Tasting Margarita Mixes for National Margarita Day, So You Won't Have To

If you're a margarita purist you'll undoubtedly mark today's holiday with freshly squeezed citrus and a bottle of your finest pure agave. While I'm firm devote of the au naturel camp, my editor has informed me that not everyone wants to spend their time sifting seeds out of their fruit juice and dealing with pulp. (Pulp!)

Yes, I get it. Some people just want to make a drink as quickly as possible. So I went out and bought six different margarita mixes to see how they stacked up against simple lemon juice. I tasted each of them alone without tequila so I could taste the flavors each brings to our most cherished cocktail.

I was surprised to find a few of them were actually tolerable.


First three ingredients: water, sugar, citric acid.

Most questionable ingredient: blue 1.

Suaza's mix is tinged a light green color that may or may not glow under a black light. It smells a little like bathroom cleaner mixed with Country Time lemonade and tastes simultaneously sweet and tart. It's not at all good.

Master of Mixes

First three ingredients: water, high fructose corn syrup, lime juice from concentrate.

Most questionable ingredient: ester gum.

The front of the label says it's made with premium lemon and lime juice and agave nectar but it has the same synthetic sweet and tart flavors that dominates ... well, Sweet Tarts. This one pretty much taste like crushed up Smarties. It's also the color of a highlighter I used in my econ books.

Williams Sonoma

First three ingredients: filtered water, organic agave syrup, sugar

Most questionable ingredient: ascorbic acid

I love truth in labeling and this one really does smell like Key lime pie. Actually it tastes a little like Key lime pie too. This mix is very sweet, but the citrus flavors are at the forefront. This is by far the best mix I tried. At $14.95 it's the most expensive, too.

Jose Cuervo

First three ingredients: water, high fructose corn syrup, citric acid

Most questionable ingredient: SAIB (sucrose acetoisobutyrate)

Jose Cuervo's mix has very little odor and is the color of watered down fresh lime juice, which is weird because there's none in it. Still it has a less aggressive flavor that is pretty agreeable. If you're looking for short cuts on the cheap, this is the way to go. Still, I'm a little intimidated by the idea of eating an acronym.

Mr & Mrs T

First three ingredients: water, high fructose corn syrup, citric acid

Most questionable: metabisulfite

We're back to the neon green color that looks more appropriate for a children's toy than a cocktail. The bathroom cleaner smell I'm not too fond of is present here as well. While the label claims a "made from scratch" taste I'm not able to find it. Instead it tastes like mindless calories. Which brings me to ...

Skinny Mixes

First three ingredients: filtered water, citric acid, sodium citrate

Most questionable ingredient: sucralose

I thought because the first three ingredients were sugar-free this one might have some attractive tartness to it, but apparently sucralose packs a saccharine punch. This stuff is cloying. And it tastes like Diet Coke smells.

Lemon juice

First three ingredients: sunshine, good soil and rain clouds

Most questionable ingredient: it's lemon juice.

After tasting so much sweetness, a sip of Myer lemon juice made the back of my mouth lock up in a horrific cramp. Yet even in this state of pain, tasting fresh citrus after multiple shots of sucralose was literally like swallowing sunbeams. The best part is an ounce of lemon juice has seven calories. That's just two more than the skinny stuff.

I like lemons over limes for their reliability. They always yield a ton of juice and the tartness is consistent. Every now and then you can end up with a lime that only offers a modest teaspoon of juice, and then you're stuck doing tequila shots (not that that's a bad thing.)

I know it's more work. I know that sometimes you just want a simple drink. But it doesn't get much more simple that squeezing a lemon. And it's more than worth the effort.

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