The Margarita and the Daiquiri, two beloved classics forever inscribed in the hearts of cocktail lovers, continue to inspire with their fresh and simple, yet easily adaptable recipes. Often combined with unique and seasonal twists, these essential drinks have become staples on bar and restaurant menus around the world.
According to a 2020 poll conducted by trade publication Drinks International, the Daiquiri was the third-best-selling cocktail in the world. The Margarita wasn’t far behind, ranking fifth. Despite the Daiquiri’s slight edge worldwide, data from Nielsen shows that Americans’ love for Margaritas knows no bounds, as they consistently choose the import over any other cocktail. Keep reading to learn more about how these truly iconic cocktails stack up.
While the true origin of the Margarita remains a mystery, one of the most popular accounts points to restaurateur Carlos “Danny” Herrera, owner of the Tijuana-based Rancho La Gloria. In 1938, Herrera purportedly concocted the beverage for the actress Marjorie King, who was allergic to every other liquor save tequila. Yet another story points to Texas socialite Margarita Sames, who claimed that she invented the drink while vacationing in Acapulco in 1948.
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Still other researchers, including the cocktail historian and author David Wondrich, offer a simpler answer, that the Margarita is really just a variation of the Daisy — a brandy-based tipple first made popular in the 19th century — but made with tequila. Perhaps tellingly, the word “margarita” means daisy in Spanish.
The Daiquiri’s genesis is far less murky, with many cocktail experts attributing the recipe to Jennings Stockton Cox, an American mining engineer, as its original creator. In 1898, while on assignment in Santiago de Cuba, Cox mixed his ration of the famed local rum Bacardi with lime and sugar cane, naming his concoction after a nearby locale known as Daiquirí Beach.
A classic Margarita includes blanco tequila, lime juice, and orange liqueur, although some aficionados insist that Cointreau, made with bitter orange peels, is the superior choice. The drink is typically served on the rocks, often with a salted rim.
As VinePair explains, since tequila is the base of a Margarita, choosing a good bottle is really the most important decision you can make (besides how many you’re going to make, of course). Tequila selection has an enormous impact on the final product, determining whether the resulting Margarita displays robust notes of earth and spice, or offers a nuanced vegetal profile.
The Daiquiri, another three-ingredient drink, calls for white rum, lime juice, and simple syrup to be shaken with ice and served neat in a coupe. Shannon Mustipher, the author of “Tiki: Modern Tropical Cocktails,” writes for VinePair that “the Daiquiri is the best introduction to the rum category.” When made properly, she says, the classic can be “a thing of beauty” that is “bright, crisp, and refreshing.”
Both cocktails offer highly customizable templates that allow for experimentation. The Tommy’s Margarita, a beloved riff on the original first popularized in the 1990s by San Francisco bartender Julio Bermejo, calls for agave nectar in place of the orange liqueur, adding a welcome smooth texture.
Perhaps the most well known twist of the Daiquiri, the El Floridita gained traction in the 1930s as Ernest Hemingway’s go-to drink while frequenting the Cuban bar of the same name. Replacing simple syrup with Maraschino liqueur, it offers a surprisingly distinctive flavor profile.
As both drinks are summertime favorites, their frozen variants are offered in bars around the world. Despite being largely reviled by old-school cocktail fans, many modern mixologists are experimenting with sophisticated frozen libations using premium products and careful temperature control. These frozen Daiquiris and Margaritas are a far cry from the sugary spectacles offered in dive bars and resorts worldwide.
What the Pros Think
When it comes to choosing between the two, Peter Valentini, a lead bartender at The Standard, East Village in New York, says the Daiquiri is his all-time favorite cocktail and the foundation for an entire collection of drinks. “I love rum and the Daiquiri is the quintessential rum cocktail,” he says. “Most rum-based ‘tiki’ drinks are Daiquiri variations.”
Though second on Valentini’s list, he adds that the Margarita is “a quintessential summertime cocktail, [with] endless variations and flexibility in regards to ingredients from pomegranate to jalapeño, and garnishes from sugared rims to Tajín [that] make it an essential part of any bar offering.”
But for Erick Arce Marin, the mixologist at Tabacón Thermal Resort & Spa in Costa Rica, the Margarita is the more interesting of the two cocktails. “In my opinion, it is more complex in its flavors. … I personally like Margaritas served on the rocks with the right portions and a salt crust that enhances the flavors [and] makes it a more elegant and sensory cocktail.” His go-to recipe, and a guest favorite, combines cucumber-infused tequila and celery-infused mezcal with Ancho Reyes, a liqueur that Marin says adds a delicate spice.