Whether it is Taco Tuesday at home or you’re out celebrating Cinco de Mayo with friends, Margaritas are usually popular among Americans. They’re sweet. They’re strong. They kick a punch after you’ve had a few, meeting the requirements of many drinkers.
But you might wonder how much alcohol is in a Margarita.
Most websites list Margarita’s ABV as 33.1% ABV. Still, they don’t mention the proportions of alcohol they used, whether a shaken or stirred cocktail. They also don’t factor in the dilution factor from the ice. So we used the NIH’s calculator and the International Bartender’s Association’s recipe and came up with the same number.
We’ll investigate the three ingredients in a classic Margarita: tequila, triple sec orange liqueur, and lime juice. We’ll also examine what each component brings to the recipe and how it determines the final taste. Finally, we’ve listed five Margarita variations compared to a classic Margarita to show how the ABV in each cocktail differs.
So, How Much Alcohol Is in a Margarita?
On average, the alcohol content in a Margarita ranges between 18% and 25% ABV. However, when using the NIH’s ABV calculator, we came up with a whopping 33.1% ABV in a Margarita.
In comparison, a super-sized Margarita can tip the scales heavily to the 55% ABV side. Ouch! Of course, a virgin Margarita will have 0% alcohol, but sometimes you need that alcohol kick…
Let’s look at the individual ingredients to determine what role each plays and how they influence how much alcohol would be in a Margarita.
Tequila is the magical ingredient that makes a Margarita what it is. Tequila production is governed by strict rules by the Norma Oficial Mexicana (NOM). According to NOM’s regulations, tequila may be bottled at an ABV between 35% and 55%.
However, according to US regulations, importers may only import tequila with a minimum ABV of 40%. This means your home-mixed Margarita can have a higher alcohol content than those we’re comparing at the end of the article because you’re using a higher-proof tequila.
We recommend looking at these tequilas for the ultimate Margarita experience — there’s a bottle for every budget and palate.
Orange liqueur, or Triple Sec, is the other magic alcoholic element in a Margarita. A sweet, clear, orange-flavored liqueur brings a citrus taste to the cocktail. Additionally, it offers notes of earthiness, spice, or even smokiness to a cocktail.
High-end options like Cointreau, Grand Marnier, and Solerno Blood Orange Liqueur pack 40% ABV in a bottle. In contrast, less expensive options have a far lower ABV. For example:
- DeKuyper Triple Sec — 24% ABV
- Bols Triple Sec — 21% ABV
- Curacao Triple Sec — 31% ABV
We highly recommend looking at this lineup for a complete guide on orange liqueurs.
Thankfully lime juice doesn’t contain alcohol and doesn’t contribute to the alcohol load in a Margarita! It also helps to give it zippy acidity balancing out the sweetness of the orange liqueur. Always go for freshly squeezed lime juice for the best tequila experience.
Comparing Margarita’s Alcohol Levels
For our comparison below, we have set the following parameters:
- Blanco Tequila at 40% ABV (80 proof) — any brand is acceptable
- Cointreau or Grand Mariner triple sec orange liqueur at 40% ABV
- The standard drink size is equal to 1.5 ounces, according to the NIAAA (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism)
We’ve gathered the information below from Difford’s Guide, which has broken down each recipe’s ingredients, alcohol content, and how many standard drinks each Margarita comprises.
|Name (Recipe linked)||Frozen Margarita||Italian Margarita||Napoléon Margarita||Picador||Cadillac Margarita||The Original Margarita|
|Tequila||1½ oz (45 ml)||1½ oz (45 ml)||1½ oz (45 ml)||1½ oz (45 ml)||1½ oz (45 ml)||1 oz (30 ml)|
|Orange Liqueur||¾ oz (22.5 ml)||⅓ oz (10 ml)||¾ oz (22.5 ml)||¾ oz (22.5 ml)||1 oz (30 ml)||1⅔ oz (50 ml)|
|Juice||¾ oz (22.5 ml)||⅚ oz (25 ml)||¾ oz (22.5 ml)||¾ oz (22.5 ml)||¾ oz (22.5 ml)||⅔ oz (20 ml)|
|Other Additions||½ oz rich sugar syrup||⅔ oz Disaronno Amaretto||¾ oz agave syrup 8 drops of Difford’s Margarita Bitters||None||¾ oz agave syrup 8 drops of Difford’s Margarita Bitters||None|
Remember, the ABV stated above is approximate but gives us a good indication of what we’re in for when we mix up cocktails at home.
However, calculating the ABV of your Margarita at the bar is a lot more complicated because you don’t know the exact proportions your bartender is using, and each bar has its unique recipe.
When you use the International Bartender Association (IBA) recipe, you have an ABV of around 30.8%. Their recipe reads as follows:
- 50 ml (1.7 / 1 ⅔ oz) Tequila 100% Agave
- 20 ml (0.68 / ⅔ oz) Triple Sec
- 15 ml (0.5 / ½ oz) Freshly Squeezed Lime Juice
You’ll add all ingredients into a shaker with ice. Shake it all together and strain it into a chilled cocktail glass.
According to the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) NIAAA calculator, a Margarita (based on the IBA’s recipe) contains 33.1% alcohol.
The key takeaway when using ABV calculators is to remember most cocktail recipes mainly list their recipes in milliliters, and converting those to ounces becomes rather treacherous because you end up with strange amounts like 0.68 ounces.
So practice caution when using these kinds of calculators. We found that NIAAA’s calculator is the easiest to use because you can enter decimal numbers (like 0.68). In addition, it lists the spirits (tequila, whiskey, gin, etc.) according to proof without confusing you with brand names.
Another factor to consider when using a calculator is that a drink is diluted when shaken or stirred with ice.
Some bartenders shake or stir their cocktails longer to ensure enough dilution or even to over-dilute a bit if the customer doesn’t want their cocktail to be too potent. Other bartenders might shake or stir their cocktails in a short time to minimize the amount of dilution.
Most websites list the classic Margarita’s ABV as 33% ABV. Still, they don’t mention the proportions of alcohol they used, whether a shaken or stirred cocktail.
They also don’t factor in the dilution factor from the ice. So, we used the NIH’s calculator and came up with the same number. So, a Margarita packs quite a punch!
Proceed with caution, we’d say, and enjoy responsibly.