Margarita Recipe and The Magic Formula – Bitters

by on February 12, 2012

Call me suckered, hoodwinked, or duped. I believe in magic potions. A man hawking small bottles of potion, proclaiming outlandish results. Out of curiosity, I skeptically try the potion.

A few shakes in a cocktail drink. A cocktail I am very familiar with, but with a mere few dashes of this elixir it became something new. Better. Incredibly delicious.

Cocktail Bitters have been known to many much more savvy than I, but for me it is an exciting new world. A mystical potion which marries the ingredients of a cocktail together. Just about anytime I find a bar making exceptional cocktails drinks, it is almost a guarantee that they have a beautiful stock of bitters frequently reached for behind the bar. Often times, there are bitters they are making themselves amongst the bottles.

My dawdling discovery of bitters magic powers recently came to fruition in the pages of a book. Not for the lack of signs trying to tell me the same thing. A reader commented about my use of triple sec in a margarita recipe, disapproving of it’s unctuous sweetness and mentioned it would be much better with some simple syrup and bitters instead. Diane comes home from photographing Bazaar, a hot restaurant in LA known for their exceptional cocktails recipes (among other things), and she is all aflutter talking about their house made bitters.

Time after time, bitters have been under my nose, and yet I’ve passed right over their magic. We’ve even had several bottles of bitters in amongst our golden elixirs of alcohol, but they were almost never used. But all of these subtle and not so subtle hints have taking me along my current path. Ripening me for the moment I laid hands on the book Bitters by Brad Thomas Parsons.

Diane and I were meeting with the publishers of Ten Speed Press to discuss a project we were working on with them, and I spied the Bitters book on their shelf. They must have seen the twinkle in my eye, because the lovely ladies at Ten Speed handed us the book to take home as we concluded our meeting.

As much as I love cocktails, it is rare I get excited about a new book. I have my trusted resource on classic cocktails. Occasionally we’ll come across a beautiful book put out by an upstanding bar, and the drinks will be delicious and creative, yet I rarely make anything out of them. But this book has me excited. Beyond being a great read and resource, it is changing how I make cocktails.

Bitters BookWe are in the process of making our own bitters, with the help of Parsons’ book, but there are already a great handful of exceptional bitters on the market. The process of bitters is month long, so until ours are ready, we’ve had fun playing with our purchased potions. Stomach a little uneasy? Some soda water a a few dashes of bitters may be the trick to settling your tummy.

Bitters for a cocktail is like the pepper and salt to a dish. Or the fish sauce to Vietnamese cuisine. By themselves it is a bit overpowering, but when added with the other ingredients they season it perfectly. Make two classic cocktails, one with bitters and one without and see which you like better. I can almost guarantee it will be the one with the bitters. For us, any cocktail I usually used triple sec in, I’ve now replaced that with a bit of simple syrup and a few dashes of orange bitters. Sidecars have never been so good.

Like most everything good in cocktails recipes there is always folklore and mystery involved and bitters are no exception. It is part of the beauty. One legend which I’ve yet to try but is fun to share, is the no-fail cure to hiccups. Soak a sugar coated lemon wedge with Angostura bitters and take a bite. Hiccups will be gone.

Since our limes are going ape nuts right now, here’s a margarita drink recipe sans the triple sec and with bitters and simple syrup balancing the lime and tequila.


More cocktail recipes
Blood Orange Margarita Cocktail Recipe
Meyer Lemon Margarita Cocktail Recipe

Margarita Recipe - restored to being a pre-triple sec classic

Yield: 1

Cook Time: 2 min.

Note how the cocktail smells before you shake it. Soon you'll recognize the scent of a well made margarita and will be able to make up a batch of them sole by scent. 


  • 1 1/2 oz  Resposada or Anejo Tequila
  • 1 1/2 oz fresh Lime Juice
  • 1 oz Simple Syrup
  • 3 dashes Orange Bitters
  • kosher salt or sea salt for the rim


  1. Rub the rim of an old fashioned glass (or whatever glass you prefer) with an edge of a lime slice.  Swirl the rim through a small pile of kosher or sea salt to salt the rim. Add one or two large cubes into the glass.
  2. Combine tequila, lime juice, simple syrup, and bitters in an ice filled shaker.
  3. Shake vigorously for 15 seconds, then strain into the salted glass. Serve or drink immediately and with leisure.

*a basic simple syrup is simply a 1:1 ratio of sugar and water. One cup sugar dissolved in one cup of water. This can always be modified for preferred taste and experimentation, but this is a good starting point.

Recipe Source:

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Recipe Note for Salt: All recipes containing salt are based on kosher or sea salt amounts, not table salt. If using table salt, reduce the amount used to taste.

{ 47 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Salt in Suburbia February 12, 2012 at 6:30 pm

One look at those limes tells you they are not store-boughten. Lucky you! Nothing green up here in the frozen northland. Interesting topic, even though I don’t claim cocktail mixing as one of my skills. Always enjoy your photos.


2 Phoo-d February 12, 2012 at 6:38 pm

The slice of lime floating in the glass in your opening shot? As soon as I saw it I thought, “That is the most gorgeous lime I’ve ever seen”. Seriously jaw dropping limes there. The light, the detail of the plump flesh, I am in awe.

Love the idea of using bitters in a margarita! I made an old fashioned with blood oranges and blood orange bitters last week that was fantastic. Bitters can really amp up a drink. A margarita is next!


3 Michelle February 12, 2012 at 6:38 pm

This is so intriguing to me, I would love to get m hands on this book. Until then I will give the few different bitters in my cabinet a bit more attention.


4 Averie @ Love Veggies and Yoga February 12, 2012 at 8:38 pm

I love Anejo tequilla…soooo smooth. A little too smooth, actually :)

The recipe sounds so good that I wish I had one in front of me right now. Instead, I have oodles of images to edit and need clear vision.

Those limes…


5 Chef Connie February 13, 2012 at 7:36 am

This post makes me want to start drinking on Monday morning…


6 alison @ Ingredients, Inc. February 13, 2012 at 7:37 am

BEYOND fabulous!


7 Christyna February 13, 2012 at 8:27 am

You guys are always so inspiring. As always, I love the way that your photos tell a story and provide a specific feel. Todd, how do you guys get your photos to stay side-by-side in your blog, e.g., like the second set of photos in this post? I’m always trying to do a tandem photo in wordpress, but then they never stay put and move around the page once I publish. Any advice?


8 White on Rice Couple February 13, 2012 at 10:09 am

Hi Chrisyna,
Thank you so much! In regards to your question, we put them side by side before we upload them to our blog. In technical terms, the side by sides are called diptychs for two side-by-sides. Depending on your editing software there are quite a few ways to do this. I created an action in photoshop to make it easy for Diane to do it, although I just found this tutorial on creating them in Lightroom that is even better, IMO.
To make individual images play nicer together in wordpress, after inserting I will click on the Edit Image button, then remove the CSS class so it is blank, then give it a little horizontal and vertical space, maybe 5px.
Hope that helps.



9 Christyna February 14, 2012 at 1:09 pm

Very helpful! Thanks so much, as always, for your helpful responses to my questions :) You guys are super awesome.


10 Laura Emory via Facebook February 13, 2012 at 9:03 am

i never thought of adding bitters to a margarita. that’s a great idea


11 White On Rice Couple via Facebook February 13, 2012 at 9:05 am

Laura Emory the bitters really enhances the flavor of the margarita!


12 Karen February 13, 2012 at 9:56 am

What variety of lime are you growing – and using in the wonderful photo?


13 White on Rice Couple February 13, 2012 at 10:10 am

We have a few varieties growing, but this one is the Bearrs Lime. Most of our Mexican limes have ripened to yellow (perfect for flavor, but not for pictures) so they didn’t get showcased this time. Thanks for the kind compliment.


14 ann February 13, 2012 at 10:01 am

YUMMY! I will have to try this. Living in LA, Margaritas are a staple here outside of wine at outdoor parties. Every fourth of July I do a maragrita bar where I keep a bowl of sliced limes, a lime squeezer (don’t know what they are called), white tequila, and a bottle of triple sec and kosher salt in a bowl. I alway people to make their own by squeezing the limes in the shaker, adding triple sec and the tequila – I keep the recipe handy (we call them our skinny girl margaritas less calories) and then shake shake shake. Looks like I’m going to have to add bitters to the mix. Thanks for the yummy recipe. Can’t wait to try.


15 White on Rice Couple February 16, 2012 at 2:13 pm

We call ‘em lime squeezers too! ;)


16 Donna A. February 13, 2012 at 11:56 am

I’m a sucker for any kind of blind taste test, so I’m on this like white on rice! Sold!


17 Katrina @ Warm Vanilla Sugar February 13, 2012 at 2:39 pm

Mmm lovely!


18 shawnda February 13, 2012 at 8:03 pm

I’m totally intrigued by the orange bitters. I use an orange liqueur made here in Texas that I think makes an awesome ‘rita. I’ll have to see if I can find bitters, though!


19 Deanna February 13, 2012 at 10:44 pm

I love rhubarb bitters with club soda. I guess I will have to go buy the book so I can make my own bitters…I’ve always wanted to but never found a recipe that sounded exactly right.


20 White on Rice Couple February 14, 2012 at 9:01 am

He has a recipe for rhubarb bitters in the book! I keep watching our rhubarb slowly emerge its leaves, waiting for it to grow so I can make the bitters. Rhubarb bitters sound so good. Do you add a touch of simple syrup or just straight up? I have a batch of root beer bitters almost done which I’m also excited to try.


21 Deanna February 14, 2012 at 11:16 am

I usually drink it straight up, but I like bitter do it’s definitely not for everyone. I had no idea rhubarb grew in SoCal. I’ve never seen it at a farmers market so I assumed it wasn’t cold enough here. Now I’ll have to add it to the garden.


22 White on Rice Couple February 14, 2012 at 4:39 pm

It doesn’t grow as well as colder areas, but it will grow here in SoCal. Ours took several years before it would grow any decent sized stalks. Definitely not the weed type growth we had where I grew up at in Oregon.
Thanks for the feedback on the rhubarb bitters!



23 Victoria February 14, 2012 at 6:07 am

I used to make a rather involved recipe for margaritas that I got from Cook’s Illustrated, and then one VERY hot day in NYC while working on my computer when my air conditioner was on the blink, I came across a new recipe on a now, unfortunately, defunct blog. It happened to be after 5:00 p.m., so I ran into the kitchen and made the new, very simple recipe and thought “eureka.” I’ve found it. The perfect margarita. And I’ve been making it ever since.

I know there’s a lot of discord about the orange flavoring in margaritas. Some people use Grand Marnier – to me ugh. Some people use Cointreau – to me also ugh. And Patron makes an orange-flavrored liqueur that I’ve heard works well, but I’ve never tried it. I use Triple Sec, and it must be Bols. If it’s good enough for Jimmy Buffett, it’s good enough for me, but, obviously, to some people, that is ugh and very declasse. I use Hornitos Reposado Tequila for my margaritas. It’s the best I’ve found so far, and it is very consistently good.

I have lovely orange bitters in my cupboard so I’m going to make your recipe this weekend. I make your Kentucky Sidecar Cocktail with tangerine juice (yum) on a regular basis, so I have no doubt I will soon be adopting your new margarita adaptation as my very own.

Thanks, guys. Be well, be happy, and keep cooking! You’re the best.


24 Ashley February 14, 2012 at 6:34 am

Yum! It’s 9:30am, and my mind is on “Margarita”!


25 Jennie February 15, 2012 at 5:38 pm

Much as I love margaritas, I’m more jealous of those limes in the photo. Damn they are gorgeous!


26 Susan @ SwoonMySpoon February 15, 2012 at 7:50 pm

Love the idea of using bitters rather than an orange-flavored liquor. I’m crazy in-love with bitters, after recently discovering them in a cocktails class. Can’t wait to put my orange bitters to use in your version of a margarita.


27 Anna @ the shady pine February 16, 2012 at 3:06 am

oh deary me but this cocktail looks like the picture of perfection to me….and look at those marvellous limes!


28 Amanda February 16, 2012 at 8:02 am

Ok, so, so excited about the bitters. I’ve felt the same way about triple sec etc since I’ve been trying to reproduce an Indian-style margarita. It all just seems too sweet and uncontrollable. I discovered Angostura Bitters when testing Trinidad Black Cakes a few years back, but have yet to add them to any cocktail repertoire. This makes my day. I suppose that’s a little odd. Bitters, making my day. Thanks anyway.


29 Brandon @ Kitchen Konfidence February 16, 2012 at 2:09 pm

Love this! Never thought to use bitters in a margarita, but it makes sense.


30 Lauren @ Around the World Food February 16, 2012 at 4:17 pm

Yum! Margaritas remind me of summer. I can’t wait.


31 Rodney Washington February 17, 2012 at 4:19 pm

I consider myself a Margarita connoisseur so the idea of using orange bitters took me back a little, I’ll definitely have to try that. Typically I top mine off with a splash of Grand Marnier. One things for certain, you’ve photographed this drink so beautifully that I may have to make this happen tonight instead this weekend:-)

Thanks guys for the awesome work you do, very inspiring!


32 Li Theng February 17, 2012 at 9:24 pm

I am in love with your pictures


33 Jenn Sutherland February 19, 2012 at 2:02 pm

I’m sitting here drinking a lime-grapefruit margarita with orange bitters, and it is AMAZING! Thanks for revolutionizing my cocktails, and I can’t wait to read the book, so I can expand my repetoire!


34 White on Rice Couple February 19, 2012 at 4:31 pm

That was my reaction too! So glad I could pass on the revolution!


35 Donna A. February 20, 2012 at 11:14 am

Here’s my follow-up. I did the blind taste test and I’m a convert! Delicious, thanks!

p.s. Some ‘dieters’ are drinking their tequila with zero-calorie fresca. That’s my next try…with a few dashes of bitters of course.


36 Kelly February 24, 2012 at 10:16 am

Wow, great post! I will be trying bitter in my margaritas this weekend. And the lime, how funny- I was just thinking the same thing as above comments, they are beautiful. I have never seen such a perfect lime slice.


37 TMF February 24, 2012 at 12:21 pm

In my quest for the perfect margarita, I’ve a tradition of adopting a new and different recipe each year on National Margarita Day for use throughout the summer. The tradition is now over! DAMNATION THIS IS GOOD! :)


38 Kelly March 5, 2012 at 9:38 am

Wow, what a great recipe. Made these this weekend and was really surprised how simple but delicious they were. This will be my new go-to recipe.



39 Andrea (questfordelish) March 6, 2012 at 8:08 am

Sounds like a perfect combination. I am going to try this next time.


40 Professional Drinker April 20, 2012 at 12:13 pm

Making slight changes to recipes are always sneaky ways to find great drink ideas. I’m going to experiment with this one myself and possibly feature it on my Drink Blog. Check it out if you ever have the chance.


41 meatballs & milkshakes April 23, 2012 at 1:53 pm

Yum! I could use a margarita right now….


42 Tiffany May 4, 2012 at 9:38 am

I simply love the purity of this margarita – best recipe out there for sure!

Hope you don’t mind, I featured it for My Cinco de Mayo Margarita Round up…it was too good not to!


43 White on Rice Couple May 4, 2012 at 2:30 pm

That’s awesome. Thanks so much!


44 Melissa Bihl May 25, 2012 at 4:40 pm

While I’ve enjoyed several margaritas in my lifetime, I am a virgin to cocktail creation. I got pleasantly schooled at a recent visit to our local liquor store. Two ladies saw my ingredients and gushed with margarita recommendations, lol. I didn’t really even know which tequila to try. I know. It’s shameful to admit ; ) I’m curious what people’s faves are. One woman recommended Hornitos so alas, that’s what I tried. I gotta say, d’lish! It’s very refreshing on a hot day such as this one. Thanks for the recipe. Cheers!


45 White on Rice Couple May 25, 2012 at 6:23 pm

Hi Melissa,
There are so many choices for tequila, and you can’t go wrong with hardly any of them. All the more reason to keep trying more and more margaritas and other delicious cocktails to find the one that is your favorite. Generally we’ll stick with and anejo (aged) or sometimes a reposed (rested – aged less) tequila, but that isn’t a set in stone rule. Hornitos is nice, same with Suaza. If we find it at a good price point we’ll grab Cazadores, Herradura, or El Jimador. Just thinking about this makes us want to go out and try a few more tequilas. We try to keep the price point below $25 for a cocktail tequila, otherwise it seems like a waste. Save the good stuff for sipping.
Shake it like you mean it!
One of the few rules of cocktails – make it COLD and use fresh juices. Welcome to the land of shaker faces! -Search that on Vimeo ;)
T & D


46 Amy November 22, 2014 at 7:38 am

Can I ask, what is your “trusted resource on classic cocktails”? I know I’m late to the party here but always looking for a tried and true recipe book.


47 White on Rice Couple November 22, 2014 at 10:04 am

Hi Amy,
I like the Ultimate Bar Book. But there are a lot of great other cocktail books out there too. Usually I’ll look for ones which are using bitters, fresh juices, never resort to mixes. That sort of thing.


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