‘If life gives you limes, make margaritas,” I sang, channeling my best Jimmy Buffett.
“If life gives you hordes of guests, buy margarita mixes,” responded my man Patrick.
We were in the midst of planning a summer blowout. Patrick usually makes his margaritas from fresh-squeezed limes off our tree in the backyard. But the tree is too small and time too precious to make enough margaritas for the numbers we’re expecting.
“I could use the limeade-concentrate technique my sister recommended,” explained Patrick, “but it tends to get overly sweet. Sometimes I squeeze fresh lime in to counteract the sweetness, but the margarita ends up being too limey and too sweet. I’d like to see if there’s a better option out there for mass margarita production.”
Got to keep my main squeeze happy. So I shopped for straight mixes. Upon my return, I lined up the bottles on our island, a row of neon green and yellow, with one orangey bottle and two cloudy white.
“Yellow #5, blue #1,” Patrick read from the Master of Mixes Margarita Mix ($6.99 for 1.75 liters at Albertsons).
“They mix the yellow and blue to make this bright green,” I said.
“It’s the color always used for radioactive waste in the movies,” Pat replied.
“It smells artificial, like cheap lemonade mix or a lemon popsicle,” noticed Patrick. “It says 10 percent fruit juice and made with agave syrup, but I can’t really taste it. If a perfect 10 is my own stovetop brew with fresh-squeezed backyard limes, then this rates a 4.”
The next bottle in the lineup: Don Viejo Classic Lime Margarita Mix ($4.99 for 1.75 liters at Alberstons).
“The silly Spanish on the label doesn’t give me hope,” laughed my man. “This translates to Sir Old Man.”
“Nor does the 0 percent fruit juice,” I added. “This smells like cleaning product and it tastes like Gatorade, but worse.”
“Has anyone ever seen lime juice? It doesn’t look like this,” grumbled Patrick. “These are either neon green or neon yellow, neither of which is the color of lime juice. I rate this a 3.”
“Dr. Swami & Bone Daddy look like Parrotheads,” said my man, inspecting the next bottle label of Dr. Swami & Bone Daddy’s Top Shelf Margarita Mix ($7.99 for 1.75 liters at BevMo).
“This has the yellow #5 but not the blue #1, so that’s why it’s yellow instead of green,” laughed Patrick. “You taste a lot of grapefruit with the lime...and some kind of herby taste. It must be the yucca extract. The tartness would go nicely with tequila. It has 12 percent juice. Let’s give it a 6.”
Sauza Original Non-Alcoholic Margarita Mix ($7.99 for 1.75 liters at BevMo) also suffered from a cleaning-product aroma.
The next bottle, Trader Joe’s Margarita Mixer, was a cloudy pale yellow, much like fresh lime juice ($1.99 for 32 ounces).
“No yellow #5 or blue #1,” Patrick announced. “It’s made from real juice, very strong. Tastes like fresh limeade, though, a little more concentrated. I’d give this an 8.”
“The Margarita Cocktail was created in 1938 in honor of a beautiful Mexican showgirl named Rita de la Rosa. A bartender improvised a cocktail to capture her heart with Cuervo and the flavor of Mexican limones,” I read off the bottle of Jose Cuervo Original Margarita Mix ($7.49 for 1.75 liters at BevMo).
“Nice story. Think it’s true?” I asked my man.
“Maybe, maybe not. This smells and tastes like bad lime-flavored candy — it’s a 3.”
Baja Bob’s Original Sugar Free Margarita Mix ($6.99 for 1.75 liters at BevMo) rated the worst of the testing.
“Zero carbs, zero calories, 0 percent fruit juice, super-nasty aftertaste — it tastes so damn fake,” complained Patrick. “This is a 0.5. It doesn’t even make a 1 rating.”
“This last one came from Whole Foods,” I continued. “The salesman said they used to carry margarita mix but it didn’t sell. But he suggested Simply Limeade. He said he hears a lot of customers are making margaritas with it [$3.49 for 1.75 liters].”
“All natural, 12 percent lime juice, a good start,” read Patrick. “Hmm, for a light, breezy margarita on the rocks, this would be perfect. This tastes the closest to what my homemade margarita mix tastes like. I’ll give it a slight edge over the Trader Joe’s mix.”