The Perfect River Margarita

Paddling Life Hack Number 8

Margarita Master Barry Smith at Cremation Camp, Grand Canyon. Photo by Jeff Moag.
Margarita Master Barry Smith at Cremation Camp, Grand Canyon. Photo by Jeff Moag.
What makes the perfect river margarita? 1) Idiot-proof directions (so you can remember how to make it); 2) minimal space for easy packing; and 3) a lively, bubbly taste and potency to get people wearing togas and singing around the campfire.

All that and more can be found in The Perfect River Margarita put forth by longtime Grand Canyon river guide Barry Smith.

As to consideration #1, it’s as simple as a line through Class I: Empty a can of frozen Lime-Aid into a pitcher. Fill the empty Lime-Aid can with tequila and dump it in, then add two beers. Badabing, badaboom.

As for #2, the Lime-Aid can is small and compact (and frozen, adding to your cooler’s R-value), and you likely have beers along anyway. This means no voluminous mixer bottles hoarding coveted dry box space. And for numero 3, the beer adds both a zestiness and potency that’ll have all imbibers belting out “Ring of Fire” in no time.

Trip leader Hugh McLaughlin, later that same evening. Photo by Jeff Moag.
Trip leader Hugh McLaughlin, later that same evening. Photo by Jeff Moag.

“It first came about from a private trip we were on back in the ‘80s, then the commercial trips caught on to it,” says Smith, who’s taken more than 40 trips down the Big Ditch, most of which have involved several batches of the elixir. “The recipe hasn’t changed a bit over all these years.”

As far as what type of beer to use, Smith says he prefers Coors for its light taste and home in the Rocky Mountains, where the Colorado River is born. “Sometimes I’ll change the kind of beer, depending on what’s lying around,” says Smith, who when not bartending on river banks owns and manages Mountain Sports Kayak School in Steamboat Springs, Colo. “But lighter beers definitely work better. You don’t really notice the beer taste at all.”

Smith adds that if you need a smaller batch, simply halve the recipe, but that means packing away a half can of Lime-Aid, which can be problematic. “And usually, you’ll end up making more anyway,” he says.

As for clients partaking in the concoction, for some he says it’s a highlight of the trip. “Clients love them,” he says. “People ask me for the recipe all the time.”

See more Paddling Life Hacks from C&K.