Summer Tequila Cocktails, From Snappy Margaritas to Refreshing El Diablos
Whether you're a first-time tequila drinker or an old pro, these drinks will make you fall in love with Mexico's most famous spirit.
It has a strange exotic flavor that, like Holland gin, is an acquired taste, said Charles H. Baker Jr. in his Around the World with Jigger, Beaker & Flask.
In 1937, these words were among the first heard by Americans of Mexico's most famous spirit.
The only bad tequila experience is one with bad tequila, like tequila educator Adam Stemmler likes to say.
I have noticed this to be a not uncommon occurrence. Get three people off the street, and I guarantee that at least one of them has experienced a night of tequila so punishing, followed by a hangover so vicious, that they have sworn off tequila as if it were the devil himself. As opposed to saying "I don't like wine" just because you've had a horrible night with a lousy mixto, forgoing all of tequila because of that horrible night is almost exactly as saying, "I don't like wine" because you had Boone's Farm Mango Grove jug the previous night.
While tequila is an intimate delight to sip neat all on its own, a well-made tequila cocktail can be as sophisticated as the spirit's evening gown, or bespoke suit, since it is made from 100 percent agave. Among all the spirits, tequila has a unique complexity and depth out of the still, derived from the long maturity of the blue agave, giving the spirit a persistent, dynamic character that other ingredients can complement.
There are plenty of ways to fall in love with Mexico's most famous spirit, whether it is the snappy delight of a Margarita or the indulgent bittersweet kiss of the Rosita.
If you've ever had a Margarita, you already know that there's no better liquid cheerleader for tequila than one well-made. For those who haven't, those who only know about some $13 bottle of tequila mixed with day-glo "Margarita Mix," respectfully, you haven't had a Margarita, you have cosplayed with citric acid, sodium benzoate, and high-fructose corn syrup. The classic Margarita is below, or try this extremely popular "Tommy's Margarita" here. "A margarita is a glass of exuberance," we write.
- 2 oz. tequila
- 1 oz. lime juice
- 0.5 oz. Cointreau
- 0.25 oz. – 0.5 oz. agave syrup (to taste)
Combine all ingredients with plenty of ice in a shaker or blender. Shake or blend until ice cold. Pour and garnish with a slice of lime.
Oaxaca Old Fashioned
Mezcal is the dangerous cousin of tequila, the one that rides a motorcycle and smokes cigarettes, if tequila is your best friend. Mezcal would not become popular in American cocktailmaking until 2007, when Phil Ward, a bartender at Death & Co. in NYC, smuggled mezcal into people's glasses flanked by now-acceptable tequila on all sides. For those who are a bit iffy about the smoky, muscular spirit of Ward's original Oaxaca Old Fashioned, feel free to make it his way, since the original version was made with three parts tequila and one part mezcal. You can make it as follows if you're familiar with mezcal or smoky scotch, or check out the whole story.
- 2 oz. mezcal
- 0.25 oz. agave syrup (or 1 tsp. agave nectar)
- 1 dash Bittermens Xocolatl Mole Bitters
Pour in the ingredients, stir briefly, and garnish with a large grapefruit peel. If you don't have large ice cubes, use whatever ice you can get. If you don't have ice, use whatever ice you can get.
The best way to understand the Paloma's size is to measure the shadow it casts, because it is so modest and unassuming.
While we may think the Margarita is the star of the tequila show, you might be surprised to find the Paloma above the marquee, a drink made with tequila, lime juice, grapefruit soda, and salt that is one of Mexico's best drinks. It is easy to deploy Palomas in great numbers whenever a little respite is needed in the pitiless heat of the Mexican summer, as they are sweet and tart, bright and preternaturally refreshing. Find out about the classic version below, or the freshly squeezed version here.
- 2 oz. blanco tequila
- 0.5 oz. lime juice
- 4 to 5 oz. grapefruit soda
A tall glass is filled with ice and tequila, lime, grapefruit soda, and lime. The ingredients are mixed with a straw or, as they are at La Capilla de Don Javier in Tequila, with a large knife. Sprinkle some salt on top and garnish with a lime wedge, or nothing at all, as they say at La Capilla de Don Javier.
A tequila sipper with a name like “El Diablo” (“the Devil” in Spanish) might not sound fruity or charming. The El Diablo has been captivating drinkers since 1946 when “Trader” Vic Bergeron invented it. There is a bit of creme de cassis in it to make it juicy, while the oaky richness of the aged tequila adds comfort to it as well. The first American to mix tequila cocktails was a tiki man.
- 2 oz. Reposado Tequila
- 0.5 oz.–0.75 oz. Lime Juice, to taste
- 0.5 oz. Creme de Cassis
- 3-4 oz. Ginger Beer, to taste
Mix all ingredients together in a tall glass with ice. Stir briefly to combine, and garnish with blackberries or lime wedges.
A lot of the time, when you come up with an incredible idea and try it, it's terrible. El Guapo is an advertisement for innovation. It usually ends up like this, though: Put a bunch of hot sauce in a shaker tin with your Margarita and the result is one of the best spicy cocktails of the last decade. It's delicious and celebrated. Besides salt and pepper, Sam Ross' cocktail at Little Branch, created in 2008, also includes a touch of salt and pepper. See below for Sam's original recipe, or click here for an even more refreshing variation.
- 2 oz. tequila or mezcal
- Half a lime, quartered
- 3-4 cucumber slices
- 0.75 oz. simple syrup
- 3-5 dashes (about 0.25 oz.) hot sauce
Add lime pieces to shaker tin and muddle to get as much juice out as possible. Add the remaining ingredients, ice and all, to a large rocks glass and shake hard for 5 to 6 seconds. Taste for balance and add additional lime juice if needed. Sprinkle with salt and black pepper and garnish with a good pinch.
If you just combined the top three or four things that go best with tequila into one drink, just to see if life really is that easy, you'd get this cocktail. Lime, of course. Grapefruit and lime are another legendary pairing that appears on this list several times. As well as hops, an IPA is a duo so perfect that it doesn't really need the others. You won't be able to put this beer cocktail down once you taste it. Check out the recipe below, as well as the full background and instructions.
- 1.5 oz. blanco tequila
- 0.5 oz. lime juice
- 0.5 oz. Campari
- 0.5 oz. simple syrup
- Top with about 3 oz. IPA
Shake all ingredients except beer for 6 to 8 seconds in a shaker tin over ice. Strain into a tall glass and top with about 3 ounces of IPA. Garnish with a grapefruit peel.
As tequila has a natural affinity for sunshine, most recipes are bright and refreshing. For Margaritas, it is another affair entirely, a drink that is bitter and sweet, darker and more complex than the Margarita. In the early days of the cocktail revival, Gary “gaz” Regan was the one who modernized and popularized the Rosita. Get the recipe here, or find out how the Rosita came to be discovered, forgotten, and found again.
- 1.5 oz. reposado tequila
- 0.5 oz. Campari
- 0.5 oz. sweet vermouth
- 0.5 oz. dry vermouth
- 1 dash Angostura Bitters
Add all ingredients to a mixing glass with ice. Stir for five to 10 seconds to 25 to 30 seconds, strain either into a rocks glass over fresh ice or up, in a coupe, depending on your preference. Garnish with a grapefruit peel.