Today, February 22, is National Margarita Day. Is it a made up holiday that only exists to sell Margs at the end of February? Absolutely. So what? It gives us an excuse to revisit our Margarita Mix Taste Test.
This piece originally ran May 17, 2017
It’s almost summer. It’s seasonally appropriate to drink margaritas. Before you purchase a few liters of sugary, limey liquid, you may want to know what our expert drinkers think. Nine BYT staffers, as young as 21, as old as almost 40, tasted eleven of the most available mixes.
The 11 mixes were purchased at local Harris Teeter’s, Metro Wine and Spirits and Adams Morgan liquor stores. Each drink was batched, made according to its bottle’s recommendations.
We used Jose Cuervo Gold for each mix that called for alcohol. Is Cuervo Gold the best tequila for margaritas? Absolutely not, but according to all of the liquor store employees we asked, it’s the liquor purchased most often when making margaritas.
After batching the eleven options, our nine subjects were able to add ice, limes and salt to their choosing. They were encouraged to use new glasses with each mix to keep their samples are pure as possible, as pure as a margarita mix could be. Most everyone used new glasses for each drink because the plastic margarita glasses we purchased from the dollar store leaked.
Chips, guacamole, salsa and water was also available for our subjects because that’s what’s usually available when you’re drinking margaritas. All of the guacamole was consumed, very few of the waters were finished. In other words, this was a very accurate margarita mix taste test.
A. Margaritaville Margarita Mix
Arielle: No reference point yet.
Chloe: Tastes like dust with a hint of lime.
Clarissa: Was there alcohol in this?
Jenn: Tequila and sugar. I would buy this from an ice cream truck. Very drinkable.
Jonny: Grown up Kool Aid! Nice.
Kaylee [Editor’s note: Kaylee spelled her name KAYLLEE on her notes, which she pointed out is incorrect]: Way too sweet. Not sure if there is too much orange/citrus falvor or not enough. I’ve probably paid $8 for the same thing somewhere. And by somewhere I mean Dave & Busters.
Marcus: Tart, needed salt rim.
Nick: Alcoholic Hi-C. Not bad.
Svetlana: A little more sweet than tart but the salt helps. The color looks almost OK.
B. Baja Bob’s
Arielle: Bitter. No thank you.
Chloe: Lime Pucker Slupee.
Jenn: This has a beat you can dance to. DO NOT DRINK if your lips are chapped. It’s the queen of tarts.
Jonny: Either melted popsicle or under-frozen smoothie.
Kaylee: Oh my god. I was worried about this but it is so much worse than I thought. Like a Limearita but no delicious malt liquor.
Marcus: Has a sweet start, goes down frisky.
Nick: Bad. So bad in the aftertaste. Teeth hurt.
Svetlana: More of a lime popsicle than a margarita. Not even close to a natural or a natural approximation of flavor. I do like how it kind of owns its suckiness, down to the color.
C. Jose Cuervo Classic Margarita Mix
Arielle: Quality marg.
Chloe: Also dust with lime.
Clarissa: This is better than B, worse than A.
Jenn: I could not form an opinion on this which is probably part of the problem.
Jonny: Hi-C? Pectin and fructose, oh my!
Kaylee: Not…the worse. Looks like piss in the pitcher but has a kind of nice, sour acidity. Works well with salt?
Nick: Pretty good. Smooth and doesn’t make me think I’m drinking melted Skittles.
Svetlana: Bad in a melted Jolly Rancher way. Marginally LESS offensive than B.
D. Mr & Mrs T Light Margarita Mix
Arielle: Sweet and delicious. My favorite for now.
Chloe: So far my favorite. Tastes like nothing at first, followed by only a slightly weird aftertaste.
Clarissa: I think I don’t like this. I don’t know anymore.
Jenn: A creamsicle, now with more tequila!
Jonny: Subtle and actually pleasant. Brandon may have under-mixed this?
Kaylee: Tastes like watered down version of B and is making me very upset. Tastes like the kind of drink you’d give to a child if you were a gross sexual predator. It’s palatable for 12-year-olds.
Marcus: Too sweet, no bite. What?
Nick: Doesn’t make me hate this test.
Svetlana: Sort of anemic. My least favorite thus far.
E. Tres Agaves Margarita Mix Organic
Arielle: Limey, bitter. Not for me!
Chloe: New favorite, fruity, the most sips, the worse it gets.
Clarissa: This is awful.
Jenn: Very floral, a little flavor in the taste attic, if you will.
Jonny: Nice. Rather nice.
Kaylee: Like drinking perfume. Like a Bath and Body Works Margarita scented perfume. Also, way too orange?
Marcus: Heavy and thick, more tequila than mix.
Nick: Tastes like plastic. Tastes like I don’t drink margaritas. Ice is good.
Svetlana: Too sweet. Not too artificial which is good but needs the LIME part of lemon/lime substantially amped up. Good color though.
F. Barsmith Margarita Triple Citrus
Arielle: Also terrible. Too bitter. No me gusta.
Chloe: Good combo of sweet and sour.
Clarissa: Do I even like margaritas?
Jenn: 37-year-old approved. It pairs well with my age.
Jonny: Left arm going numb from the salt. Tastes like dehumidifier.
Kaylee: Still too sweet. The color is off. It looks stale. How does everyone like this? OK. It’s growing on me. The more watered down, the more palatable.
Marcus: All around solid.
Nick: Tastes like the smell of inflatable pool toys. Made me light headed too.
Svetlana: Probably the closest to what I feel a restaurant one would taste like. Definitely most balanced one so far. Not actually good, mind you, but not bad either.
2/2 women born in 1980 approve of F
G. Powell + Mahoney Limited Margarita
Arielle: Nope. Just nope. Like every bitter green flavor gone wrong.
Chloe: Ugh. No.
Clarissa: I might be regretting this.
Jenn: Smokey, tart, a drink for adults. It’s for adults who know they’re adults.
Jonny: Citric acid and agave. I’m OK with all this.
Kaylee: NO WORDZ.
Marcus: A step over the line into, “Oh, that’s powerful.”
Nick: I think I made this drink in high school.
Svetlana: A sweeter version of F. Tastes like a headache.
H. Stirrings Simple Margarita
Arielle: Still bad. Still bites. I’m bitter.
Clarissa: This is not terrible. Is this because of its container? I could drink this. I’d rather have C, I think.
Jenn: Sour Girl…STP style.
Jonny: Favorite so far. Loud. Floral, fruity but not terribly sweet.
Kaylee: Kind of perfumey, kind of sour, not the worst but I never want to have it again.
Nick: Probably the best so far. Not too sour and not too bland. Maybe I’m drunk.
Svetlana: Winner, winner, guacamole dinner.
I. Arbor Mist Lime Margarita
Arielle: Was dope. Tastes like glorified liquid candy. In my top 3.
Chloe: Plastic, burned plastic.
Clarissa: Why did I agree to this? This is awful. I regret everything.
Jenn: A melted cough drop and tequila.
Jonny: Holy shit this tastes like baby vomit.
Kaylee: Sad…but not the worst thing ever? It doesn’t really taste like much.
Marcus: This is a rainbow of explosive sweetness.
Nick: That was fucking terrible. I made a mistake with this one. Avoid this. I feel like I need to change my clothes.
Svetlana: Should be banned.
J. Daily’s Frozen Margarita
Arielle: If I had a top 3, now I have a top 4. Pretty darn good, but then again, I like sweet drinks and this was pretty damn sweet and delicious.
Chloe: Lime Flavor-Ice.
Clarissa: This is Mountain Dew. Alcoholic Mountain Dew. I don’t like Mountain Dew. It reminds me of the part of my family I don’t like.
Jenn: Is this Gatorade? The Fifth Loko?
Jonny: Tastes like the tears of a man who wants to watch you sleep.
Kaylee: Tastes like plastic? Fruity plastic.
Marcus: Tastes like supermarket lime soda.
Nick: Not bad. Tastes like alcoholic, flat Surge.
Svetlana: Kool Aid masquerading as margarita mix. Tastes most like college.
K. Seagram’s Escapes Frozen Margarita
Arielle: Is there alcohol in this? It’s soda, like glorified Mountain Dew. It’s green soda. It’s the color of a fart cloud. Part 1 of an alcoholic drinking starter kit.
Chloe: Smooth, like only smiley, but like, a good way.
Clarissa: I regret everything. Why did I agree to this?
Jenn: Serve this to your worst frenemy.
Jonny: Mother fucking Warhead gumballs!
Kaylee: This is very offensive. Manages to smell worst than it tastes.
Marcus: Wow. Depressing.
Nick: It looks like anti-freeze and tastes like juice. I can see how this appeals to children.
Svetlana: Tastes like off brand soda laced with off brand candy. The nuclear green doesn’t help.
After sampling all 11 mixes and revealing what they drank, some participants wanted to mix the remaining margaritas into one, a Suicide. Unsurprisingly, it was the best of all the mixes. Jonny and Kaylee added more tequila to the base, altering it to each other’s preferences. It was far and away the winner, garnering 4s and 5s from everyone.
Jenn: Big fun!
Jonny: Far and away, the hero of the tasting. It tastes like everything a margarita tries to be.
Marcus: Goddamn, that’s delicious.
Margaritas are easy to make. You should not use a mix.
But maybe you’re having a party and want to use a mix. Use the Jose Cuervo mix if you’re going to an event that has a lot of younger people and don’t work in the bar industry. It’s not great, but it’s the least offensive of the big plastic bottles.
If you want a mix that has ‘real’ limes and need more than two drinks, buy the Barsmith. Everyone over 30 liked it. Everyone under 30 did not like it.
If you’re going on a flight and really need a margarita (which is no one, I hope), the Stirrings is good. In fact, it was the highest rated mix of the bunch. Maybe it’s due to its small size. Maybe you get what you pay for. At one serving, it’s far and away the most expensive of the mixes. But if you’re spending that much on a mix, you might as well purchase fresh limes and the orange liquer of your preference and make something good.
If you hate margaritas but want diabetes, buy one of the frozen margarita pouches. None of them are good and all of them exist to get kids drinking booze.
The biggest lesson we learned from this taste test is to not follow the serving suggestions. Similar to cooking wine, buy a liquor you actually enjoy and add it to your mix by taste, not suggested serving size. Some are too boozy, some hide the alcohol. If you want a good balance, you’ll want to mix by taste. If you do that and have ample ice, lime and salt, you’ll be able to make a decent margarita from readily available ingredients. Decent. Not good. You can not get a good margarita from a mix.
Photos by Nicholas Karlin and Clarissa Villondo