How To Tell Your Margarita Is High-Quality, According To The National Margarita Day Creator

Sweet but tangy, light yet assertive, refreshing while also packing a definite punch, the margarita offers something for pretty much everyone over the age of 21. No wonder it's the number-one most-popular cocktail in the world as of May 21, according to Decanter. Despite multiple origin stories, all dating back to sometime during the middle of the 20th century, the tequila-based citrus cocktail chugged along in relative obscurity until the 1970s, according to Wine Enthusiast. That was when Dallas restaurateur Mariano Martinez developed the frozen margarita machine. 

Despite that affordable electric blenders had made frozen drinks possible since the 1950s, the frozen margarita machine was a game-changer. And by that we mean that thanks to that machine, frozen margaritas became for the 1970s what Carrie Bradshaw made cosmopolitans in the '90s. But that fun little tidbit is something we don't recommend you mention to one Todd McCalla, inventor of National Margarita Day, should you ever meet him. 

It's not that McCalla has anything against frozen margaritas. It's just that, by its very nature, a frozen margarita cannot possibly meet McCalla's standards for a high-quality margarita. And McCalla is an expert, having quaffed enough margaritas along the way to have decoded what distinguishes those of higher quality, Having caught up with McCalla over remote margaritas on the occasion of National Margarita Day (Feb. 22), we are now the wiser. And you, too, are about to share in this knowledge.

A high-quality margarita rules out the use of a pre-made mix

Just to be clear, Todd McCalla's standards for a high-quality margarita strike us as fully reasonable. Moreover, they make the margarita easily accessible to anyone possessing the essential ingredients — no high-powered appliance required. In fact, no appliance required at all. In other words, if what you're after is a high-quality margarita, look for any sign of a pre-made mix, and if you see it? Find another bar. For a high-quality margarita, look no further than a fresh lime — not pre-squeezed lime juice — and a bit of simple syrup made with pure cane sugar to mix with your tequila and orange-flavored liquor.

"A high-quality margarita is never made with high-fructose corn syrup," McCalla tells Mashed. Nor "yellow dye #5" or "citric concentrate." This would make McCalla's high standards not just reasonable but also sustainable, with limes and sugar versus industrially manufactured sweetened citrus flavoring. 

"Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of margaritas found in the wild are low-quality," McCalla told Mashed. "This is one of the primary reasons I founded National Margarita Day. To spread the gospel of how a well-made proper margarita can change your life." And who better to tell us how to make the "well-made proper margarita" than the founder of National Margarita Day himself?

The only margarita recipe you'll ever need

National Margarita Day founder Todd McCalla wouldn't judge anyone for enjoying an icy-cold frozen margarita. It's just that any margarita made from a mix can't possibly rise to the level of what true margarita connoisseurs are looking for: the presence of fresh lime juice and an absence of processed juices and sweeteners. Margaritas simply don't have to try that hard to be good. All a high-quality margarita needs are the spirits (tequila and orange liqueur), a fresh lime, sugar, and water. And, of course, everything in the proper proportions.

While some advocate for a 3-2-1 ratio of tequila to lime juice to orange liqueur, McCalla prefers 2-1-1 and recommends using a top-notch orange liqueur such as Grand Marnier (as opposed to, say Triple Sec). Although simple syrup made with cane sugar is the classic sweetener, McCalla also thinks you can't go wrong with agave syrup. (Makes sense to us, given that tequila is made from agave.) Shake those fundamental elements with ice and strain straight-up into a coupe glass or over fresh ice in a rocks glass. Enjoy your McCalla-approved margarita with chips and salsa or homemade guacamole. 

But what if you're in the mood to have someone else make your margarita for you? Bartaco has a house margarita that's worth seeking out, McCalla tells Mashed. And next time you're at North Italia, the Sicilian Margarita is worth a try, McCalla suggests.