The Tequila Sunrise is a drink that dates back to the 1930s; however, the version most people know was developed in Sausalito California in the early ‘70s. Made with orange juice, grenadine, and tequila, this simple cocktail has unfairly gained the reputation of being a horrid drink. Early versions of the Tequila Sunrise were probably sickly sweet and featured an unpleasant tequila bite, but with the overall improvement in quality in tequilas entering the market and by using fresh squeezed orange juice, the Tequila Sunrise deserves another look.
The base alcohol for the Tequila Sunrise is the real key to making this drink a success. In the 1970s and 1980s, most of the tequila on the market was what is known as mixto tequila. That means that it is 51% distillate of the blue agave plant (tequila), but the other 49% is made up of neutral cane spirit (rum).
Two things happen when mixto tequila is used in a cocktail. First, it provides that unpleasant tequila burn and adds a rather wretched taste to the drink. (Tequilas that are 100% blue agave have a much smoother and more mixable character.) Secondly, though—the legend of the terrible hangovers attributed to tequila are the result of mixto tequilas.
Think about this for a moment. There is a lot of advice out there that suggests that people should not mix liquors when drinking. Mixto tequila, though, is essentially just that, a mixture of tequila and rum in a bottle. It is much cheaper to distill cane sugar than agave, so by cutting the agave spirit down to 51% of the alcohol and adding what is essentially unaged rum to the bottle, it almost becomes a guaranteed recipe for a solid hangover.
In order for the Tequila Sunrise to succeed, the choice of tequila simply must be one that is 100% blue agave. Luckily, any tequila produced that is 100% agave will state something to that effect on the front label, and most of the tequilas in the market now are 100% agave.
For the Tequila Sunrise, a silver tequila makes a great choice, as the fresh citrus notes in young tequilas make a great pairing with fresh orange juice. While any good silver tequila will do, both Avion and Herradura provide excellent results.
The juice in the Tequila Sunrise is also important. Understand that the better the quality of the juice you use, the better the result of your drink. Fresh-squeezed is best, but even premium store bought orange juices will do well in this cocktail. With grenadine, understand that more is less. The grenadine really only serves to provide a visual effect, and adding too much grenadine will make the cocktail overly sweet.
With these tips and this recipe, try rediscovering the Tequila Sunrise at home. It makes a great brunch cocktail paired with chilaquiles or huevos rancheros, and it’s a nice alternative to the usual Bloody Mary and Mimosa offerings. Make some this weekend, and see what a great cocktail it can be.
Makes 1 cocktail
2 oz 100% blue agave silver tequila (Avion, Herradura, or similar)
4 oz fresh-squeezed orange juice
1 bar spoon/ 1 teaspoon grenadine
- Add ice to a double rocks glass (also known as a bucket).
- Add tequila and orange juice.
- Add grenadine, which will move to the bottom of the glass, creating a “sunrise” effect.