A bright but rich combination of orange juice, tequila, and grenadine or blackcurrant, the tequila sunrise is one of the more beautiful drinks, both to look at and to sip.
That simple list of ingredients also lends itself to so many off-the-cuff variations that you could make another 20 cocktails that are somewhat brighter, boozier or even herbal tasting.
Start with this template, though, and work from there—it’s hard to go wrong.
History of a Tequila Sunrise
For all of the fanciful “histories” of the tequila sunrise it is most likely a variation of the Singapore Sling. A “gin sling,” Ngiam Toon Boon’s Singapore classic combined gin, a cherry liqueur, Cointreau, and pineapple juice, with fresh lime juice and soda water.
Within twenty years, the Singapore Sling was reinvented, trading out the cherry for creme de cassis, pineapple juice for orange, and losing the Cointreau altogether. The lime juice and soda were also nixed, but worth trying if you’re willing to experiment.
By the time of the Eagles or Mick Jagger or whomever else is credited with instigating a resurrection of this old drink, the creme de cassis, a blackcurrant liqueur, was swapped for the easier to find grenadine, and the lime and soda water dropped altogether, leaving us with the cocktail you know and love.
What’s in a Tequila Sunrise?
The memorably beautiful drink is an unfussy blend of tequila, fresh orange juice, and grenadine. There are a good 4-5 additions that do arguably improve this drink, but you’re pretty well set with just a 3-ingreident cocktail.
The tequila doesn’t have to be aged, you don’t have to make the grenadine, and the orange juice can be store-bought. If you balance the ingredients right, you’ll still have a gorgeous, delicious thing of beauty.
Grenadine or Crème de Cassis?
The dark red in a tequila sunrise usually comes from grenadine, a slightly tart pomegranate syrup that is easy to find at grocery and liquor stores and is used in a great number of classic cocktails.
It’s good to have on hand, though you’ll want to be careful with it: this syrup is quite syrupy, and a little can go a very long way. You can also make your own easily enough if you want a clean taste, without the high fructose corn syrup that the off-the-shelf bottles provide.
Your other choice for that sunset is creme de cassis, a blackcurrant liqueur that can be found in most liquor stores. The macerated blackcurrants give it a darker, more layered berry flavor than grenadine, and if you want a stronger cocktail crème de cassis is the way to go—it is 25% alcohol-by-volume (grenadine is just 3%, if at all). It’s worth trying, if you have it or can find it.
Best Tequila for a Tequila Sunrise
Reposado (aged) tequila has an oaked vanilla character and greater depth which many would think works well in sunrises, but the truth is a Blanco tequila will also do the trick. It may not be as interesting, flavor-wise, but it will get you there just the same.
Tequila Sunrise Technique
The bold, bright layering of a tequila sunrise isn’t by accident, but it’s also not so difficult of a trick to pull off.
- Stir your tequila and orange juice together right in the glass and add several ice cubes.
- Pour the grenadine down a spoon and the ice.
This allows the liqueur to slow its fall so that it can sink gradually down. There’s no need to be overly delicate about this; you're not trying to create separate layers so much as let this darker, heavier layer blend on its way through, creating that iconic, beautiful gradient.
Glassware for Your Sunrise
A Collins or Highball glass—both are tall, with the Collins being a touch narrower—are ideal, though anything from a tulip glass to a brandy snifter would show off the beautiful colors and semi-blending of the ingredients.
Garnishing Your Sunrise
The classic garnish for a tequila sunrise is a half a wheel of fresh orange and a single cocktail cherry, both perched on the rim of the glass.
The orange wheel complements the orange juice in the drink while suggesting a sun visible on the horizon, while the cherry is either complementing the grenadine or giving a nice accent to the creme de cassis.
Notch your orange half-wheel in the center so that it can fit over the rim of the glass, and do the same for the cherry, placing it just in front of the orange.
Tequila Sunrise Variations
- The Original Sunrise: Like the original Tequila Sunrise, add 3/4 ounces of dry curacao, and/or 1/4 to 1/2 ounces of fresh lime juice. This makes for a slightly more tart and still more citrusy drink.
- Enamorada Sunrise: Substitute Campari and/or Cynar for the grenadine for added bitterness.
- Cherrier Sunrise: Substitute the grenadine for Cherry Heering, which has a higher ABV. You’ll get a more complex and rich taste with this variation.
- Spiced Sunrise: Infuse your tequila with cinnamon, for much more wintery warmth. Added bonus: cinnamon infused tequila is pretty handy for a number of other great cocktails, as well.
- Aperol sunrise: Substitute Aperol for grenadine. The Italian aperitif made from rhubarb (with a fair bit of gentian), will have a tropically bitter quality that is perfect beside the orange.
More Tequila Recipes Perfect for Summer
2 ounces reposado tequila
3 ounces fresh orange juice
1/2 ounce grenadine or creme de cassis
Orange slice and cocktail cherry, for garnish
Combine the tequila and orange juice:
Pour the tequila and freshly squeezed orange juice directly into a Collins or highball glass. Add several ice cubes and stir to combine.
Pour the grenadine or crème de cassis into the glass:
Pour the grenadine or creme de cassis down the side of a spoon into the center of the drink, and it will sink gradually to the bottom creating a layered effect.
Garnish the cocktail with an orange wheel and cocktail cherry.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 0g||0%|
|Saturated Fat 0g||0%|
|Total Carbohydrate 19g||7%|
|Dietary Fiber 0g||1%|
|Total Sugars 14g|
|Vitamin C 47mg||233%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|