The Tequila Sunrise is a fabulously kitsch drink. It is served tall and sweet, loaded with cheap Mexican booze and has those looks likely to elicit squeals of delight from middle-aged women in gold sandals and mirrored Aviators.
But the red and orange drink we have seen served over countless summer bars is not the original. To find the origins of the Tequila Sunrise, we need to go back to the 1930s, and walk up to the bar of the Arizona Biltmore Hotel in Scottsdale. There, we will find Gene Sulit and his recipe for the all-new Tequila Sunrise. Blue agave tequila is mixed with lime juice, spritzed with soda and coloured and sweetened with créme de cassis. The result is a light, long drink, heavy on the citrus, but sadly light on flavour. It never gained traction.
It was 40 years later, in 1972 when young bar bucks Bobby Lozoff and Billy Rice where working at The Trident in Sausalito in the Bay Area of California. They had come up with the modern Tequila Sunrise a few months earlier, and they were then faced with hosting the event of their lives – the kick off party for the 1972 Rolling Stones American tour. Mick Jagger was given a Tequila Sunrise, and pretty soon the whole crew was getting blasted on them. Jagger et al loved the drink so much, that he got the recipe, and the band started ordered it at every stop on the tour. Night by night, bar after bar learned how to mix the drink, and the recipe for the Tequila Sunrise marched from coast to coast, propelled by the rowdiest tour in rock and roll history. So popular was the Tequila Sunrise with the Stones, the tour was later described by guitarist Keith Richards as ‘The Cocaine and Tequila Sunrise Tour.’
Unfortunately, the popularity of the Tequila Sunrise, and other naff stablemates, is credited with nearly destroying American cocktail culture. The vibe of cocktail drinking had shifted from quiet sipping of an elegant Manhattan into drinking huge quantities of sugary long drinks while sniffing coke of a hooker’s arse. However, to dismiss these new drinks of the 70s and 80s is to do them down. Most of these cocktails, like the Tequila Sunrise and the Sex on the Beach, do have a place as cocktails for a summer afternoon, rather than those we might choose before or after a fine meal.
In 2018, National Tequila Day fell on Monday 24 July. We are only five days late, but it really does not do to drink hard liquor on a Monday … unless you are Mick Jagger.
The Trident can be found at 558 Bridgeway, Sausalito, CA 94965, USA. The Arizona Biltmore can be found at 2400 East Missouri Avenue, Phoenix, Arizona 85016, USA.
Tequila Sunrise (IBA)
- 45ml tequila
- 90ml orange juice
- 15ml grenadine
Fill a highball with ice and mix in the tequila and orange juice.
Pour in the grenadine, but do not stir to serve (but supply a straw for the guest to stir with).
Garnish with an orange slice and a cherry.