An iconic drink made famous by movies, songs, and American pop culture, the swirling colors of the Tequila Sunrise cocktail appear exotic, while the simple three-ingredient recipe packs a refreshing punch.
The infamous cocktail that has remained popular over the years has an interesting history that actually splits into two parts.
As for the origin of the Tequila Sunrise, credit goes to a man named Gene Sulit, who tended bar at the Arizona Biltmore Hotel in the late 1930s and early 1940s. The resort was then, and still is, Arizona’s playground for the rich and famous. As the legend recalls, a repeat guest familiar with Mr. Sulit wanted a refreshing beverage to accompany him by the poolside, so he asked the creative bartender to surprise him.
The result was a delicious blend of soda and tequila with crème de cassis and fresh lime juice. Because the crème de cassis was dense compared to the other ingredients, once settled, it created gradations in the color that mimicked a sunrise, hence the concoction’s name.
Fast forward a few decades later and we have two men, Bobby Lazoff and Billy Rice, who tended bar during the tequila craze of the 1970s at the Trident Restaurant in Sausalito, California, which was the largest outlet for tequila in the U.S. at the time. Although some believe these two men were the creators of the Tequila Sunrise, it’s more widely believed that they’re responsible for morphing the drink into the orange juice and grenadine version it’s known to be today. This modern recipe calls for a shot of tequila, orange juice, and grenadine that’s drizzled on top of a Collins or Highball glass, meant to sink down to the bottom to give the cocktail its dreamy sunrise effect.
It was only a matter of time before Jose Cuervo picked up on the favored cocktail. In 1973 the tequila giant saw the drink as a marketing opportunity and put the recipe on the back of its tequila bottles. That same year the rock band, the Eagles, recorded a song called Tequila Sunrise as the drink’s popularity soared. The cocktail also established itself as a well-known disco drink, as it was enjoyed at many disco clubs. Later on, in 1988, it was still going strong, because Mel Gibson starred in a movie titled Tequila Sunrise. One thing was clear: America was infatuated.
The common love for the cocktail led to many different variations of the drink, including the Caribbean Sunrise, which substitutes rum for tequila, the Vodka Sunrise which uses vodka, the Southern Sunrise which uses Southern Comfort, and the Astronaut Sunrise which uses Tang instead of orange juice. Evidently, change is good. And tasty.
No matter which version of the treasured Tequila Sunrise you prefer, it’s recommended that the drink be enjoyed slowly if you want to appreciate its flavors. As you sip, the tequila and orange (or soda and lime) flavors can be savored instantly, while the sweeter grenadine (or crème de cassis) flavor lingers at the end.
Incidentally, the International Bartenders Association has officially declared the Tequila Sunrise as the IBA Official Cocktail. How’s that for the love of a cocktail?
- 2 parts Blanco Tequila
- 3 parts Fresh Orange Juice
- 1/2 part Homemade Grenadine*
Preparation: Add all ingredients to a shaker. Shake and strain into a double rocks glass and garnish with speared orange wheel and Luxardo maraschino cherry.
- 1 cup Pomegranate Juice
- 1 cup Super Fine Sugar
- 1/2 part Fresh Lemon Juice
- 5 drops Orange Flower Water
Preparation: On low heat, warm pomegranate juice until it starts to steam (do not boil). Stir in sugar until it dissolves. Add lemon and orange flower water. Let it cool at room temperature (do not put directly in the fridge) serve.