Illustration credit: tabletinfographics.com
You don't need Triple Sec or fancy ingredients to make a good, basic margarita. That's exactly what a good margarita is, after all: basic. If you decided not to brave the Cinco de Mayo crowds this year, just follow the simple diagram above to make the perfect margarita at home.
The tequila itself should be as good as you can afford, since you're going to all the effort to juice key limes and -- maybe -- buy a good bottle of orange liqueur. Make sure it's 100 percent agave (if it says mixto on the bottle, move on).
Whether or not you buy blanco, reposado or añejo tequila is really a personal decision based upon your own palate. I'm a big fan of El Tesoro Platinum, a blanco (aged less than 60 days) tequila that has soft, buttery undertones despite its sharp, bright agave flavor. Fans of reposado (aged more than 60 days but less than two years) tequila might want to try the reposado from Partida. I'm not a fan of añejo tequila in margaritas, but your mileage may vary.
While orange juice and/or any orange-flavored liqueur isn't strictly necessary, some people enjoy adding it for an additional citrus undertone and sweetness. That's fine. We aren't judging you.
If you decide to add orange juice, make sure it's freshly squeezed like the key lime juice. If you decide to add orange liqueur, get something other than Triple Sec since you're aiming for a really nice drink -- you can just taste the cheapness of most Triple Sec liqueurs, especially in a simple cocktail like this.
Instead, get a bottle of Cointreau or even Grand Marnier if you don't mind its brandy taste in your margarita. Mind, of course, that these are higher in alcohol content than Triple Sec (and obviously higher than orange juice), so your drink will be decidedly boozier as a result.
Although you'll be tempted to buy bottled lime juice like Rose's, don't. As with the Triple Sec, you'll be able to taste the cheapness of the stuff and it will ruin your cocktail. I'm not saying this as a cocktail purist or an elitist -- I'm saying this as a person with a functioning tongue.
In essence, the perfect margarita comes from a combination of two things: quality ingredients and simple flavors. If you keep it straightforward and buy good base spirits, you're guaranteed a perfect margarita every time.
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