Only Three Remain: Countdown to Margarita of the Year
These three bartenders rose to the top with spicy, smoky and modern twists on the margarita. One will soon be named the winner of our Margarita of the Year.
Apr. 19, 2016
The search for 2016’s Margarita of the Year started with seven distinct takes on everyone’s favorite margarita—but after countless rounds of voting, three talented finalists have emerged with their winning themes: spicy, smoky and modern.
We talked to the finalists behind the drinks to get their tips on making the perfect margarita. You can decide for yourself with these recipes.
SPICY: Jordan Corney, Bohanan’s, San Antonio, TX
Why spicy: “Cooked agave has a very peppery finish that plays well with most spicy ingredients,“ Corney says.
Make it with: “Jalapeño cocktails are everywhere in San Antonio. It’s a phenomenon.” Add heat with other varieties like Fresno, cayenne or Thai chiles. Corney’s Rosa Picante Margarita plays on his favorite tequila cocktail, the ginger- and cassis-flavored El Diablo, with ginger and simple syrup, lime juice and jalapeño.
Garnish with: Corney uses rose three ways to bring out the floral notes of his signature margarita—rose water, a rose-sea salt rim and fresh rose petal. Fruit is also a simple way to gussy up your drink. Corney’s go-to combos: serrano and watermelon, habanero and blood orange, and chipotle and grapefruit.
Food pairings: “Pair the drink with something fresh. Spice it up, then cool it down,” Corney says.
Tip for making the perfect margarita: Limp shaking results in a watered-down cocktail. His rule: “Shake until the tin is uncomfortable to hold.”
SMOKY: Stephen Halpin, Dallas, TX
Why smoky: With the rise of mescal, it’s not far fetched to affirm margaritas taste best served smoky.
Make it with: Halpin nods to his Irish (peaty whiskey) and Texas (barbecue) roots with his Smoked Mangonada Margarita—tequila, mango purée and lime juice. The pièce de résistance: smoked Citrónge Orange Liqueur. Halpin uses a smoking gun to infuse the spirit with hickory and mesquite notes. Don’t have a smoking gun? Finish your ‘rita with drops of liquid smoke or half an ounce of mescal.
Garnish with: Halpin takes a cue from Mexico’s favorite street food and dresses up his drink with a fresh mango slice and Tajín (Mexican chile-lime salt). Or up the smoke ante with another tool from Halpin’s craft cocktail arsenal: a brûlée torch for a charred fruit garnish.
Food pairings: Stick with the Mexican theme. Think sweet-and-sour tamarind or slow-roasted barbacoa.
Tip for making the perfect margarita: “People don’t shake cocktails so they’re chilled enough,” Halpin says. Rule of thumb: “Shake as hard as you can for 15 seconds.”
MODERN: Rosie Ruiz, Cole’s, Los Angeles, CA
Why modern: Convenience. Ruiz explains, “People today want things now. What better way than to have a soda siphon ready to go with all the ingredients inside?” Her Re-Margarita uses the handy seltzer bottle for ready-to-go, carbonated orange-lime cordial. You simply start with tequila on the rocks, pour the cordial and serve.
Make it with: Fresh juice. Ruiz likes pineapple, guava, strawberry and cucumber.
Garnish with: Ruiz uses lime and orange wheels to top her drink. Or step up your garnish game with cookie cutters (for fancy citrus peels) and different-shaped ice trays.
Food pairings: “You seriously can't go wrong with a fresh margarita. It’s good anytime,” Ruiz says. Try it with everything from fish and lamb to tart and spicy dishes.
Tip for making the perfect margarita: “Do it with love.”