Nine Tequila Cocktails Beyond the Margarita
Who can say no to a classic Margarita? But don’t think that tequila’s sole purpose is for this iconic cocktail. These cocktails use tequila as a primary or supporting spirit and will inspire you to get creative with your drinks, whether you are enjoying them at home or at a bar.
Learn how to make a sophisticated slushie, a fig/thyme/licorice cocktail, a riff on a classic tiki drink, a boozy take on cold-brew coffee, a drink best served with a blowtorch, a beer-topped riff on a Moscow mule, or a paloma-esque grapefruit refresher. And since we couldn’t resist, one new take on a traditional margarita that includes—yes—pickle brine. Click through to the end for a non-alcoholic shrub perfect for dry-drinking, or equally delicious spiked with a shot of tequila.
Looking to learn more about different types of tequila, how to use them and what bottles to buy? Here’s more information on each of the three main styles:
Courtesy Andrew Olsen, bar manager, Bluestem, Kansas City, Missouri
At Bluestem, a James Beard Award-winning restaurant in Kansas City, Missouri, the cocktail program echoes the straightforward aesthetic of a kitchen that’s heralded for its New American fare.
“My goal is to not compromise the base flavor of the spirits we select,” says Bar Manager Andrew Olsen. “I want to showcase the flavors and make them really shine.”
Olsen built this cocktail around Tequila Ocho Plata, a producer that makes single-estate, single-vintage Tequilas. (Although if you swap in your favorite blanco Tequila, we won’t tell.)
“Like coffee and wine, Tequila has a lot to do with terroir,” Olsen says.
The drink riffs on two classics, the Paloma, spiked with grapefruit and Tequila, and Italy’s refreshing, slushie-style Sgroppino. Sparkling wine helps aerate the drink, creating a light, almost fluffy texture. The end result: a frozen drink for grown-ups to savor.
*Bluestem makes its housemade grenadine from equal parts pomegranate juice and cane sugar, but you can substitute a quality commercial version like Small Hands Foods Grenadine Syrup—look for pomegranate in the list of ingredients.
- 1 ounce Tequila Ocho Plata
- 1 ounce Combier Pamplemousse Rose grapefruit liqueur
- 1 ounce sparkling wine
- ½ ounce grenadine
- ½ ounce lime juice
- Orange zest, for garnish
In a blender, combine all ingredients except garnish with 1 cup of ice. Blend for 30 seconds, and pour into a wine glass or brandy snifter. Garnish with orange zest.
Courtesy Alberto Battaglini, general manager/mixologist, S.Y.Kitchen, Santa Ynez, CA
Think of this cocktail as a fall-friendly margarita that incorporates the herbaceous freshness of blanco Tequila and draws in rich notes of fresh, in-season figs. It’s ideal to bridge the early autumnal days when it’s no longer frozen margarita weather, but also too mild to break out the Cognac and other darker, warming spirits.
When Figs Fly
Figs are in season twice a year. The first, or “breba” season, is during the first few weeks in June. The second, or “new wood” season, lasts longer, typically from August through October. The most common variety is the sweet Black Mission fig, followed by mild Brown Turkish and Green Kadota. The Kadota is nearly seedless, which makes it ideal for cocktails. Can’t find fresh figs? Add fig preserves, purée or jam into the cocktail shaker instead.
- 2 fresh figs, cut in half
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme
- 2 ounces blanco Tequila
- 1 ounce fresh lime juice
- ½ ounce agave syrup
- 1 licorice root
In cocktail shaker, muddle 1½ figs and 1 sprig thyme with muddler or back of spoon. Add Tequila, lime, agave syrup and ice. Shake well, and strain into coupe glass. Grate fresh licorice root on top. Garnish with remaining fig half and thyme sprig.
Courtesy Paul McGee, Lost Lake, Chicago
Once considered an obscure tropical drink, the Jungle Bird has become one of the most popular on the tiki bar circuit. The original, made with dark rum, pineapple and Campari, was invented in 1978 at the Kuala Lumpur Hilton.
Tiki bars are all about dramatic, over-the-top drinks and presentation. At Chicago’s Lost Lake, perhaps today’s most-lauded tiki bar, the Jungle Bird adds a few more feathers to its exotic plumage. Tequila (with mezcal in a supporting role) replaces rum, ruby Port adds depth and glow, and passion fruit syrup ups the tropical fruit factor.
Although bartender Paul McGee usually presents his Surfing Bird in a huge bowl to serve six thirsty revelers, this drink is pared down to a single serving.
- 1½ ounces reposado Tequila
- ½ ounce mezcal
- ¼ ounce Campari
- ¼ ounce ruby Port
- ¾ ounce fresh pineapple juice
- ¾ ounce fresh lime juice
- ½ ounce passion fruit syrup, like Monin
- ¼ ounce simple syrup
Combine all ingredients and 1 cup of crushed ice in a blender. Blend for 3 seconds. (Or, add to a cocktail shaker, and shake well.) Pour into a tiki mug and top with 1 cup of crushed ice. Garnish tropically.
Scoop ice cubes into a sealable plastic bag. Squeeze out all the air and seal. Use a meat mallet or rolling pin to pound the ice into small pieces. Another option? Use a Lewis Bag, which bartenders use to gleefully thwack ice into bits.
Recipe courtesy Nick Digiovanni, Publico, St. Louis
Cold brew coffee matches up well with the bracing bitterness of amaros, like Campari. This complex sipper mingles bitter, sweet and spicy notes all in one glass.
- 1 ounce Gran Centenario Añejo tequila
- 1 ounce Blueprint Cold Brew Coffee
- ½ ounce Campari
- ½ ounce Giffard White Creme de Cacao
- ½ ounce Ancho Reyes liqueur
- Lemon peel, for garnish
In a mixing glass, combine all ingredients (except lemon peel) with ice. Stir well and strain into a rocks glass over fresh ice. Twist lemon peel over the drink to express the oil, and garnish drink with the peel.
Recipe courtesy Tyler Burns, beverage director, Spoke & Steele, Indianapolis
As the finishing touch to this sweet-and-spicy sipper, Burns sets a cedar plank on the bar and ignites it with a blowtorch. After the wood has blackened a bit and the cedar’s char scents the air, he traps smoke from the cedar plank under a coupe glass while preparing the drink in a beaker, which is then placed on the plank next to the coupe. The guest is presented with the plank, turns over the smoke-filled glass and fills it.
Build all ingredients in a cocktail shaker over ice, shake and strain into the beaker.
Using a blowtorch, torch a small circle on one end of a cedar plank until smoking.
Quickly invert a coupe glass to trap in some of the smoke. Serve with the mixed ingredients in the beaker on the side. Turn over the glass and pour the cocktail into it.
Recipe courtesy bartender Mike Jones, Sable Kitchen & Bar, Chicago
“This is a light and refreshing beer cocktail (reminiscent of a shandy) inspired by a classic Moscow Mule,” Jones explains. “The smokiness of the mezcal is balanced by the honey, while the cucumbers add a refreshing balance to the ginger.”
- 3 cucumber slices
- 1 ounce Del Maguey Mezcal Vida
- 1 ounce Corralejo Reposado Tequila
- ¾ ounce ginger syrup (such as The Ginger People Organic Ginger Syrup)
- ½ ounce honey syrup (stir together 2 parts honey to 1 part hot water)
- ¾ ounce lime juice
- Miller High Life beer
- Cucumber ribbon, for garnish
In a cocktail shaker, muddle the cucumber slices. Add mezcal, Tequila, ginger and honey syrups, lime juice and ice. Shake well, and strain into a pilsner glass over fresh ice. Top with beer. Garnish with cucumber ribbon.
Recipe courtesy head bartender Brandon Lockman, Red Star Tavern, Portland, Oregon
A cross between two classic cocktails—the Tequila-spiked paloma and the Moscow Mule—the end result is remarkably refreshing.
- 1½ ounces blanco Tequila
- ½ ounce lime juice
- ½ ounce grapefruit juice
- ¾ ounce agave nectar
- Ginger beer (2–3 oz)
- Lime peel, for garnish
Combine the first four ingredients in a highball glass over ice and stir; top with ginger beer. Garnish.
Courtesy Adam Bernbach, bar director, 2 Birds 1 Stone, Washington, DC
For your next margarita, skip the salt rim. Instead, try Washington, DC, bartender Adam Bernbach’s trick: Add pickle brine.
It’s inspired by the Texas tradition of splashing savory olive brine into the drink, where it’s dubbed a “Texas Martini” or “Mexican Martini.” Bernbach opts for pickle brine from a local producer, Gordy’s, which sells it by the can, but you can use a spoonful of brine from your favorite pickles. “It’s that much more refreshing with the salt in the drink, rather than on the rim,” he says.
At his subterranean bar 2 Birds 1 Stone, Bernbach is known for his playful approach. He riffs on classic cocktails, designs colorful drink menus and employs a legendary collection of gleefully mismatched vintage glasses scored at flea markets. He suggests using a double Old Fashioned glass to serve his margarita, but says, “I would recommend serving in as ridiculous glassware as one is comfortable with.”
- 1½ ounces blanco Tequila
- 1 ounce dry Curaçao
- ¾ ounce fresh lime juice
- ½ ounce pickle brine (like Gordy’s)
- Lime wheel or small pickle, for garnish
- Thick piece of orange peel, for garnish
Combine all ingredients except garnishes in cocktail shaker with ice. Shake well, and strain into double Old Fashioned glass over fresh ice cubes. To garnish, spear lime wheel or pickle and orange peel with toothpick. Balance on edge of glass.
Courtesy Chad Walsh, Agern, New York City
It’s not difficult to make a shrub—a Colonial-era, vinegar-based drink that’s enjoying a revival. Bartenders love fruity, zingy shrubs because of the acidity and bite. They’re generally just three ingredients: sugar, vinegar and fruit (not all shrubs use fruit, but most do). Plan ahead: The drink needs to sit a few days. This refreshing, rosy mix will keep for one month in the refrigerator. You can also use it in salad dressings or as a glaze for meats. At Agern it makes an appearance in mocktail and cocktail form. “It’s delicious with Tequila or vodka,” says Walsh. “Or it can also be fun as a mixer in an Aperol Spritz-style apéritif.”
- 6 grapefruits
- 2 cups white sugar
- 2 cups apple cider vinegar
Peel grapefruits with a vegetable peeler, leaving as much white pith as possible on the fruit. Juice two of the grapefruits. Do not strain out the pulp. In a large, sealable container, combine the sugar, grapefruit peels and juice. Let the mixture stand in the refrigerator for 24 hours.
Add vinegar. Close the container and shake well. Return to the refrigerator. Shake daily for three days. By the fourth day, the sugar should be dissolved. Fine-strain into a clean container, and discard the solids. Yields 16–24 ounces.
- ¾ ounce grapefruit shrub
- 5¼ ounces still or sparkling water
Stir together in a rocks glass over ice. Garnish with a lime wedge, if desired.
Add 1½ ounces Tequila.
- 1Sophisticated Slushie (Sgroppino di Uva)
- 2The Fig Buzz Cocktail
- 3Ruby Mae’s Second Surfin’ Bird
- 4The Exuberant Gaucho
- 5Break out the Blowtorch: Smoke & Spice
- 7Paloma Mule
- 8The Salted Margarita
- 9Bitter Grapefruit Shrub