Five mixologists whip up their creative takes on the classic cocktail-and you can, too.
Peter Vestinos: THE MAGAVERITA
The margarita is “the most misunderstood and most poorly executed drink there is,” says Vestinos, who consults on cocktail menus around town, including at Bar Novo (1 W Wacker Dr, 312-372-7200). “Most bartenders will take a great tequila and bury it under lemon sour, Rose’s lime juice, orange juice,” a mistake he counters with a stripped-down recipe that scraps orange liqueur altogether and instead uses agave nectar, plus a lowland tequila for mineral and spice notes, and a muddled orange peel.
MAKE IT In a cocktail shaker, add a strip of fresh-cut orange peel. Press down with muddler to release the oils. Add one ounce of fresh lime juice, three-fourths of an ounce of agave nectar (available at Whole Foods) and two ounces of lowland tequila, such as Gran Centenario plata or Cuervo Tradicional silver. Shake vigorously with ice, and strain into an ice-filled rocks glass or chilled cocktail glass that has been rimmed halfway with a blend of Hawaiian black salt and sea salt. Garnish with a lime wheel.
Mike Ryan: REVERSING ENTROPY
“Made well, [the margarita] is still a transcendently brilliant cocktail,” says Ryan, the head bartender at Sable Kitchen & Bar (505 N State St, 312-755-9704). But that doesn’t mean he can’t play with the formula: In his drink, Ryan uses mezcal to echo smoky paprika and highlights the “lean, vegetal notes” of the tequila with cooked strawberries.
MAKE IT Strawberry-smoked paprika syrup: Hull and halve one pint of ripe strawberries, then mash in a saucepan with one tablespoon of Spanish smoked paprika and salt to taste. Cook over medium heat until strawberries reach a jammy consistency. Add two cups of water and two cups of sugar, and bring to a bare simmer. Turn off heat and let sit one hour. Strain and chill. Margarita: In a cocktail shaker, combine one-and-a-half ounces of Corralejo blanco tequila, a half ounce of Del Maguey Mezcal Vida, three-fourths of an ounce of fresh lime juice and three-fourths of an ounce of strawberry-smoked paprika syrup. Shake well with ice, strain and serve up.
GET IT $13 at Sable Kitchen & Bar, by request.
Charles Joly: LOS MUERTOS
“Made properly, the classic margarita is timeless…. That’s not to say we shouldn’t tinker,” says Joly, mixologist at the Drawing Room (937 N Rush St, 312-255-0022). Hence Joly took inspiration from both the margarita and the Corpse Reviver #2 (a classic gin cocktail) for his Los Muertos cocktail.
MAKE IT Fill a coupe or martini glass with ice, and add a few dashes of North Shore Sirene Absinthe Verte. In a cocktail shaker, combine one-and-a-half ounces of Del Maguey Mezcal Vida, three-fourths of an ounce of orange liqueur, three-fourths of an ounce of Lillet Rouge, three-fourths of an ounce of lemon juice and a quarter ounce of simple syrup, and shake with ice. Discard contents of glass, and strain shaker into glass. Garnish with an orange peel.
Anne Carlson Tye: TAMARGARITA
This summer, Tye, the mixologist at Andersonville’s [now closed] In Fine Spirits (5420 N Clark St, 773-334-9463), added a few margarita-inspired drinks to her extensive cocktail menu. Among them was the Tamargarita, inspired by a tamarind sorbet she had on a recent trip to Mexico. The drink sticks closely to the classic margarita format, except Licor Beirão (a Portuguese herbal liqueur available at Lush Wine and Spirits, lushwineandspirits.com) subs in for orange liqueur, and tamarind syrup replaces more traditional sweeteners.
MAKE IT Tamarind syrup: Crack the outer shell of tamarind pods (available at Whole Foods), and remove the gummy flesh. Cover the flesh with hot water, and let soak overnight. Sweeten to taste with agave nectar, then puree in a blender and press through a fine mesh sieve. Cocktail: In a cocktail shaker, combine two ounces of Milagro reposado tequila, three-fourths of an ounce of Licor Beirão, one ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice and three-fourths of an ounce of tamarind syrup and shake with ice. Strain into an ice-filled, salt-rimmed glass.
Bridget Albert: SAVORY AVOCADO COCKTAIL
“What goes better with a margarita than guacamole?” asks Albert, master mixologist at Southern Wine and Spirits, who has led the charge toward market-fresh cocktails in Chicago. She takes her question literally, blending a ripe avocado into a classic margarita. “You don’t necessarily taste the avocado,” Albert says, but the smooth fruit takes the burn out of the tequila and gives the drink a thicker texture.
MAKE IT Simple syrup: Combine one cup of superfine sugar and one cup of hot water. Stir or shake until sugar dissolves. Cover and store in refrigerator. Fresh sour mix: Stir together one cup of simple syrup with two cups of fresh lemon juice. Cover and store in refrigerator. Sugar-salt rim: On a small plate, mix four teaspoons of superfine sugar and one-and-a-half teaspoons of sea salt. Rim the outside of glass with lime wedge. Roll the outside rim of glass in sugar-salt mixture. Set aside. Cocktail: Peel and cut one avocado into one-inch cubes. In mixing glass, combine one cube of avocado, five fresh tarragon leaves, one-and-a-half ounces of fresh sour mix and juice of half a lime. Muddle until avocado is well mixed. Add one-and-a-half ounces of añejo tequila and a half ounce of triple sec. Add ice and shake well. Double strain into glass using the strainer on the shaker while pouring contents through a sieve over the glass. Garnish with a tarragon sprig.