Once you know the basics, your options are endless.

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You owe it to yourself to master these two tequila classics: the margarita and the Paloma. You’ll need a bottle of tequila, of course—the standard is blanco tequila, but lightly aged reposado can be used for any of these. And you’ll need some citrus.

Carey Jones

But you might have the rest of the ingredients already. Have a can of grapefruit LaCroix, or grapefruit Spindrift, or Fresca, or Squirt, or a bottle of grapefruit Jarritos? You can riff on a Paloma. Got a lime and virtually any kind of sweetener? You can riff on a margarita. And once you’ve got those staples, the options are endless. Here’s how the classic tequila drinks can be far more flexible than you might imagine.

The Flexible Margarita

Carey Jones

Some bartenders prefer making margaritas with orange liqueur; others, with lighter, cleaner agave syrup. Our philosophy? They both taste great, so work with whatever you have. In an absolute pinch, try lemon juice instead of lime; and simple syrup, say, instead of agave. It may be blasphemy to some classic cocktail die-hards, but you know what? It’ll taste great.

Instructions without orange liqueur: In a cocktail shaker with ice, combine two ounces of tequila, an ounce of fresh lime juice (feel free to substitute lemon if you need) and ¾ ounce sweetener (agave syrup, which is agave nectar cut 1:1 with hot water, is our go-to; replace with 1:1 simple syrup, raw sugar syrup, honey syrup, or whatever you have on-hand). Shake until well-chilled and pour into a rocks glass with fresh ice. Garnish with a few lime wheels.

Instructions with orange liqueur: In a cocktail shaker with ice, combine two ounces of tequila, an ounce of fresh lime juice (feel free to substitute lemon) and an ounce of orange liqueur. (If you like it less orangey, go for ½ ounce orange liqueur and ½ ounce of a sweetener—agave syrup, simple syrup, etc.) Shake until well-chilled and pour into a rocks glass with fresh ice. Garnish with a few lime wheels.

Flavor That Margarita

Carey Jones

A margarita is a perfect drink in its own right; it’s also a beautiful template for whatever flavors you want to throw at it. Toss in some peppers to spice it up, cucumber and basil for a super-refreshing margarita that’s not too sweet, fresh strawberries if that’s your thing… the options are endless. Even a liqueur like St-Germain could be fun for an elderflower dimension.

For fruits and veg, the secret is muddling. A few ideas: Add in three slices of cucumber; three basil leaves; a few chunks of pineapple; three small, ripe strawberries; 3-5 very thin slices of jalapeño (start on the lighter side); a small handful of arugula… go crazy. For liqueurs? No muddling required.

To add fresh fruits, vegetables, peppers, or herbs: In the bottom of a cocktail shaker, firmly muddle your fresh ingredient. Add two ounces of tequila, an ounce of fresh lime juice, and a half-ounce of sweetener (agave syrup, simple syrup, honey syrup, or similar), along with ice. Shake until well-chilled and double-strain (through a fine mesh strainer, as well as your shaker’s strainer) into a rocks glass with fresh ice. Garnish with whatever ingredient you used in the margarita.

To add a sweet liqueur: In a cocktail shaker with ice, combine two ounces of tequila, an ounce of fresh lime juice (feel free to substitute lemon in a pinch), 3/4 ounce of liqueur and ¼ ounce sweetener (agave syrup, honey syrup, or similar). Shake until well-chilled and pour into a rocks glass with fresh ice. Garnish with a lime wheel.

 

Riff on a Paloma

Carey Jones

This tequila highball is, on a hot summer day, even more refreshing than a margarita. And while we prefer a Paloma with fresh grapefruit juice, making it with grapefruit-flavored soda is in fact the more traditional way. Squirt or grapefruit Jarritos are classics; we might reach for a San Pellegrino or Spindrift grapefruit soda, or even a flavored seltzer.  And if you want to call a tequila-Sprite a riff on a Paloma—that’s taking a few liberties, but we’re not going to stop you. Want to get a little more creative? Play around with rims: salt, chili salt, Tajín...

For a grapefruit juice Paloma: In a cocktail shaker with ice, combine an ounce and half of tequila, an ounce of grapefruit juice, ¼ ounce lime or lemon juice, and ½ ounce sweetener (agave syrup, simple syrup, honey syrup, or similar). Shake until well-chilled, then strain into a tall glass with fresh ice. Top with two ounces of club soda and stir briefly. Garnish with grapefruit half-moons.

Carey Jones

For a soda Paloma: Add an ounce and a half of tequila to a tall glass with ice, then pour in grapefruit soda to fill. Squeeze in a lime wedge if you have it. (If you’re using a sweetened soda, that’s all you need. If you’re using a flavored seltzer, you might want to hit it with ¼ ounce simple syrup; but if you prefer a bone-dry drink that’s more like a tequila-soda, have at it.)