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Spirits: A low-cal margarita? Why wouldn't it be?

(Lynn Brownlie)

I came across a blog post yesterday entitled "Low-Cal Cocktails: Didn't We Used to Just Call Those Shots?" that at first irritated me, and then made me sad. It was in the Dallas Observer, written by Hanna Raskin, a food writer whose work I usually enjoy and admire.

This week, however, Raskin passed along the kind of truthy-but-inaccurate "common wisdom" about cocktails that makes me cringe. She wrote:

"Weighing in at more than 700 calories, the traditional tequila concoction's become a favorite bogeyman for women's magazines and nutritionists, who point out a margarita made from a mix is no healthier than a hefty slice of cherry chocolate cheesecake. They usually don't dare to suggest equivalents for two margaritas, which would account for about two-thirds of the suggested daily caloric intake for a 40-year-old woman."

Excuse me? What exactly is in this so-called bogeyman "traditional" margarita? My basic margarita recipe -- which has three ingredients -- clocks in at around 175 calories. As tweeted: "700? maybe if you use donuts instead of triple sec." The article goes on to talk about a restaurant chain pushing "skinny margaritas." People! People! Stop the madness!

Once and for all, here is what is in a traditional margarita: tequila; triple sec (preferably Cointreau); lime juice that you squeeze from an actual lime. You shake these three things together in an ice-filled shaker, and strain the liquid into a cocktail glass that may or may not be rimmed with salt (your choice). That, amigos, is a margarita. There is no simple syrup in a margarita. There is no agave syrup in a margarita. There is definitely no day-glo "margarita mix" in a real margarita.

Mind you, the three ingredients in a margarita can be tweaked in many different ways, according to taste. I prefer blanco tequila in my margarita. Others prefer reposado. I prefer Cointreau, others may prefer Grand Marnier or Combier. (I would always stick to a name brand when it comes to orange liqueur, because generic triple sec is too low proof.)

I prefer a ratio of 1 1/2 ounces of tequila to about 3/4 to 1 ounce each of Cointreau and lime juice (often depending on how tart the limes are). Others like different ratios. Some like their margaritas on the rocks, rather than straight up. Fine. Some specify key limes or Mexican limes or limes picked by virgins under the light of a full moon. Fine, fine, fine.

Now, I'm not suggesting you'll lose weight sipping a traditional margarita. I mean, you may burn a calorie or two if you actually squeeze your own limes, but no, I'm not advocating a Margarita Diet. Here's the truth: Portion control pertains to booze, too, just as it does with all the other food you stuff into your piehole. It may look cool for your bartender at the chain restaurant, the one with the flair and the suspenders, to free pour all the extra artificial ingredients and then serve it up in a fishbowl size glass. But that fishbowl full of stuff -- just like Big Macs and candy bars -- is going to make you fat.

Good cocktail-makers know that measuring is the best way to make consistent cocktails. A real margarita is going to have about 4-5 ounces of liquid. It's 175 calories. So relax. You'll still be able to have a few swipes from the guacamole bowl.

-- Jason Wilson

By Joe Yonan  |  July 9, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Spirits  | Tags: Jason Wilson, cocktails, spirits  
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henryjose, keep the canola oil in tractors! Obvious troll is obvious.

Jason, thanks for posting this. It's all too common for people to think that buying a food or drink "product" is the easy way to go. Not only is it terrible for you, but it tastes awful. The extra 30 seconds that it takes to make a drink from scratch can be used to pace the drinker...

Posted by: MzFitz | July 9, 2010 9:23 AM | Report abuse

Jason, I'm sorry to have made you sad. The point of my post was that classic cocktail saboteurs who rely on sugary mixes have helped make margaritas a scapegoat in the popular press, thereby inspiring this odd low-cal trend. You're absolutely right that there's nothing to fear in a glass of tequila, triple sec and fresh lime juice. (Although I'll probably stick to bourbon, neat.)

Posted by: HannaRaskin | July 9, 2010 12:21 PM | Report abuse

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