Art in a cocktail glass? The Tequila Sunrise

Of the many colourful cocktails that one can enjoy during a sunny summer, few make me think of art like the tequila sunrise. Since the 1970s, countless bartenders have carefully mixed its ingredients to recreate the shades of a sunrise over California, its place of origin. To me, it evokes the works of the Impressionists, and in particular a certain painting by Claude Monet, where the French Master projects on its canvas the lights of an Italian sunrise.

Monet - San Maggiore at Dusk (1908)
Monet – San Maggiore at Dusk (1908)

A word of warning though: this particular cocktail relies a lot not only on its taste, but also on its variations of colours, with layers passing progressively from red to orange to yellow. To achieve this result, it will take slightly longer than the average cocktail – but the visual result, as well as the taste, will make it worth your time.

For the anecdote, the tequila sunrise is said to have originated in 1972 at a Californian party thrown for the Rolling Stones. After Mike Jagger and his friends liked it, it became more and more popular and has since become, along with the margarita, one of the most popular tequila-based cocktails – the Eagles even wrote a song about it in 1973.

Here is the recipe for the original mix:

  • 2oz (6cl) tequila
  • 1oz (3cl) grenadine
  • 4oz (12cl) fresh orange juice
  • 2-3 ice cubes (more would dilute the cocktail’s bottom layer too quickly)

Pour the tequila on the ice cubes in a long drinks glass. Fill the glass with orange juice, while leaving a space. Stir the resulting mix for a few seconds. Lastly, pour very slowly the grenadine in your glass, for it to go directly to the bottom of the drink and create a more “dense” bottom layer. Remember: in order to preserve your layers inside the cocktail, do not stir. Finally, you can garnish your drink with an orange slice or a cocktail cherry before serving.

The tequila sunrise is also, to my knowledge, one of the cocktails having known the most variations in its recipe. Most of them have included changing tequila for a different base spirit (such as rhum, vodka or brandy), but interesting trials were also made to replace grenadine with a stronger bottom layer, such as blackberry brandy or Campari. One of the interests of the original tequila sunrise, however, is its moderate ratio of tequila versus orange juice, which makes it quite appropriate as a brunch or afternoon drink.

Now, I do hope I convinced you to try it, not only for its taste but for its colors. And should you order it in a bar or prepare it yourself, look out for the layers – they are definitely of the trademarks of the true art of cocktail.


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