National Margarita Day is coming (Monday, February 22), which means the biggest decision everyone should be making on Monday is, “salt or sugar rim?” This classic cocktail is the staple drink of a fun night out or memorable afternoon brunch, and as trends come and go, margaritas have always been able to conform to what’s hot thanks to its versatility for food pairings and ability to mix with many fruits and flavors. It’s the perfect, crowd-pleasing menu cocktail and quarantine beverage in both alcoholic and mocktail forms.
Margaritas are ubiquitous on menus, but are especially popular in contemporary and casual restaurants and sports bars. Every bar and restaurant have their own twist to the classic preparation, and it’s no wonder why as the margarita is the #1 cocktail in the United States. With an endless range of flavors possibilities and popularity ingrained in the collective conscious from media, when in doubt, order a margarita. The top flavors to find on a margarita menu are lime, strawberry, orange, sour mix, mango, and jalapeño, though fruits like peach, lemon, pineapple, and passion fruit are also considered classics. Less common but up-and-coming fruit flavors like banana (with strawberry), pomegranate, dragon fruit, cinnamon apple, and grapefruit, plus out-of-the box ingredients like honey, elderflower, and ginger speak to the versatility of this drink.
With the only requirements being tequila, a splash of triple sec, and ice, cubed or blended, to make a margarita, the classic cocktail is a perfect drink to play with and add to a menu with what’s trending for a public eager to try out new flavors. For some casual restaurants, this means layering in multiple tequila brands or mixing in other flavored liquors, like cinnamon-flavored whisky, and trying out seasonal fruits like cranberry or blackberry for limited-time offers. These restaurants are also experimenting with what is on the rim, straying from plain salt or sugar and exploring flavors like spicy tajin chili lime salt, black lava salt, or smoked citrus sugar, to name a few.
MARGARITA NIGHT AT HOME
The rise of the at-home bartender has coincided with COVID as people craving that bar cocktail experience without the risk. Though they may start out with easy-to-replicate classic cocktails that are little more than a liquor mixed with soda over ice, others are graduating to trying out some more difficult cocktails they miss from their brunching days, like the margarita. A classic margarita preparation requires a commitment to few more steps, ingredients, and a reliable blender to crush the ice, to accomplish well, but when done right, the first sip is worth it for any margarita lover.
The versatility of the margarita is also an important reason for home bartenders to perfect its creation to create complimentary food pairings. The easy-to-customize drink makes it a breeze for anyone to make and craft to what they like and what might be sitting in the crisper; similar to when making sangria, it’s a fun and delicious way to empty out the fruit drawer on margarita night. A standard partner to Taco Night, a meal many home chefs have perfected over the past year, the classic preparation with the salted rim, lime, and tequila, plus adding a kick with jalapeño or fruitiness with mango or watermelon, pairs well with the similar flavors of spicy dishes, like tacos, and seafood.
To pair with at-home brunching in the afternoon, the trendy “roséarita,” which includes blending in rosé wine to make a drink closer to the popular frosé wine slushies pouring out of churning machines from on-trend restaurants during the summer, lightens up the margarita while adding sweetness. It’s also a great choice for desserts; switching the salt for a sugar rim and adding passion fruit, agave nectar, lime, and lemon, creates a sensation of a classic lemon bar dusted with powdered sugar in a glass.
While making tacos and cocktails at home are some of the biggest trends coming out of the COVID crisis, another big trend has been the decline of drinking alcoholic, as well. Alcohol sales were skyrocketing at the beginning of the pandemic as people stockpiled alcohol preparing to bring the bar home for a few weeks or months, but a year later, the novelty has rubbed off for many. As recorded by a poll conducted by Mintel, 35% of consumers aged 22-25 who ordered from restaurants without ordering alcoholic beverages indicate this is because alcohol just doesn't interest them. 27% of the same group indicate they don't drink alcohol at all. With health and fitness at the mind forefront of Millennial and Gen Z minds, there have been new innovations in mocktails to satisfy the desire to still have the drinking experience without the alcohol.
To aid the at-home bartender, cocktail and margarita kits have been a growing trend during COVID, and now, there are also services dedicated to offering upscale, exciting mocktail supplies like bitters assortments, infusion jars, beverage kits, sugar cubes, syrups, and more, to help build a beautiful mocktail station at home and make a very convincing non-alcoholic margarita. On menus, restaurants, where legal, offering take-out margaritas easily replace the tequila with a mock “tequila” that includes the taste and kick with 0% abv. Others replace or reduce the amount of tequila with a sweet and sour mix and add lots of fruit puree, making the slushie more akin to a smoothie and appealing to these health-minded generations.
The experience of sipping a strawberry margarita after biting into a burrito or toasting salted rims at brunch with friends is still available without the alcohol, which is something Gen Z and Millennials put the most importance on and look for while dining out. Especially post-pandemic, the margaritas, alcoholic or non, will be flowing like never before as young people make up for the experiences lost to a rough year.