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This Is My Secret Ingredient For Perfect Margaritas

If you really think about it, agave syrup is a very natural choice for margaritas, as opposed to using simple syrup—or even orange liqueurs, which can muddle some 100-percent tequilas’ delicate flavor.

Tequila is the big daddy of agave distillates.

It is a gift from God. It doesn't matter whether you believe in a god or not, it just is. I'm a judge at the San Francisco Spirits Competition and have tasted a lot of crazy stuff, including sotol, bacanora, raicilla and Oaxacan mezcal, so I can attest to this fact.

My family's restaurant in San Francisco was the first restaurant to ever take tequila seriously, and all we did was stop pouring tequilas that were not 100-percent agave tequilas, knows as mixtos in the industry. And we were the first restaurant in the entire United States to stop pouring them, even if it cost us more money. Remember, this was back in the 1980s.

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If you really think about it, agave syrup is a very natural choice for margaritas.

This agave-obsessed state of mind is what led me to experiment with its non-alcoholic syrupy cousin: agave syrup. I added it to margaritas as soon as it became available in the American market in 1985, but little did I know that it would create a new gold standard in the world of tequila cocktails.

If you really think about it, agave syrup is a very natural choice for margaritas, as opposed to using simple syrup made from cane sugar—or even orange liqueurs, like some recipes call for, which can muddle some 100-percent tequilas' delicate flavor. Agave syrup allows the flavor of tequila to come through more, not to mention give it a more full-bodied texture when made into a drink.

MAKE: Tommy's Margarita

Back then, this full-bodied new texture in margaritas proved to be more than just my family's secret restaurant business advantage that kept our customers coming back for more. It also helped me transition my customers from expecting a blended slushy with way too much salt. Back then, 99 percent of margaritas were blended—until my restaurant came around and started making them on the rocks. I helped educate my customers with agave.

My relationship with tequila started illegally, like it also probably did with many of you. I took my first sip of it when I was 15 years old. I made my first Manhattan when I was 14—that was the game-changer in my life. I'm 51 right now and still learning.

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Working at my parent's iconic Mexican restaurant in San Francisco was my bartending school, and a certain few police officers who would come in early in the morning and sneakily order "special coffee" with a shot of tequila in it were my guinea pigs. Remember, that San Francisco was very different then.

The tequila scene has changed dramatically since the 1980s. It was before tequila got corporate and all of the celebrity-backed tequilas started coming out. The top-shelf brands were Hornitos and Herradura, and they were much more terroir-driven—a night-and-day flavor difference from their modern-day versions. The craziest thing back then, however, was that the tequila industry would tell consumers to drink mixtos instead of 100-percent agave tequilas, saying that the former ones were more approachable.

A perfect margarita really is just a tremendous act of balance, just like any other cocktail.

I'll never forget when Cuervo introduced their 1800 brand as a top-shelf in 1976, because despite its luxurious price and fancy spiel, it was still a mixto! I expected more from the market leader.

But I digress, back to margaritas.

A perfect margarita really is just a tremendous act of balance, just like any other cocktail. The main ingredient has to be a decent 100-percent agave tequila. If other bartender entrepreneurs are reading this, go ahead and spend a dollar more per drink. Remember to never undermine your customers because the loyalty that you will receive in return cannot be measured financially.

The other secret for an unforgettable margarita is the type of lime that you use, since they are like apples and their flavor varies depending on their varietal. I only use Persian limes because they are more sweet-tasting than acidic and they go amazingly with tequila.

Now, if you excuse me, I have some free T-shirts to give away at the restaurant for National Tequila Day.

As told to Javier Cabral