Always Sunny Margaritas

T Updated

Our favorite cocktail winterizes famously, with guavas, grapefruits, blood oranges -- even a little spicy heat.

By Jenn Garbee, Special to The Times
January 17, 2007

SADDLE up and make your way to any self-respecting watering hole these days and a classic margarita — fresh lime juice, pure agave tequila and orange liqueur — is only a few shakes away. But there's something about sipping this sweet-tart icon of summer on a chilly winter afternoon that's a bit unsettling, like slurping eggnog on the Fourth of July.

All hail the winter margarita, a new family of cocktails that capitalizes on the many tequila-friendly fruits of the season such as grapefruit, blood oranges, guavas, even pomegranates.

"Winter margaritas should be warmer, with more complex layers of flavor than their summer counterparts," says Tim Staehling, lead bartender at the Hungry Cat. "Slightly bitter citrus fruits like grapefruit work well, but so do sweeter winter fruits, like persimmons, as long as you balance them so they're not too tart or sweet."

Finding that sour-sweet equilibrium requires a bit of tinkering. Even with the classic margarita combination, getting it right can be tricky. The key is to add sufficient tanginess to counter the sharpness of the tequila and to keep the sweetness, usually from a liqueur, subtle.

At Border Grill, classic margaritas get a splash of lemon juice to temper the acidity of stateside limes and open up their flavor.

"Mexican limes tend to be less astringent, a little sweeter, than the limes we find here, so we add lemon juice to approximate their flavor," says Mary Sue Milliken, co-owner of Border Grill in Santa Monica and Las Vegas. "It really brightens up the lime juice and gets the sweet-sour thing going that's key to a good margarita."

The zesty lemon-lime combo also perks up softer, sweeter winter citrus fruits, such as the just-in blood oranges featured in Border Grill's blood orange and jalapeño margarita.

To make a similar version at home, infuse tequila with blood oranges and jalapeño for four to six hours; remove chile, then allow the blood oranges to infuse overnight. (The restaurant infuses theirs for more than a week, but the heat steeps into the tequila more quickly when making a smaller batch.)

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