Proposed by: Jonathan
Reviewed by: David
Prohibition plays a part in our family history and the purported history of the Tequila Sunrise. There is a great age gap between generations on our father’s side of the family. Our paternal grandmother was 44 when our father was born and our Dad 30 and then 32 when we were born. She had passed away before either David or I were entered the world, but we were told stories growing up about how she was active in the temperance movement leading to the ratification of the 18th amendment that began Prohibition in 1921. I am sure David can still sing the ditty we learned as children associated with that activism:
The birds drink clear water that falls from the skies,
They never touch liquor, and neither do I.
Obviously the cautionary song, while part of our history, has had no effect on our adult lives. Much like the fact that I have never been dissuaded from my curds and whey by any spider.
The muddled history of the Tequila Sunrise actually includes two separate drinks. The first drink associated with that name was a mix of tequila, crème de cassis, lime and soda water. It may or may not have included grenadine depending on what you read. One story associates the cocktail with an area south of Tijuana called Agua Caliente. It was popular with travelers from southern California looking for south of the border entertainment during the time of Prohibition where those travelers could enjoy legal alcohol.
There is a second tale of the creation of the cocktail that is also based on the crème de cassis recipe. In this version the drink dates back to the 1930’s or 40’s (after Prohibition was ended by the 21st amendment) and the Arizona Biltmore hotel. It is said to have been created by Gene Sulit perhaps as an alternative to the classic Screwdriver. In the Sulit recipe the grenadine would make more sense to mimic the vivid sunrises of the southwest.
The final credit for this beverage goes to a pair of bartenders in the area of Sausalito. This one dates to the 1970’s and is the basic recipe most often seen today – tequila, orange juice and grenadine. This recipe along with the other types of Tequila Sunrises have been associated with hangover cures. The idea being that the ingredients are common morning beverages, stomach soothers and/or associated with rehydration. That makes sense no matter which recipe you consider.
The article linked in the introduction from last week shows the versatility of this basic cocktail. I chose the version created at the Departure Restaurant & Lounge in Portland called The Rising Sun. The recipe is as follows:
2 ounces reposado tequila
.5 ounce fresh lemon juice
1.5 ounce fresh orange juice
.25 honey syrup
.5 ounce grenadine
Shake with ice and strain into an old fashioned glass with ice. They recommend garnishing with an orange wheel and lemon twist.
The first versions I made had no garnish since they were served at a tailgate and were popular with the crowd. The good news is that with the large number of tasters I was turning them out very quickly and no one seemed to care about lack of garnish. The bad news is that I never tried one myself. Fortunately there was enough of each ingredient left that I was able to make a couple more a day later for my wife and I, although I chose to garnish it with 1/7th of my total fig crop (the bushes are young) instead of orange and lemon.
One last note about this drink: there are a lot of cultural references to the Tequila Sunrise including the Eagle’s song, and a movie. My favorite one, though, was brought up my oldest son who has been afflicted with my curse of being a Houston Astro’s fan. He noted people refer to the once famous multi-colored jerseys the Astros wore as “The Tequila Sunrise jerseys” for their classic gradation of colors.
Here’s David’s Review:
Having made a Tequila Sunrise, my worries about matching its proper appearance seem silly. I actually made two cocktails featured in the article Jonathan offered—an “Improved Tequila Sunrise” and the Oaxacan Sunset. Both looked perfect. Gently pouring along the edge of the glass allowed the heavier liquid to sink, and—voila—sunrise. Both drinks stayed sunrises, the taste of the drink evolving as we consumed its layers.
As a close grocery store includes a juice bar, I had no trouble finding freshly squeezed orange juice and, once again, enjoyed the immediate fruitiness of both cocktails. In fact, after seeing the Oaxacan Sunset didn’t include orange juice, I added it anyway. Orange juice seems the backbone of this drink, yet, oddly, the juice almost becomes a neutral element. Everything else about these two versions seemed to dictate the cocktail’s character.
Which seemed particularly true of the Oaxacan Sunrise, which includes three stronger elements, Mezcal, Gin, and a sweet sherry… plus the sneaky contribution of tangerine syrup and chocolate bitters. I had to guess the proportions—it seems bars hesitate to give away all their secrets, after all—but, though I played with the amounts, the smoky Mezcal hit me most and lingered most. The Gin and sherry largely disappeared. The tangerine syrup and chocolate bitters? Fogettaboutit.
I wish I’d had a standard Sunrise to compare, but the second tequila sunrise—the improved version from San Francisco’s Chambers Eat + Drink, substituted brandied cherry juice for grenadine and added Cointreau. At least at first, the result seemed more satisfying, sweet and sour, nicely alcoholic but not overwhelmingly so. In some ways, it evoked a Mimosa—clean and efficient, suitable for a true sunrise, some lazy brunch.
In the end, I’m not sure how I felt about the evolution of flavors as we passed through the layers. My wife thought I should just stir the dang things, but I didn’t want to spoil the appearance of the drink, which seemed pretty important to its nature. With the Oaxacan Sunrise, the transition from Mescal to sherry seemed welcome even if it was incomplete and maybe still too intense. While the Improved Sunrise was more pleasant at the start, the culminating swallows of cherry juice proved challenging after such an enjoyable prelude.
My experience overall helps me understand why so many Sunrises exist. The flavors seem ripe for experiment. The sunrise effect, which turns out to be so easy, gives this drink extra drama. It invites innovation and variation.
David’s Take: I dunno. Maybe I might need to try all 17 sunrises before I decide.
Jonathan’s take: Don’t let the 70’s classic reputation prohibit (pun intended) you from trying some version of this drink.
Next Week (proposed by David):
I’m aiming for elegance, but we’ll see what happens. We’ve included a number of classic cocktails in this blog—including the Tequila Sunrise this week—but I’ll answer Jonathan’s fruit-based convention with a more spirit-based one of my own, the Metropolitan. With brandy, sweet vermouth, and simple (I mean simple) syrup, it’s all about dim bars, being in-the-know, and seeking relief from daily cares.