Crafting a perfect Margarita presents the same challenge as a perfect Manhattan - with so few ingredients every one of them can break the drink and even subtle changes in technique can alter the final elixir. Packing 10 bottles a mile in 100 degree heat, preparing 8 identical cocktails in a few short minutes, and seeking exotic ingredients from afar has given this project an air of mysticism and spiritual discipline. It's also left me blackout drunk. But some journey's must be taken, and here you'll find the first leg - the best tequila for a heavenly Margarita.
With the rising popularity of quality tequila in the US it's more daunting than ever to stand before the tequila section of your local liquor store. I narrowed the field by settling on under-$40 blanco tequilas that were reasonably easy to find and whittled the final list down to 8 with the help of some trusted recommendations. A few of you will likely be disappointed that I didn't include any respasados, but I really feel that a Margarita needs the sharp agave flavor that too much time in wood mellows away.
Bodies well fortified after dinner and sakè at Tanuki, I scrambled to put together 8 identical margaritas as quickly as possible with a tequila heavy ratio of 4:1:1 tequila, lime, and Cointreau. The only criteria was what Margarita we most enjoyed, not what others would enjoy or what tasted 'right'.
1800 Select Silver - #1
A full fruity green and cocoa agave flavor that avoids being earthy evolves into a clean citrus note and finishes crisp. All the agave flavor you're looking for in a Margarita without any of the funky notes that can seem out of place.
Lunazul Blanco - #2
Buttery, savory, heady aroma reveals flavors of mild savory agave that sharpens into a tart finish. With less cocoa and more bread it's a bit more mild than the 1800 but it's aroma is intriguingly unique.
Corralejo Blanco - #3
Silky complex fruit dominates this incredibly smooth tequila. None of the savory flavors of the 1800 or Lunazul but the interplay of fruit leading up to a crisp finish really works well in a Margarita, especially if you don't appreciate strong agave flavors.
Hurradura Silver - #4
Smooth very mild agave and starfruit flavors with a strange aroma I could only describe as playdough. Hurradura is aged a bit longer than anything else in the group and while it's tropical fruit is fun, it didn't have the impact the cleaner blanco's did.
El Tesoro Platinum - #5
Seriously earthy agave dominates this tequila, so much so that I was able to call it out of the blind test by aroma alone. This obviously isn't even trying to be a 'smooth tequila', and we both appreciated it's honesty. I'd recommend this if you really really love agave.
El Jimador Blanco - #6
A strange bitterness and not much else worth discussing.
Cazadores Blanco - #7
Mild and pleasant up front but with a strong bitter aftertaste that didn't belong anywhere near a Margarita.
Sauza Hornitos Plata - #8
Harsh alcohol and acrid citrus, so bad I made another one to make sure I didn't drunkenly muck it up. It was just as awful the second time I wasted a perfectly good lime on it.
A Cuervo product stole the show: Let's just start by discussing the big elephant in the room here - a bottle from the 1800 brand beat out all the fancy pants brands. I made a couple more of these over the last few days and sure enough, it's excellent. Also unique is the fact that it just so happens to be 100 proof.
An $18 tequila placed 2nd: Lunazul is the cheapest 100% agave tequila in the liquor store, and somehow it's fantastic. It just so happens that Lunazul is run by a former Cuervo owner. Conspiracy?
Sure, the 1800 won the battle for our agave-loving palettes, but I'd choose either of the top three depending on the situation. For the agave lover I'd recommend the 1800. Want to wow yourself and your guests for less than $20? Go Lunazule. Making Margaritas for a crowd that really isn't all that into strong agave flavors? Choose Corralejo. In fact, I could see a lot of folks putting Corralejo at the top of their list, it just so happens that Brandon and I preferred a stronger agave profile.
With one segment of the journey behind us, it's time to find 1800 Silver Select's ideal companion from a field of five radically different orange liqueurs. Finally, we'll test all manner of ratio's and tweaks to craft the perfect Margarita.