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Tequila sips:

The Mexican government has strict regulations about how and where tequila is made and labelled - as strict as the French have about producing and labelling cognac, perhaps more so. This is one reason why there is no worm in tequila - such additives are not allowed by law.


Updated May 15, 2008


Via la margarita!You can't have a site on tequila without mentioning margaritas, the world's most popular cocktail, and one of the reasons for tequila's growing popularity. Many people who start out enjoying a margarita graduate to appreciating fine tequila on its own. But for others, the cocktail is the supreme enjoyment.


The margarita has a history long and twisted enough to make it part legend, part myth, an impossible-to-resolve tale that only enhances the drink's popularity. The claims for an inventor has a series of worthy candidates, as well as a host of entertainingly unlikely ones.


The first story says the margarita was invented in the 1940s (possibly in 1935 or 1938) at the Rancho La Gloria bar - a popular spot for socialites from the USA heading for vacation at nearby Rosarito Beach, just outside Tijuana. The bartender was Carlos 'Danny' Herrera and his customer was fledgling actress Marjorie (Margarita - see her picture, below) King.

King, the story goes, was allergic to most other kinds of alcohol except - fortuitously for the tale - tequila. King refused Herrera's offer of a neat shot of tequila, claiming she didn't like its taste. So Actress Marjory Kingbartender Herrera tried to concoct something that would appeal to her. He blended three parts white tequila, two parts triple sec, one part fresh lime juice and a pinch of sugar. Herrera grabbed a champagne glass, dipped its rim in lemon juice and twirled it in a bowl of salt, then poured the frothy liquid into the glass for the starlet.

Naming the drink after her gave it immediate name recognition among her circle of friends and admirers, the circle growing as she moved in her Hollywood circles, taking the increasingly popular cocktail with her. A hit was born.


An alternate legends says Francisco 'Pancho' Morales, a bartender in Tommy's Bar in Ciudad Juarez, made the first margarita on July 4, 1942. Morales has also been identified as a bartender from Texas (Texas Monthly, Oct. 1974) possibly working across the border in El Paso. Allegedly, a woman customer requested a Magnolia (brandy, Cointreau, and an egg yolk topped with Champagne). Morales didn't know how to make one, except for the Cointreau, so he improvised and mixed in tequila and lime juice. His creation, of course, became a big hit.


When the woman asked Morales what the drink was called, he called it a "Daisy" which in Mexican is Margarita.


Yet another story attributes the drink to Margarita Sames, a Texas socialite who brewed up the cocktail for guests at her Acapulco villa, as a challenge at Christmas, 1948. Her friend Tommy Hilton allegedly took it from there to his hotel chain where it gained popularity. In late 1999, she was introduced as the drink's originator at a book signing for The Original Guide to Margaritas and Tequila (BarMedia) by Tucson authors Robert Plotkin and Raymon Flores.


Author Robert Plotkin writes of the Sames's claim that,


Shortly before Christmas of '48, Margarita Sames was challenged by several ranking members of the team to devise a new and exciting cocktail, something to break up their regimen of beer and Bloody Marys. Her initial attempts were loudly and unanimously rejected. After each round of successively worse drinks, her friends - this band of movie stars and distinguished businessmen - expressed their displeasure by tossing her in the pool.

Undaunted, a soaking wet Margarita Sames went back to work. She mixed together tequila and Cointreau with fresh lime juice. Having grown up in France, Sames was familiar with Cointreau, and after spending years vacationing in Mexico, she had developed an appreciation for Mexico's native spirit, tequila.

She tried several different formulations; however, some came out too sweet, some not sweet enough. Then she hit on what she thought was the perfect blend: one part Cointreau, three parts tequila and one part lime juice. Knowing that most people drank tequila preceded by a lick of salt, she chose to garnish her cocktail with a rim of coarse salt.

She brought out a tray of Champagne glasses brimming with her new creation. Her friends sipped heartily and the approval was overwhelming. They proclaimed it a triumph. It quickly became the group's signature cocktail, the main course and featured attraction during Christmas and New Year's Eve.


Recently another contender has come forward as the forerunner of the margarita: the Tequila Daisy. According to a story in the Wall Street Journal, May 3, 2008, the Daisy was a mix of citrus juice, grenadine and tequila. The cocktail was popular in the late 1930s, and, according to the article, one of the B-24 Liberator crews flying a support mission for the D-Day landings in 1944 named their bomber the "Tequila Daisy." The author suggests, rather astutely, that "the Margarita didn't replace the Daisy, but rather, evolved from it, both in name and content."


 Other variations of the margarita's beginnings include:


  • Danny Negrete, manager of the Garci Crespo Hotel in Puebla, created the drink for his girlfriend (Margarita) in 1936.
  • Red Hinton, a bartender in Virginia City, named it after his girlfriend (Margarita Mendez). Margarita apparently hit someone over the head with a whiskey bottle in  a barroom brawl, and subsequently died in the crossfire that followed.
  • Enrique Bastante Gutierez created this drink in the 1940s, for Rita Hayworth, whose real name was Margarita Carmen Cansino.
  • Santos Cruz created the drink in 1948, in Galveston, Texas, for singer Peggy Lee.
  • In the early 1950s, Shelton Henry, owner, and Johnny Durlesser, bartender of the "Tail o' the Cock" restaurant in Los Angeles were looking for a way to introduce Jose Cuervo tequila into the market. They came up with the margarita as the vehicle, naming after Durlesser's wife. 
  • Another take on the Tail of the Cock story says Vernon Underwood, president of Young's  Market company, the US distributor for Cuervo, saw the Tail's tequila order jump from two to five cases a week, so he went in to see why, and discovered them serving the drink, which prompted him to launch a new marketing campaign using the slogan, "Margartita - it's more than a girl's name."
  • Other stories place its origin in various Mexican towns, particularly along the US border, or and even in California any time between 1930 and 1950.

None of these would-be inventors bothered to patent the recipe, or even publish it in something that might be traced back to them, although several contenders resurfaced many years later to stake a claim on the margarita's origin. Like the mythical origin of the agave, the margarita has become a part of the mystique around tequila.


Regardless of its real or imagined beginnings, margaritas are now one of the most - if not the most - popular cocktails in North America and continue to boost tequila sales.


In 1937 an English book called the "Cafe Royal Cocktail Book" published a recipe for a Picador, a tequila cocktail made from Cointreau, lime juice and tequila. But the first documented appearance of a recipe for a "margarita" is credited to Esquire Magazine, in the "Painting the Town" column of December, 1953 (pg. 76, col. 3):

Drink of the Month
She’s from Mexico, Senores, and her name is the Margarita Cocktail—
and she is lovely to look at, exciting and provocative.

1 ounce tequila
Dash of Triple Sec
Juice of 1/2 lime or lemon

Pour over crushed ice, stir. Rub the rim of a stem glass with rind of lemon or lime, spin in salt—pour, and sip.


The margarita was later mentioned in the L.A. Times in 1954 when columnist Gene Sherman, writing from Rosarito Beach in Mexico, that, "In the afternoon you sip a Margarita and gaze pensively across the wide strand."


The basic, classic margarita contains:


  • lime juice (freshly squeezed)
  • Orange liqueur such as Cointreau, Triple Sec or Grand Marnier
  • and of course, tequila (always use 100% agave);

Usually the mix is:


  • 1 part (i.e. 1 shot for a single drink) lime and 1 part tequila
  • 1/2 part orange liqueur.

Danny Herrera’s version was:

  • 3 parts tequila,
  • 2 parts Triple Sec,
  • 1 part fresh lime juice.

Other common ratios are 2 parts tequila, 1 part Triple Sec, 1 part lime juice; 3 parts tequila, 1 part Triple Sec, 1 part lime juice; and even 1 part tequila, 1 part Triple Sec and 1 part lime juice).


Partida's recipe, using their organic agave nectar is:
  • 1 1/2oz. Partida Tequila Blanco, Reposado or Añejo
  • 1 oz. lime juice (app. the juice from one lime)
  • ¾ oz. pure, organic Partida Agave Nectar
  • ¾ oz. pure spring water

Margarita in a cactus glassSometimes sugar or a sweet syrup is added to mitigate the lime's acidic bite - if so, then try using an agave syrup for additional flavour. It also gives the margarita a stronger agave flavour and is much healthier than refined sugar. Agave syrup is quite sweet - as sweet as or sweeter than honey - so be prudent in your use of it. Sometimes more tequila is called for in recipes, but lime cordial is never used in a margarita!


A traditional margarita should always be somewhat tart, never sweet.


It can be frozen or shaken, served in a glass with a salt rim (wipe the edge of the glass with a lime slice, then invert it on a napkin lightly dusted with kosher or sea salt; pick it up quickly to avoid getting too much on it) or garnished with fresh lime. Good bartenders wipe the inside of the glass first, to make sure it has no salt inside.


There is no absolute, perfect recipe, although many bartenders claim theirs is both the original and the best. The margarita is traditionally served in a stemmed, large, wide-mouth, shallow cocktail glass, but can be served in almost any large enough glass.


Marina margaritaI recommend you always use good 100% agave tequila, never a mixto. Forget the thought of using cheap tequila because you think good tequila will be overwhelmed by the other ingredients. That's only a ploy to sell cheap tequila. If it's worth making at all, it's worth making well, and good tequila will always shine through. Use 100% agave tequila and you'll get a better cocktail.


Blanco is the traditional choice for margaritas, but reposado offers a more gentle and subtle flavour. Añejo tequilas may be too woody and complex for margaritas, although I've had some that still emerge well from under the mix, although their complexity gets diminished.


Purists may not agree, but there are other equally good variations such as the strawberry, melon, peach or even mango margarita. In some distilleries, guests can try a tamarind margarita made with the company's own tequila. For a strawberry margarita, add 1oz strawberry liqueur to the standard mix and cut back to about 1/2 oz orange liqueur. For a frozen strawberry margarita, use frozen strawberries and frozen lime concentrate.


Dozens of margarita recipes are available online, some using a variety of fruit juices and techniques, others simple and easy. Plus there are other drinks with tequila, such as the tequila sunrise and hundreds more to select from. Look through the sites below for some ideas about tequila cocktails, margaritas, shooters and lots more.


1800 margarita mixFrozen and frosty


Margaritas may be served frozen as well; run the ingredients through the blender with crushed ice for 5-10 seconds at medium speed to make a sweet-tart slushy drink that seems the perfect match for a hot summer's day. You can also add other fruit juices or fresh fruit to the blender.


Cuervo Margarita MixThe frozen margarita was a later twist on the theme. Mariano Martinez, who operated El Charro, a restaurant in Dallas Texas, is credited as the man who made frozen margaritas famous. In the 1950s restaurants could not sell liquor by the drink in Texas. So Mariano made frozen margaritas for people who brought their own tequila. His recipe became another hit.


Pre-mixed margaritas and margarita mixes

Dav'es Mango Margarita Mix labelPersonally, I prefer the taste of real juice, without the chemical additives, artificial flavours and colours, and the generally overly-sweet concoctions that constitute instant margarita mixes. If that's your only experience with margaritas, you're missing out on a wonderful drink. However. for convenience and ease of use, they are hard to beat. They're sure easier to take on a picnic than a blender. I recommend you add additional lime juice to these mixes to cut the artificial sweetness.


If you buy mixes that are supposed to contain tequila, make sure they state they really contain tequila, and are not merely tequila-flavoured or use agave syrup as their flavouring ingredient. And try to avoid mixes with mixto tequila. Very few actually use 100% agave tequila - 1800 is one of the rare exceptions - but aficionados simply don't drink mixtos even in margaritas.


Some of the margarita mixes may also offer some new and exciting tastes, like Dave's Mango Margarita mix. A better alternative to pre-bottled mixes for travel or taking to a party: make a fresh mix beforehand and take it in a Thermos bottle to keep it cool.



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