Chances are you're already planning on drinking a margarita or two on Cinco de Mayo. There's nothing wrong with that, but you have so many other choices. The holiday is a great excuse to experiment with other tequila cocktails, branch out into mezcal, or mix up whatever other summery drink you're in the mood for. From a made-from-scratch take on the Paloma and a mezcal drink made with pomegranate and harissa to the perfect michelada, keep reading for 20 of our favorite cocktails that are perfect for Cinco de Mayo.
If you are going to drink a margarita on Cinco de Mayo, skip the frozen kind made with sour mix and bottom-shelf booze and do it right with high-quality tequila, fresh lime juice, and triple sec—Cointreau provides a balanced sweetness without distracting from the tequila.
Quick and Easy Margarita Shandy
Are you throwing a party but you'd rather not take the time to make individual margaritas for your guests? This pitcher drink is easy to make in bulk—just combine tequila, beer, and frozen limeade. You obviously won't get the same pure citrus flavor as you would from fresh juice, but this refreshing cocktail is still a crowd-pleaser.
Fresh Watermelon Margarita
This margarita variation gets its fruity flavor and striking pink hue from watermelon juice, which you can make by blending up seedless watermelon and straining it to get rid of the pulp. Rather than triple sec we sweeten the drink with St. Germain elderflower liqueur, which has a delicate floral note that pairs well with the watermelon.
The Upgraded Paloma
A standard Paloma is made by spiking grapefruit soda with tequila and lime juice. It's already a great addition to a Cinco de Mayo spread, but if you want something a little more elevated, try this cocktail. We make it by replacing the soda with a grapefruit cordial made by macerating grapefruit peel in sugar and mixing it with grapefruit juice, lime juice, salt, and sugar. A dash of Campari adds even more complexity.
El Diablo con Limón (Tequila Punch With Cassis and Lemon)
We use a similar technique here, macerating lemons to make an intense syrup. We use the syrup in a party-friendly punch by mixing it with tequila, black tea, crème de cassis, and lots of chilled seltzer or soda water. The base of the cocktail will hold for 10 hours in the fridge, so feel to make it in the morning, set it aside, and add the seltzer when your guests arrive.
Peach and Tequila Frozen Blended Cocktail
This recipe pairs tequila with Suze, a French aperitif with a floral, citrusy flavor and just a hint of gentian-root bitterness. We mix the spirits with mint leaves and chunks of peaches and pineapple and blend until thick. Chilling the mixture overnight means that you can blend it with less ice, which means a stiffer cocktail.
I keep hibiscus-lime syrup in my fridge all summer long—it's easy to make with dried hibiscus, and you can mix it with soda water for an incredibly refreshing drink. Of course, adding a little alcohol doesn't hurt, so sometimes a little (or a lot of) blanco tequila will make it into my glass, too.
Classic Sangrita With Orange Juice, Pomegranate, and Chili
People all over the country will be taking tequila shots on Cinco de Mayo, but if I have a good bottle of blanco I'm going to sip it—preferably with a fruity sangrita. This version is made with with orange, lime, and pomegranate juice, but also check out our variations made with Clamato, grapefruit and honey, and pineapple and cucumber.
Frozen Mezcal Palomas
Frozen Mezcal Palomas
Our answer to the frozen margarita, this cocktail combines smoky mezcal, tart grapefruit and lime juices, and sweet honey. A pinch of kosher salt brings out the savory side of the mezcal. This cocktail scales up well for a party, but don't try to blend more than double of this recipe at once or else the drink with blend too slowly and dilute too much.
Paloma Point (Mezcal Negroni With Grapefruit)
This cocktail is a Paloma-Americano mashup, combining the agave and grapefruit from the former with the Campari and vermouth from the latter. We like to make the drink with Punt e Mes, a bitter vermouth fortified with quinine. A little club soda keeps the cocktail nice and summery.
Sierra Madre Sunrise
This recipe gives you a little bit of a choose-your-own-adventure experience—it starts with mezcal, Aperol, and lemon juice, and from there you have a choice of bitters. Angostura will give the drink a spicy, earthy edge, while chocolate bitters will play up the orange notes in the Aperol. Either way, finish with club soda and garnish with lemon peel.
El Derby Ahumado (Basil Julep With Cucumber, Jalapeño, and Mezcal)
This drink doesn't share a ton in common with a classic mint julep beyond the fresh herbs and crushed ice, but I don't think anyone will complain. We start by muddling cucumber, jalapeño, and basil with agave (start with the first two and add the basil just at the end so you don't overly bruise it), then brush the glass with the basil's aromatic oils, add mezcal and ice, and stir until the glass frosts.
Marrakesh Express (Pomegranate Mezcal Cocktail With Harissa)
The North African spice paste harissa isn't something you usually see behind a bar, but it adds a wonderfully savory edge to this complex cocktail made with mezcal, pomegranate juice, and a tiny splash of rosewater. We shake it with aquafaba (the liquid from a can of chickpeas), which thickens the drink much like an egg white would.
Domo Arigato (Mezcal and Ginger Cocktail)
This recipe turns to another savory ingredient you probably wouldn't expect to find in a cocktail: toasted sesame oil. Just two drops is enough to give an intriguing nuttiness to what is otherwise a straightforward drink made with mezcal, simple syrup, lime juice, and ginger juice. Be sure to use fresh ginger juice, which has a much better flavor than the bottled stuff.
Sassy Flower (Hibiscus-Rosemary Mezcal Cocktail)
Mezcal pairs as well with hibiscus as tequila does—for this cocktail we make a syrup out of hibiscus tea and rosemary sprigs and shake it with mezcal and lemon juice. Depending on where you live, hibiscus tea bags may be easier to find that loose, dried hibiscus.
The Best Frozen Strawberry Daiquiri
Maybe even more so that the margarita, the daiquiri has come to be associated with cloyingly sweet drinks made with terrible booze and artificially flavored sour mix. If you want to swing all the way to the other end of the spectrum you can check out the old-school daiquiri, but here we're reclaiming the frozen version by blending good aged rum with lime juice, turbinado simple syrup, and strawberries.
Who says frozen drinks have to be sweet? This sophisticated blender cocktail is refreshingly bitter. A traditional Negroni is made with a 1:1:1 ratio of gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth, but for this frozen version, we find that you need to dial back the Campari and vermouth or else the gin gets a little lost.
El Gallito (Pineapple-Chipotle Pitcher Cocktail)
We're not done with savory cocktails quite yet—this recipe gets its unusual flavor from cilantro, scallions, tomatoes, and adobo sauce. Sweet pineapple and agave nectar keep the drink balanced. Vodka will let all of the fruits and vegetables shine brightest, but for Cinco de Mayo you can't go wrong by using tequila instead.
The Perfect Michelada (Spicy Mexican Beer and Lime Cocktail), Your Way
If you are planning on celebrating Cinco de Mayo all day long then it might be a good idea to pace yourself with beer instead of liquor. There's no better way to do that than with a michelada, which takes a cold light beer and spikes it with lime juice, hot sauce, and Worcestershire sauce. You can serve the drink in a glass with a salt rim, but it's even better with the classic chili-salt blend Tajín.
Fresh and Tart Chelada (Mexican Lime and Beer Cocktail)
Cut out the hot sauce and Worcestershire from a michelada and you're left with a chelada, a simpler—but just as refreshing—drink. We like our cheladas with a serious acidic kick, which means using two ounces of lime juice for a 12-ounce beer.