The first time I had a Tequila Sunrise was at a cocktail party in the student lounge of my university halls. The party was held during Fresher’s Week and was put on by the Orientation volunteers, who talked about it non-stop during the week. I was 18 years old and it all felt very grown up - a cocktail party! La dee dah! I was not much of a drinker before I went to university and all of a sudden I was in a new country, where it was legal to drink at 18, and I was living with a hundred other kids who all had much more drinking experience than me. We were just a bunch of baby idiots, like all people entering university, but it sure didn’t feel like it at the time.
I hadn’t packed any clothes that were cocktail party appropriate, so I wore a teal blue halter-top dress made of satin and chiffon and a pair of silver glitter high heels. I don’t 100% remember but I think I also wore turquoise eyeliner. I remember worrying about what to do with my hands, so I carried a black North Face fleece (why???). When my roommate and I got down to the lounge, the party was...existing? There were about 20 people, no music, and two tables with drinks on them (one with the cocktails and one with soft drinks). Additionally, the windows were open to let the Scottish autumn winds inside (why???) so my fleece jacket came in handy.
Awkwardly, we went over to inspect the cocktails. There were 2 options: boxed red wine or Tequila Sunrises. I can only assume that there was a sale on tequila because I have no idea why they were serving only this one random drink. Also, crucially, they were served in opaque cups, so the sunrise effect, which one might argue is the entire point of the cocktail, was obscured. Regardless, I chose the Tequila Sunrise because it sounded kind of cool in a retro way (also, the boxed wine smelled weird to me)(also also, wine is not a cocktail??). I remember the Tequila Sunrise tasting mostly just like orange juice and tequila, so I felt very worldly comparing it to the one other cocktail I’d drunk in my life - the Vodka Orange (I would later learn it was called a Screwdriver in the USA, when I ordered one in front of a guy I was trying to impress and everyone made fun of me).
The cocktail party was a success though. More people arrived, I was surprisingly not the worst-dressed person in the room, someone put on some music, and everyone loosened up. A red-headed boy from Wales even asked me out to go see the Pigeon Detectives play at the student union later in the week! I said yes! Thank you, Tequila Sunrises.
Historically, there are 2 types of Tequila Sunrise. The first was made in the 1930s by bartender Gene Sulit at the Arizona Biltmore Hotel. It contained tequila, creme de cassis, lime juice, and soda water. The second, more popular version, was created by Bobby Lozoff and Billy Rice at the Trident bar in Sausalito, CA in the 1970s. This version contains only tequila, orange juice, and grenadine. As the legend goes, Mick Jagger drank one at the Trident during the Rolling Stones’ US tour launch in 1972, then loved it so much he ordered them everywhere he went in America. (The tour earned the nickname “The Cocaine & Tequila Sunrise Tour”, which gives me a headache just imagining). Sensing a marketing opportunity, Jose Cuervo began to promote the drink recipe on the back of their bottles. In 1973, The Eagles released ‘Tequila Sunrise’, not one of their better songs but I couldn’t write this post without mentioning it. In 1998, Cypress Hill released ‘Tequila Sunrise’, which has a slightly different vibe. Please let me know in the comments which Tequila Sunrise themed song is your favorite and why.
The trick to achieving the sunrise effect is using the back of a spoon to guide the grenadine into the glass so it doesn’t incorporate with the juice; this technique is called “floating”. The weight of the grenadine causes it to rest underneath the juice, slowly blending upwards in a fun colorful way. The order of operations goes ice, tequila, orange juice, grenadine. (You have to add the grenadine last because if you add juice to the grenadine, it will start mixing quickly. Try it and see what I mean). Serve it in a clear glass, duh.
Ingredients & Method:
60ml (2 oz) tequila
120ml (4 oz) orange juice
7.5ml (¼ oz) grenadine
Add ice to a chilled glass, then pour tequila over the top. Stir in orange juice. Float grenadine into the drink; don’t stir! Garnish with a cherry and an orange slice. Sip while doing a ton of cocaine in 1972 and/or making dorky small talk in 2007.