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Local Libations: Watermelon Sage Margarita

2011 September 2

by Pete VasconcellosWatermelon

Last week, while I read about Marc Duquette waltzing through his backyard garden plucking the cucumbers and herbs that flourish in New Hampshire’s mild climes for his Cucumber Sage Martini, I had to wonder: is he having a Labor Day party? The kind with badminton nets, folding chairs, lobster pots and sunburn? Because I am not keen on spending another Labor Day on a fire escape in Astoria, Queens crowding around a whimpering habachi and pretending like I am enjoying “just being outside for a change.” Marc: please invite me to New Hampshire. We can use your sage and make margaritas– Watermelon Sage Margaritas, to be specific.

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At the heart of this drink is a Tommy’s Margarita, barman Julio Bermejo’s perfectly stripped version of the classic served at Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant in San Francisco. Two parts tequila, one part fresh lime juice, one part agave syrup. It omits any orange liqueur found in other margaritas, and cuts right to the three components of a good shaken cocktail: decent spirit, fresh juice and sweetener.

If you think it’s criminal to fuss with something this simple, stop here.

But there’s so much watermelon at the farmers markets in NYC now, that there’s bound to be some at the Labor Day party. Seed spitting loses its charm as soon as the attractive guests show up, so why not juice the watermelon? It’s easy with a blender and strainer.

The second tweak to the classic Tommy’s Margarita is to add sage to the agave syrup. This scores a depth that will surprise even your foodie friends, and might even ward off Alzheimer’s disease .

A spicy salt rim works to balance this drink as it teeters on the edge of over-sweet. A 1:1 ratio of kosher salt and Sichimi Togarashi (Japanese seven pepper mix) looks and tastes sensational. Judging by Brianna Bain’s Arrogant Bastard Tomato Soup and Louisa Shafia’s Hello Mary, many of us enjoy hot pepper in hot weather. Thanks to Louisa, who showed me where to buy Sichmi Togarashi in NYC, I now know how to satisfy all my spicy rimming needs.

For a blanco tequila (a reposado, in my opinion, will beat up on the watermelon juice) most bartenders agree that Pueblo Viejo is good, clean and cheap ($19). Whichever tequila you choose, pay homage to the Tommy’s Margarita by making sure it’s made from 100% agave.

When you make margaritas for more than two people you learn, as Ernest Hemingway once noted, “The first draft of anything is shit.” As soon as they hear “margarita”, most drinkers have an idea of how they want it: extra salt and sweet; no salt, rocks; very tart with almost no sugar; etc. Your palate is only a guideline. While the recipe I’m providing is my version of balanced, you and your Labor Day party guests might consider this the first draft. Either that or don’t call it a “margarita” … that could save you a lot of headaches.

Finally, this is a party drink. Save yourself some time and dispense with straining the drink after you shake it. Just dump it in the glass. You’re going to be making a lot of them.

Watermelon Sage Margarita

Prep Time (with sage syrup and melon juice): 30 minutes

Active Prep Time: 1 Minute

Yield: 1 serving

Tools: Shaker, Jigger, Strainer, Knife, Something for Boiling water, Non-reactive container (2 cups), blender, mesh strainer, small plate for rimming


  • 2 oz Blanco Tequila
  • 3/4 oz sage infused agave syrup
  • 1 oz fresh lime juice
  • 1 1/2 oz fresh watermelon juice
  • lime wedge or wheel
  • kosher salt and sichimi togarashi rim

Cooking Directions:

  1. Combine tequila, sage agave syrup, lime juice and watermelon juice in a shaker over ice.
  2. Use the slice of lime to wipe the rim of your double old fashioned glass. Dip the rim of the glass in a a 1:1 mixture of sichimi togarashi and kosher salt so it sticks to the rim.
  3. Strain drink into rimmed glass over ice.
  4. For the watermelon juice: Scoop out a watermelon into a blender, discarding seeds and rind. Turn on the blender. Strain the liquid through a fine mesh strainer.
  5. For the Sage Syrup: Add 1/2 c of near boiling water to 1/2 c of agave syrup in a non-reactive container. Add 8 to 10 stems of sage (leaves and stems) to the syrup mixture. Allow it to cool naturally to room temperature. Remove the sage.
  6. For the kosher salt and pepper rim: Use a 1:1 ratio of salt and sichimi togarashi.

Watermelon Sage MargaritaPete Vasconcellos has been tending bar in Boston and New York for fifteen years. He has finally forgotten how to make a Malibu Bay Breeze.

  • allison rizzolo

    From personal experience, I can attest that this drink is DELICIOUS!

  • Marc Duquette

    You are welcome to visit NH anytime!  We can make this drink–which sounds delicious–with my yellow fleshed CSA watermelons.

    • Peter Vasconcellos

      I was so close to buying yellow watermelons for this drink!

      I am running the Reach the Beach relay in New Hampshire next weekend (franconia to hampton beach). Perhaps you can hand me a cocktail along the route?

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