When understanding the differences in the cocktails daiquiri vs margarita, it comes down to a few simple things: the alcohol used, how the drink is sweetened, and how the drink is served and garnished. Margaritas and daiquiris are quite similar, but there are subtle differences between margarita vs. daiquiri as well.
Daiquiri vs. Margarita: Similarities and Differences
Both daiquiris and margaritas are drinks called a sour, which is a balanced combination of a sweet and sour element with a strong element (hard liquor) serving as the base of the cocktail. But each of the two cocktails has a different strong element, and this is the primary difference between a daiquiri and a margarita. The primary formula for both a margarita and a daiquiri is 1 part sweet (¾ ounce), 1 part sour (¾ ounce), and 2 parts strong (1½ ounces).
Base of the Drink
The base of a daiquiri is rum. The base of a margarita is tequila. These two spirits taste quite different; tequila tastes of roasted agave, while rum has a lightly sweet, slightly funky flavor from the sugar cane used in its distillation. In a basic daiquiri, white rum is used. In a basic margarita, white (blanco) or silver tequila is used. Some variations may use other types of tequila or rum, but the basic sour recipe uses the lightest (in color) version of the spirit. The standard recipe for each a daiquiri and a margarita contains 1½ ounces of hard liquor.
Both tequila and margaritas have the same sour element, which is fresh lime juice. While you can buy commercial lime juice, it doesn't taste as good as squeezing the juice yourself just before serving the drink. A standard recipe for both the margarita and the daiquiri call for ¾ ounces of freshly squeezed lime juice.
The sweet element in a margarita vs. a daiquiri may vary based on the recipe. A daiquiri typically uses simple syrup as its sweet element, while a margarita may contain either orange liqueur (triple sec, curaçao, or another orange liqueur) or agave syrup. Both contain an equal amount of sweet to sour, so a basic margarita or daiquiri recipe will contain ¾ ounces of the sweet element.
Both margaritas and daiquiris are chilled and mixed by shaking them in a cocktail shaker with ice. There are also blended (also known as frozen) versions of the drink in which the basic formula of sweet, sour, and strong is blended in a blender with crushed ice to make a slushy drink.
How It's Served
A margarita is served "on the rocks." In other words, once the drink is mixed in the cocktail shaker, you strain it into a glass filled with ice. Meanwhile, a daiquiri is served "up" or "straight up" - it's chilled as it's shaken with ice and then poured into a chilled glass with no ice.
There is a specific shaped glass for margaritas, known as the margarita glass. This is a stemmed glass with a wide bowl on top and a well in the glass that makes room for ice so the drink can be served on the rocks. The daiquiri is served in a traditional cocktail glass (stemmed 4 to 6 ounce glass that looks like a martini glass). Because a daiquiri is served up, it's helpful to chill the glass before pouring the drink in it either by allowing it to spend some time in the freezer, or by filling it with ice and a splash of water while you mix the drink and then dumping the ice and water before pouring the drink. In a pinch, you can also serve either a margarita or a daiquiri in a rocks glass.
Both a margarita and a daiquiri are garnished with a lime wedge or wheel. However, a margarita also has a salt rim, while a daiquiri doesn't. Tequila has an affinity for salt, so the salt rim on a margarita glass enhances the flavors of the tequila in the drink. To rim the glass for a margarita, before you make the drink, run a lime wedge around it and then dip the wetted rim in coarse salt. Daiquiris do not have a salted rim.
Margarita vs. Daiquiri Flavors
The basic formulas above are what differentiates a margarita and a daiquiri. However, you'll also find a number of different flavors in which fresh fruit or fruit juices are added to the basic recipe to create a flavored mixed drink. In general, you'll find a wide range of available flavors for either the margarita or the daiquiri, with strawberry being an especially popular variation of both. Other flavors you might find for both daiquiris and margaritas include:
Differences Between a Virgin Daiquiri and a Virgin Margarita
In general, when you eliminate the liquor, you also eliminate the main difference between a margarita and a daiquiri. Therefore, the few differences might be a salt rim for a virgin margarita and none for a nonalcoholic daiquiri, the glass in which you serve it, and whether it's served on the rocks or up. Likewise, in a virgin margarita, using the sweet element of agave syrup versus simple syrup in a daiquiri will push the drink more into the roasted agave flavors present in a margarita, while simple syrup will offer the cleaner flavors present in a daiquiri.
Daiquiri vs. Margarita: Similar Drinks With Different Flavors
The differences between a daiquiri and a margarita may seem minimal, but the variations in ingredients used produce subtle flavor differences. And while both are excellent for sipping on a summer's evening, you may find you have a preference for one or the other based on these slight variations.