When it comes to cocktails, have it your way – please

 “How do you make your margaritas?” asked the man sitting at the bar.

 I glanced at the drink window, which sported about 27 different drinks. Of which, one was a reposado margarita, one was a skinny margarita, one a strawberry margarita, and another was a spicy one.

I wiped my forehead with the back of my sleeve.

“I make them a lot of ways,” I said. “How would you like me to make it?”

“I just want to know how you make them?” he repeated.

“There are three on the menu,” I said. “Which one are you referring to?”

“Yours. What is your standard margarita?”

Alrighty then. So, you want to know how I make “my” margaritas?

When I worked at the disco Denny’s nightclub back in the late 1980’s (my first bartending job) I made my margaritas with premixed sweet and sour dispensed from a soda gun, nonalcoholic triple sec and the cheapest mixto tequila we had. Why? Because that is how they wanted me to make them.

When I worked at the busy Mexican cantina that had a bar big enough to have a full sized waterfall, I made 30 different kinds of margaritas. There we had four different “top shelf” margaritas that utilized everything from Cointreau to fresh pressed lime to splashes of orange juice. And for an extra charge you could add a little hanging “sidecar” of Grand Marnier. We also had 6, yes 6, electric blenders.

Later when I worked for the nightclub in Southern California premium tequila was all the rage, so I made margaritas with every new añejo or reposado that hit the market. Sometimes we used bottled sweet and sour and sometimes we used so-called “fresh squeezed” bottled lime juice. Big money was spent on the tequila, and little was spent on the mix.

Still later when I worked at the swinging live music nightclub it was back to the cheapest tequila, the cheapest triple sec, and the cheapest bottled sweet and sour available. Why? Because we had two $1 drink nights and my boss was more concerned about quantity rather than quality. And we made thousands of them.

Still later when I was hired at the swanky upscale first “foodie” restaurant in Marin, I made margaritas with a house made sweet and sour, which was essentially a combination of hand pressed lemon juice, hand pressed lime juice and hand-made simple syrup. I know that because it was I who “handmade” them. Later we switched to agave syrup when that became fashionable and still later, we switched to just fresh lime and “premium” tequila. So ironically, I was now making virtually the same “top shelf” margaritas I had made a decade before but with the addition of agave syrup.

When ultra-premium tequila became a thing, we had to modify “top shelf” because nobody was going to spend $45 for a margarita. “Cadillac” became the new term even though Cadillac’s had originally only included marginally better products before.

Another switch to another restaurant coincided with the advent (or re-advent) of premium triple sec (which ironically predates premium tequila by far). So now my margaritas might contain either Cointreau, Combier, Naranaja, or even Damiana depending upon which one you ordered.

When I consulted for the uber hip sushi restaurant in San Francisco, the margarita that made the list included yuzu liqueur and kaffir lime. When I consulted for the Spanish tapas place it was Gran Gala and a dash of Seville orange juice, and the margaritas I made at the booth for the local baseball team featured agave wine, agave syrup and fresh squeezed lime. Why? Because that is what they were licensed for.

More recently when I did a non-alcoholic Zoom cocktail presentation, I used alcohol free “tequila”, agave, fresh lime, and soda water, because that is what they requested.

Along the way I have made blended margaritas with every conceivable fruit, and in combinations too lengthy to mention, although strawberry-coconut-banana does come to mind, and that’s not taking in to account that margarita also had lime, lemon, and orange flavorings too.

More recently I have been called on to make margaritas with mezcal, sotol, comiteca, and Mezquila. All in different proportions and with different mixes. And spicy or skinny margaritas? How about spicy/skinny margaritas? Yes, they are a thing.

I once even worked for a “purist” who insisted on vermouth in his dry martinis but refused to put triple sec in his margaritas.

And let’s not even talk about rimming, because I have used everything from cherry chocolate sugars to tajine black salts.

So, the question, again, is not “How do I make my margaritas?” but rather “How do you want yours?”

Which is, by far, a much easier question to answer.