Tequila Sunrise: 2 Easy Recipes for 1 Popular Drink

Tequila sunrise
Jeff Kauck/Getty Images
  • 3 mins
  • Prep: 3 mins,
  • Cook: 0 mins
  • Yield: 1 serving
Ratings (29)

There are many things to love about the Tequila Sunrise. It is easy to mix up at a moment's notice, it is beautiful to look at, it is a deliciously fruity cocktail, and, of course, there's tequila!

Yet, did you know that the Tequila Sunrise you're most familiar with is not the original? It's true, the orange juice and grenadine combination that is the Tequila Sunrise we know and love was not the first drink to take on this name. 

The original version uses lime juice, creme de cassis, and club soda. It is equally delicious and, yes, it does include that signature 'sunrise' effect. It's simply a completely different taste.

The Modern Tequila Sunrise Recipe

There is no doubt that the Tequila Sunrise is one of the most popular tequila drinks. It is also one of the easiest and the layering effect that creates the sunrise happens naturally, so anyone can create this stunning cocktail.

The key to the 'sunrise' is to refrain from stirring the drink after adding the grenadine. You can pour the tequila and orange juice into your glass, then add the grenadine and it will naturally sink to the bottom. If you were to stir it, the grenadine will mix with the juice and create a blush pink drink.

The grenadine also adds a fine sweetness to the orange juice. This reduces some of that tart acid taste of the citrus fruit and balances out the drink. Actually, if you skip the tequila, the Virgin Sunrise is a perfect way to sweeten up your morning OJ. And, whether you serve it with or without the tequila, this is a fabulous addition to your brunch table.

What You'll Need

How to Make It

  1. Pour the tequila and the orange juice into a highball glass with ice cubes.
  2. Stir.
  3. Slowly pour the grenadine around the inside edge of the glass. It will sink and slowly rise to mix with the other ingredients naturally.
  4. Garnish with the orange slice and cherry.

Tip: The tequila in either Tequila Sunrise recipe does not have to be your best - save that for the Margarita. Instead, choose a decent, budget-friendly blanco tequila and you will have a great tasting drink.

The Original Tequila Sunrise

The Tequila Sunrise started out as a tequila, creme de cassis, lime, and club soda drink. At some point, it was simplified or completely altered (depending on how you look at it) to the recipe above. The one constant has always been the visual 'sunrise' effect and the tequila.

What is creme de cassis? It is a blackcurrant liqueur with a deep red color that is used in a few cocktails, most famously with wine in the Kir and Vermouth Cassis. It does, however, work very well with tequila (actually better than with most of the base liquors) and while you have a bottle open you should also mix up the Chimayo and El Diablo cocktails.

If you're tired of the heavy orange of the modern Tequila Sunrise, give this original recipe a try. It is considerably more refreshing and you will be presently surprised at its taste. It's actually hard to believe that it was ever replaced in the bar.

To make this drink, pour 1 1/2 ounces tequila and the juice of 1/2 lime into a collins glass filled with ice. Top with club soda, then pour 3/4 ounce creme de cassis into the drink. Garnish with a lime wheel and maraschino cherry.

History of the Tequila Sunrise

There are a few stories behind the origin of the Tequila Sunrise. As with most cocktail histories, things get a little, shall we say, cloudy at times and it's hard to know which story to believe. In all likelihood, the Arizona Hotel and Trident Restaurant stories are the most plausible.

  • One story claims that it was used to welcome tourists to Cancun and Acapulco in the 1950s.
  • Another story gives credit to Gene Sulit who tended bar at the Arizona Hotel in the 1930s and 40s.
  • Another attributes it to Bobby Lazoff and Billy Rice who were bartending during the tequila craze of the 1970s at Trident Restaurant in Sausalito, California. It is said that this is where the drink may have turned into the popular orange juice version.

How Strong is the Tequila Sunrise?

Let's assume that we use an 80-proof tequila and that we mix both of these Tequila Sunrise recipes to create a 7-ounce drink. With this, we can estimate the alcohol content of the drinks:

  • Modern Tequila Sunrise - 11% ABV (22 proof)
  • Original Tequila Sunrise - 11% ABV (22 proof)

As you can see, they equal out. This is because the modern recipe (as written) uses a 2-ounce pour of tequila and that makes up for the cassis used with 1 1/2 ounces of tequila in the original recipe.

Of course, you can pour as much tequila or as little juice/soda as you like in either drink to make it stronger or weaker. No matter how you pour it, the Tequila Sunrise is almost always a rather mild cocktail.

More Sunrise Cocktails

The signature 'sunrise' effect of the Tequila Sunrise has inspired countless drinks over the years. If you enjoy that touch of sweetness and the beautiful impression it leaves in your glass, give one of these recipes a try.

  • Firefly - Vodka and grapefruit pair with grenadine for a simple, tart drink.
  • Grenada - Switch out the orange for grapefruit and keep the tequila and grenadine.
  • Jack-O-Lantern - Jack Daniel's, mint, Chambord... it all comes together in this fun cocktail.
  • Peach Candy Corn Cocktail - A playful vodka cocktail that's ideal for Halloween.
  • Ruby Rum Sunrise - A tart rum drink with grapefruit juice.
  • Sour Sunrise - Break out the Maker's Mark Bourbon for this fancy little cocktail.
  • Sparkling Peach Sunrise - A delicate mocktail featuring peach juice.
  • Tequila Sunrise Margarita - Yes, there is a margarita for everything and this blended beauty is quite fun.
  • Waterloo Sunset - Super fancy, this drink mixes gin, elderflower, and Champagne with a raspberry sunrise.