Chances are you're already planning on drinking a margarita or two on Cinco de Mayo. There's nothing wrong with that (and we have several versions to choose from, including a classic on-the-rocks and a couple of frozen margaritas), 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 beachy, summery, festive drink you're in the mood for. (If you're more interested in sipping your mezcal than mixing it into a cocktail, check out our introduction to mezcal for some recommended bottles.)
Keep reading for 22 of our favorite cocktails that are perfect for Cinco de Mayo, including a made-from-scratch take on the paloma, an earthy/tangy/lightly savory mezcal drink made with pomegranate and harissa, and the most refreshing michelada.
If you're going to be drinking margaritas on Cinco de Mayo, skip the 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. If a lower-quality tequila is all you have, we recommend increasing the amount of lime juice just slightly, cutting back a bit on the Cointreau, and adding a quarter ounce of simple syrup to each drink.
The Best Frozen Lime Margaritas
A margarita on the rocks may be more restrained and grown-up, but there's no denying that a pitcher of frozen margaritas screams good times. To achieve a truly brain-freezing effect, though, you can't just dump room-temperature ingredients in a blender with ice—you'll get much better results if you make the base a day ahead of time and stash it in the freezer. The mix won't freeze, thanks to its alcohol content, but it will get ice-cold, producing a drink that's as refreshing as it is boozy and festive.
Quick and Easy Margarita Shandy
Need a much simpler batched margarita variation to serve a bunch of thirsty guests? This easygoing pitcher drink is a breeze to make in bulk—just combine tequila, lager or pilsner beer, and frozen limeade; chill; and pour over ice. You obviously won't get the same pure citrus flavor as you would from fresh juice, but it's hard to beat this drink for its straightforwardness and its crowd-pleasing abilities.
Fresh Watermelon Margaritas
This pretty margarita variation gets its fruity flavor and striking pink hue from fresh watermelon juice, made by blending up seedless watermelon and straining it to remove the pulp. Instead of triple sec, we sweeten this drink with St-Germain elderflower liqueur, lending a delicate floral note that pairs well with the watermelon.
The Upgraded Paloma
A standard paloma, made by spiking grapefruit soda with tequila and lime juice, is a perfectly lovely drink for Cinco de Mayo, but this is the cocktail to try if you're looking for something a little more sophisticated. We replace the soda with a homemade grapefruit cordial, made by macerating the bittersweet grapefruit peels in sugar and mixing that with grapefruit juice, lime juice, salt, and sugar. After letting the cordial steep for about 24 hours, we combine it with blanco tequila and a dash of Campari, for an additional bitter edge.
El Diablo con Limón (Tequila Punch With Cassis and Lemon)
This recipe uses a similar technique to the one described for our upgraded paloma, macerating lemons with sugar to make an intense syrup. That syrup adds sweetness and tartness to a party-sized punch of tequila, black tea, crème de cassis, and plenty of chilled seltzer or soda water. The base of the cocktail will hold for up to 10 hours in the fridge, so feel free to make it in the morning; when your guests arrive, just add the seltzer and pour the drink into ice-filled glasses.
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. Mix the spirits with fresh mint leaves and chunks of sweet peaches and pineapple—this is a great use for peaches that you've let get a little too ripe—then blend until thickened. Chilling the mixture overnight allows you to blend it with less ice, which translates to a stiffer cocktail.
All summer long, I keep on hand a batch of the hibiscus-lime syrup called for in this recipe—it's easy to make using dried hibiscus, and you can mix the syrup with soda water for an incredibly refreshing afternoon drink. Of course, adding a little alcohol doesn't hurt. This pitcher-sized recipe combines the syrup with blanco tequila and tonic water, making the ideal cocktail to share with friends on a spring evening on the back deck.
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 my tequila instead—preferably alongside a fruity sangrita, a classic accompaniment for the spirit. This version is made with orange, lime, and pomegranate juices, plus a pinch of chili powder for a tiny bit of heat. For more options, try our savory Clamato-and-jalapeño sangrita, grapefruit-and-honey sangrita, or pineapple-and-cucumber sangrita.
Three-Piece Suit (Tequila and Sherry Big-Batch Cocktail)
This large-format cocktail stars a barrel-aged tequila that highlights soft vanilla aromatics and the grassy flavor of agave. Oloroso sherry adds nutty caramel notes, while a little simple syrup rounds it all out and brings the drink into focus. Adding a little water to the batched cocktail provides the dilution that would normally come from ice in an individual stirred drink, meaning you can simply pour the drink into serving glasses as soon as it's chilled.
Frozen Mezcal Palomas
A fantastic and unusual alternative to a 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 a double batch at one time; the drink will blend too slowly and dilute too much that way.
Paloma Point (Mezcal Negroni With Grapefruit)
This cocktail is a paloma-Americano mash-up, 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 bubbly club soda keeps the cocktail light 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, but gives you your choice of bitters for two different possible flavor profiles. The classic Angostura will give the drink a spicy, earthy edge, while chocolate bitters play up the orange notes in the Aperol. Either way, finish it with club soda and garnish with a lemon peel.
El Derby Ahumado (Basil Julep With Cucumber, Jalapeño, and Mezcal)
Looking for a drink that can work for both Cinco de Mayo and Derby Day? This one doesn't share a ton of DNA with a classic mint julep beyond the fresh herbs and crushed ice, but it's so pleasantly drinkable that no one will complain. We start by muddling cucumber, jalapeño, and basil with agave syrup—start with the first two, then add the basil right 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. The result is a combination of herbaceousness, vegetal flavors, and peppery heat that's pure refreshment.
Marrakesh Express (Pomegranate Mezcal Cocktail With Harissa)
The North African spice paste harissa isn't an ingredient 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 rose water. We shake it up with another unexpected ingredient, aquafaba (the liquid from a can of chickpeas), which thickens the drink much as an egg white would.
Domo Arigato (Mezcal and Ginger Cocktail)
This recipe makes use of another savory ingredient you might be surprised to find in a cocktail: toasted sesame oil. Just two drops is enough to give an intriguing nuttiness to what's otherwise a straightforward combination of mezcal, simple syrup, lime juice, and ginger juice. Be sure to use fresh ginger juice; the flavor of the bottled stuff can't compare.
Sassy Flower (Hibiscus-Rosemary Mezcal Cocktail)
Mezcal pairs as well with hibiscus as tequila does. This cocktail, inspired by Mexican agua fresca, starts with a syrup made of citrusy hibiscus tea and piney rosemary sprigs, which we shake up with lemon juice and mezcal. Depending on where you live, hibiscus tea bags may be easier to find than loose dried hibiscus flowers (though you can also order the flowers online).
The Best Frozen Strawberry Daiquiri
Maybe even more so than the margarita, the daiquiri has come to be associated with cloyingly sweet concoctions of terrible booze and artificially flavored sour mix. But it doesn't have to be that way. Not all daiquiris are frozen, of course, and we encourage you to try an old-school daiquiri made with nothing but rum, lime juice, and sugar. Here, though, we're reclaiming the most stereotypically cloying iteration—the frozen strawberry daiquiri—by blending good aged rum with lime juice, turbinado simple syrup, and fresh fruit. Try our classic (but upgraded) frozen daiquiri and Fernet frozen daiquiri, too!
Who says frozen drinks have to be sweet? Just like a traditional Negroni, this sophisticated blender cocktail is refreshingly bitter, yet bright- and cheery-looking and ice-cold enough for summer. The original Negroni is made with equal parts gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth; for this frozen version, we find that it's best to dial back the Campari and vermouth, or else the gin gets a little lost.
El Gallito (Pineapple-Chipotle Pitcher Cocktail)
Another nicely savory option that's akin to a Bloody Mary, this recipe gets its unusual flavor from cilantro, scallions, tomatoes, and smoky adobo sauce, though sweet pineapple and agave nectar keep the drink balanced. Vodka will allow all of the fruits and vegetables to shine their brightest, but for Cinco de Mayo, you can't go wrong by using tequila instead.
The Perfect Michelada (Spicy Mexican Beer and Lime Cocktail)
If you're planning on celebrating Cinco de Mayo all day long, it might be a good idea to pace yourself with beer instead of liquor, and there's no better way to do that than with a michelada. It's a simple formula: Combine cold light Mexican beer (such as Pacifico, Corona, or Tecate) with lime juice, hot sauce, and Worcestershire sauce for a lightly spicy and savory thirst-quencher. Feel free to adjust the quantities of Worcestershire, lime, and hot sauce to your taste. You can serve the drink in a glass with a plain salt rim, but it's even better with a rim of 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 drink that's nevertheless equally refreshing. We like our cheladas with a serious acidic kick, which means using two ounces of lime juice per 12-ounce beer. And don't skip the salt rim on the glass!