it.
It was never easy to make good cheap Margaritas, because the ingredients weren’t very good–cheap tequila was harsh, lime juice remains harsh, and orange triple sec isn’t something to drink on its own.
Nowadays there is excellent and cheap 100% blue agave blanco tequila available, and we have a secret ingredient to brighten the taste of lime juice. A touch of lemon juice makes all the difference.
No need to use expensive tequila. Cointreau is the best triple sec for this drink, but other orange liqueurs may be used. You can make these Margaritas a little better with your favorite premium tequila, but that’s up to you.
Frozen Margarita (makes 4 servings)
6 ounces Lunazul 100% Agave Blanco Tequila or other 100% agave blanco tequila
1 ounce Cointreau, DeKuyper O3 Orange Liqueur, or other triple sec
2 ounces fresh lime juice
2/3 ounce (4 measuring teaspoons) fresh lemon juice
1 1/3 ounces agave nectar (do not dilute with water)
2 cups of ice
— Blend the ice before adding the ingredients. Add the tequila, orange liqueur, lime juice, lemon juice, and agave nectar to the blender Shake until chilled, and serve in a glass with ½ of the rim salted. Garnish with a lime wheel, half of a lime wheel, or a lime wedge on the rim of the glass.
For easier preparation, premix several jars, glasses, or other containers with this recipe, so that you just have to add ice and the contents of the premix containers to the blender.
Lunazul Silver is one of the lowest-priced 100% blue agave tequilas, and deserves all of its prestigious awards. Olmeca Altos is also a good bargain. DeKuyper O3 Orange is half the price of Cointreau and as well as Cointreau with these Margaritas.
Other tequilas in the $20 range we’ve tested are Campo Azul Reposado (the gold one). Espolon makes a smooth, sweeter margarita with a milder taste. Other highly-rated tequilas in this price range include El Padrino and Pueblo Viejo. Sauza Hornitos Reposado (gold) is popular in Mexico, and will give you an enjoyable burn.
If you want a Premium Margarita, use a more expensive blanco tequila such as Milagro.
For Strawberry Margaritas, add 8 fresh or frozen strawberries to the blender before mixing.
While Maker’s Mark Bourbon, with its wheated sweet taste, remains the popular choice for this Kentucky Derby Day classic, there’s another bourbon that we prefer when mixing this cooler for Derby parties, or just any hot summer afternoon. Evan Williams 1783 adds a mild and tasty oak flavor, and a much better price.
2½ ounces bourbon
2 teaspoons (1/3 ounce) simple syrup
8 to 10 leaves of spearmint
A neatly-groomed sprig of spearmint, for garnish
A dusting of powdered sugar, for garnish, optional
Lots of crushed, cracked, or powdered ice, or better yet, Sonic Drive-In pebble ice.
— Add the simple syrup and mint leaves to a mixing glass. Press lightly on the mint leaves with a muddler. Add the bourbon, and stir well.
Fill an Old Fashioned glass or silver Julep cup with crushed, cracked, powdered, or pebble ice. Strain the contents of the mixing glass into it. Add more ice to the top of the julep cup or glass, and make a mound of ice on top of the drink.
Insert a sprig of spearmint into the mound of ice. Dust the top of the ice and mint with powdered sugar, if you wish. Cut off the bottom of a straw so that the top of the straw is 1 inch above the rim of the julep cup or glass. Serve, and as the Southern novelist Walker Percy relates, “Then settle back in your chair for a half an hour of cumulative bliss”.
To make simple syrup, add equal parts of white sugar and good-tasting water to a jar with a tight lid. Shake vigorously, rest 5 minutes, shake vigorously again, and rest 5 more minutes. Or you can bring the sugar and water to just below a boil in a pan, and let it cool.
Other Recommended Bourbons
Maker’s Mark and Evan Williams 1793 are standard around our porch, but Old Grand-Dad 100, and Old Forester Signature are also recommended bourbons. Generally speaking, the sweetness of “wheated” bourbons taste best in a Julep.
Sonic Drive-In sells bags of ice from their drive-thru windows. The pebble ice is perfect for Juleps, Daiquiris, and Margaritas. You can also make powdered ice by using a Lewis bag, or putting ice into a clean canvas tote bag and smacking the ice-filled bag with a wooden mallet.
One taste of Tanqueray Gin and Fever-Tree Tonic, and you’ll know why it’s the most popular mix in Spain. Never mind the traditional lime garnish, this cocktail tastes better with a lemon wedge. And the Spanish don’t stop there, adding all manner of spices, herbs, and fruit to their “Gin Tonics”.
Tanqueray and Tonic Recipe
2 ounces Tanqueray gin
3 to 4 ounces Fever-Tree Indian Tonic Water (or Canada Dry Tonic)
Thin wedge of a lemon (or half of a Key lime, or a wedge of regular lime)
Fill a highball or Collins glass with ice. Pour in the gin, and listen for the crackling sound. Stir to chill the gin. Gently pour in the tonic.
Canada Dry Tonic is made with corn syrup rather than sugar, but tastes very good with Tanqueray. Also, Q Tonic is very popular, and goes well with Bombay Sapphire as well as several other gins. Fever-Tree is now widely available in supermarkets, Cost-Plus World Market, and Whole Foods.
Citadelle Gin is also recommended for this drink. To make a Spanish Gin Tonic, use a globe-style round Burgundy wine glass, and add lots of ice. Pour in 2 ounces of gin, and 4 or more ounces of tonic. Lemon or lime juice is added, along with peppercorns, grated nutmeg, star anise, or cardamom pods.
A Mimosa is the official drink of a Sunday brunch, and though it’s originally made with Champagne, there’s an inexpensive sparkling wine that tastes better than Champagne when mixed with orange juice . That wine is from Spain, and it is called cava.
There’s two great Mimosas. The first one is a stronger one, with a touch of orange liqueur, and the second is simply orange juice and sparkling white wine.
1 ounces fresh orange juice
Mimosa No. 1
1 1/2 ounces fresh orange juice
1/4 ounce Cointreau, triple sec, or other orange liqueur
3 1/2 ounces Spanish cava, Champagne, or other white sparkling wine. Make sure the wine is listed as the brut variety.
Orange peel, for garnish
— Add the orange juice to a champagne flute or white wine glass. Gently pour in the white sparkling wine. Float the orange liqueur on top. Garnish with an orange peel in the drink, or a thin orange wheel on the rim of the glass.
Jack and Coke may seem simple and unsophisticated to some people, but it’s damn good, and there’s five ways to mix it for five different tastes.
Popular Jack & Coke
2 ounces Jack Daniel’s No. 7
8 ounces Coca-Cola
— Fill a tall or Old Fashioned glass with ice. Pour in the Jack. Gently pour in the Coke. Garnish with nothing. This is a balanced mix of Jack taste and Coke taste.
Ask your bartender for a 4-to-1 ratio or mix. Other mixes with 7 ounces and 9 ounces of Coke aren’t so good, for some reason, 8 ounces is perfect.
If the bar pours only 1½ ounces of Jack for a drink, then ask for 6 ounces of Coke.
Pro Jack & Coke
2 ounces Jack Daniel’s
6 ounces Coca-Cola
Recommended by the Jack Daniel Distillery, and brings the taste of Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 to the forefront. Strong, but not too strong. It’s a 3-to-1 mix. If using 1½ ounces Jack, add 4½ ounces Coke.
Smooth Jack & Coke
2 ounces Jack Daniel’s
10 ounces Coca-Cola
There’s just a hint of the taste of whiskey. A 5-to-1 mix. If using 1½ ounces of Jack, add 7½ ounces Coke.
Strong Jack & Coke
2 ounces Jack Daniel’s
2 ounces Coca-Cola
I like this one a lot, it has a slight caramel taste.
Coca-Cola from Mexico is bottled with sugar, and tastes better with alcohol than corn-syrup Coke. Many drinkers will enjoy Jack with a splash of Coke. What’s a splash? It’s a bartender’s one-count, and since a 4-count is an ounce, that’s about ¼ ounce.
Jack Daniel’s just has the right stuff, and it’s better than expensive bourbons when mixed with Coke. The only whiskies that come close are Wild Turkey 101 and Crown Royal.
In England, this drink is called JD & Coke, and in the rest of Europe it’s a Whisky Cola. Serve a glass of cold water with every drink, to reduce consequences.
UPDATE: a considerably better American Spearmint recipe, after the Cuban Hierbabuena recipe.
My first Mojito was made with spearmint. The drink was pretty good, but the taste seemed a little bit off. Maybe it was the wrong rum, I thought, doesn’t mix well with mint.
Weeks later I received a surprise visitor from Cuba, who brought me a souvenir paper napkin with a Cuban bartender’s handwritten recipe from the most popular Mojito spot in Havana.
“What’s hierbabuena?” I asked, “Is that spearmint?
“No. The Cuban mint isn’t very minty,” he replied.
I made him a spearmint Mojito, and he said it was not the Cuban taste. I Googled hierbabuena, and ordered some from a Canadian nursery. The mint has a citrus-like flavor that comes from the stem, whereas spearmint has a minty flavor from oils in the leaves.
Spearmint smells like chewing gum, but hierbabuena has an herbal fragrance with just a hint of mint. The Mojitos they make are completely different, so here are recipes for the Cuban Mojito (hierbabuena) and the American Mojito (spearmint).
1½ ounces Bacardi Superior or Havana Club 3 Anos white rum
1½ teaspoons white sugar (or 1 heaping teaspoon or barspoon)
1/3 ounce (2 teaspoons) fresh Key (or Mexican) lime juice
2 sprigs hierbabuena (preferably with dark stems)
2 ounces and a splash of sparkling mineral water (Topo Chico is recommended)
2 or 3 large cubes of ice
Add the sugar, lime juice, and hierbabuena with a splash of mineral water to a tall glass. With a muddler or a wooden spoon, press lightly on the stems, rather than the leaves. Add the 2 ounces of mineral water, then the ice cubes, then the rum. Serve with a straw, cut off to about 2 inches above the rim of the glass.
If you put 2 teaspoons of sugar in this drink, it’s noticeably sweet. Cubans often add a dash or two of Angostura bitters to this drink, and it’s good!
What Kind of Lime?
Many Cuban and Caribbean cocktails taste better if they are made with Key lime juice. Key limes can be found in Latino markets and most Walmart stores in the United States.
Regular limes aren’t as good in this drink, but they’re good enough. A better taste, if you don’t have Key limes, comes from mixing 2 parts of lemon juice with 3 parts regular lime juice. Use ¾ ounce of this mix, with 2 teaspoons of sugar and 3 ounces of mineral water.
Bacardi Superior is the original rum for this drink, and it’s recommended. Havana Club 3 has a stronger sugarcane taste, and is the preferred rum in Cuba. Gold rum will make a slightly sweeter “dirty mojito”.
This hierbabuena recipe is adapted from La Bodeguita del Medio, the famous bar in Old Havana, Cuba. Click on link below to order hierbabuena from Richters herb farm in Canada.
8 to 10 thumb-sized spearmint leaves (removed from stems)
2/3 ounce regular lime juice (or 4 teaspoons or barspoons)
¾ ounce simple syrup
1 lime wedge
2 ounces mineral water and a splash of mineral water
cubes of ice
A neatly-groomed sprig of spearmint, for garnish
A dash of Angostura bitters, optional
— Muddle the spearmint, lime juice, and lime wedge in a mixing glass. Add the simple syrup, rum, and 3 large ice cubes, and shake until chilled. Pour all of the contents of the mixing glass into a tall glass or Collins glass, and add 2 ounces of Topo Chico or other sparkling mineral water. Garnish with an optional mint sprig, and serve with a straw.
Do not muddle spearmint stems in this drink, because, unlike hierbabuena, the stems have a bitter taste.
Check your local nursery, as some of them are now providing mojito mint. Note: The Bonnie brand mint being sold as Yerba Buena at Lowe’s and Walmart is spearmint (mentha spicata). Cuban Mojito Mint is mentha villosa.
Growing Mojito Mint
Like spearmint, hierbabuena (also called hierba buena, yerba buena, or yerbabuena) grows like a weed, and is harder to kill than to grow. However, there’s a way to get better sprigs.
Plant in rich soil that drains well, but retains moisture
Use a 10-inch or larger pot. If planted in a garden, confine the roots, or they will take over the garden.
The plants like lots of water, but don’t waterlog them. Let plants dry out a little before watering again, to develop more flavor.
Fertilize every few months.
Keep plants cut back to 10 or 12 inches tall, or it will get spindly and ungle. I keep most of it cut back, except the sprigs I plan on using.
Hierbabuena grows best in the sun or partial shade. In hot summers, it likes morning sun or partial shade. Planting in pots allows you to move them around.
After cutting sprigs, be sure to rinse them before using, or you may get a cute tiny spider in your drink.
If the leaves are chewed up, or have holes, look for little green worms on the undersides of leaves. They’re hard to find, as they match the color of leaves and stems.
If the leaves on top are curled up, check for tiny aphids, which are tiny and black-colored. They cluster together at the tip of a few sprigs, so pinch off the affected sprigs and stomp on them. If aphids get overwhelming, soak the entire plant with Neem Oil Spray, and then wait for new mint sprigs to pop up before cutting off the sprigs that had been soaked in Neem Oil.
When white spots or streaks appear on leaves, it’s usually tiny spider mites. Spray plants with vodka, or 1 part alcohol to 4 parts water, during a time when the plants are in the shade. The spray will also reveal the mite’s tiny webs. Use Neem oil to stop them from breeding.
To get rid of whiteflies without pesticides, place a bright yellow piece of cardstock or plastic coated with motor or mineral oil, and the flies will be attracted to it and get stuck on it. Use Neem Oil to stop them from breeding.
When the roots fill the container, slice down the middle of the dirt with a sharp knife. Remove 1/2 of the root ball and replant it in a separate pot (give it to a friend) or toss it out. Fill the empty half of the pot with new soil, then water.
If the whole plant looks raggedy, cut it all back to soil level. It will grow back. In hotter climates, the temperature will get hotter than Havana in July and August. Keep the plant in a shady area, and cut back sprigs that look too spindly.
In freezing climates, say Chicago, the mint will grow back in the spring, if it’s planted in the ground and not in a pot. You can also keep a plant indoors, in a south-facing window. The plant will not thrive, but it will live until you put it outside in the spring.
The key to delicious low-price coffee is to go with a darker roast. The flavor caused by roasting brings out a good taste from less-expensive coffee beans. In fact, expensive espresso roasts are usually made with inexpensive beans.
The hidden treasure on the bottom shelf of many supermarkets is Seattle’s Best Number 4 Roast. It’s roasted just enough to be delicious, but not enough to get a burnt taste. The No.4 is basically an Italian roast, which is parent company’s Starbucks best-selling roast.
I tried a Number 2 roast, but it tastes cheap. The Number 3 was okay, but really, Number 4 is the sweet spot of this line of coffee. The Number 5 is basically a French roast, and it smells good. It tastes good too, and is an excellent choice for mixing with hot milk to make French-style cafe au lait.
The Other Great Cheap Coffee
For a dark roast, Café Bustelo is supreme . It’s café espresso molida, which means roasted and ground for espresso, but despite the fine grind, Café Bustelo makes a complex and reliable cup of dark drip coffee.
While a Dark ‘n Stormy conjures visions of soft sand and turquoise seas of the sunny Caribbean, it also has subtle flavors of northern winter spices, so it’s enjoyable all year round.
The Dark n’ Stormy name comes from the way the drink is made, with the ginger beer poured first, followed by Black Seal Rum floated on top. The dark rum drifts slowly down into the bright ginger, suggesting the look of an approaching thunderstorm.
Dark ‘n Stormy
3½ ounces mild ginger beer (Barritt’s or Gosling’s)
2 ounces Gosling Black Seal Rum
Thin slice of lime, for garnish, optional
— Slowly pour the ginger beer into a highball glass. Add ice, but leave room for the rum. Gently pour the rum down the inside of the glass. Serve with a straw.
For a holiday taste, try sipping the flavors of the dark rum float, before it mixes into the drink. Just a blush of ginger livens up the first tastes of Black Seal.
In Bermuda, lime is not included. A wedge or slice of lime is an attractive garnish, but lime juice can interfere with the subtle taste of ginger and rum. Nevertheless, many people enjoy it, so have lime wedges available.
Barritt’s is the best ginger beer for this drink. Gosling’s Ginger Beer in a bottle is made with sugar, but avoid the stuff in cans, which is made with corn syrup, which dulls the flavor of rum,. Many ginger beers, other than Barritt’s or Gosling’s, contain capsaicin from chile peppers, which gives the beers a nice burn, but it can detract from a Dark ‘n Stormy.
Barritt’s Bermuda Stone Ginger is available at Total Wine and many Kroger supermarkets.
Serve a glass of cold water with every drink, to reduce consequences.
¼ ounce simple syrup or 1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
— Pour the Scotch and green tea over the rocks. Stir in sugar if you’re doing it that way. Better than most water.
How It Came To Be
I was not shocked to hear that many Chinese were mixing Scotch whisky with green tea in bars and clubs. Like a Louis Vuitton handbag, Scotch is an icon of affluence and a satisfying reward for hard work. But it’s not an easy taste to acquire.
Green tea is also an acquired taste. It’s very grassy, which is why it’s less popular than black tea, but I do enjoy the aroma of hot green tea steeping in the kitchen when family comes to visit.
The last question, before testing this combination, is what kind of Scotch? I’d heard it was Chivas Regal, which due to strong marketing is the leading brand of aged, blended Scotch in Asia. So I asked Mark Gillespie, the founder of whiskycast.com, who verified that it is indeed Chivas Regal in China, but Johnnie Walker in Taiwan, with Ballantine’s (from Chivas Brothers) being a value-priced alternative.
I decided to take it a step further, and try 4 different Scotches: Chivas Regal, Johnnie Walker Black, Highland Park 12-Year-Old, and just for fun, my resident Scotch, Laphroaig Cask Strength.
Chivas Regal is fruit and nuts, smooth with very light smoke or peat. It’s sweet and slightly malty with a smooth, warm finish. Excellent blended whisky for first-time Scotch drinkers.
Johnnie Walker Black is sweet, malty, creamy, vanilla, spicy, with hints of peat and cooked fruit. It has a mellow, silky, sweet, and slightly spicy finish. It’s so well blended you can find new flavors each time you try it.
Highland Park 12 is smooth, malty, and caramel-flavor, with sea salt, medium smoke and peat. The finish is long and smooth. This is a beautiful introduction to single malt Scotch.
Laphroaig Cask-Strength is smoke and peat and sweetness and fruit and medicine. It finishes with a dry lingering spice. It’s single-malt Scotch at full thrust.
First, I mixed 1 part Chivas with 1 part Ito En Japanese Green Tea from the bottle, on the rocks. The drink had little Scotch taste, with a slight burn, but it was immediately clear that Scotch and Green Tea does indeed mix well.
Next, I tried the same mix with Highland Park. The flavors of this Scotch and the tea were cancelled out by each other.
With the Johnnie Walker, I tried several different mixes. 1 part Johnnie with 1 part green tea was good, you could taste both Scotch and tea, but neither strongly. With 2 parts green tea, the taste was washed out, and with 3 parts of tea the taste of Scotch was just about gone. However, the drink was exceptionally refreshing, something to enjoy for hours of sipping.
Further, at 1 part Johnnie to 4 parts green tea, the drink became like water. The tastes had completely nullified each other, and it was a cocktail that even a Scotch-hater might enjoy.
It’s clear that Scotch & Green Tea was originally a way to enjoy Scotch, without actually having to taste it too much. However, it turns out to be a very good cocktail, and a superb way to ease into Scotch-drinking.