Tequila Sunrise

jmSunriseProposed 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:

Sunrises5Having 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.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Old Oaxacan

Proposed by: Jonathanoxan

Reviewed by: David

It has been my observation, and I am sure I have written it before, that people come up with some interesting things to use in the making of alcoholic beverages. Surely the agave plant is one of those. Agave is a succulent, don’t call it a cactus, that grows primarily in Mexico and has a number of uses. Among those uses are a variety of spirits that range from the fresh, quick pulque made from the sap to this week’s spirit, mezcal, which is made from the roasted heart (pina) of the plant. In between those lies tequila which is arguably the most common and popular of the agave liquors.

I have heard it said that all mezcal is a tequila, or all tequila is a mezcal but that makes little sense to me. Tequilas are made from a variety of agave plants, but primarily blue agave. The distillation of the spirit is centered around the town of Tequila, does not involve roasting the pina, and can include some aging. Mezcal on the other hand is made from Agave Americana, must come from the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, and gets its characteristic taste from roasting the heart of the plant (after a great deal of work to make sure it is full of sugar/sap meant for the flower) in ground ovens. That roasting gives it the distinctive smoky flavor that is both a benefit and curse.

My sons were home this week and I let one of them do the shopping for the mezcal. There is not a great deal of selection, especially compared to tequilas, which says something about popularity and taste. A number of sources describe the smoky and complex character of mezcal to that of a fine scotch. With that in mind, we tried the pina liquor simply poured over ice as a test. Either it, or we failed. The complexity came across more like a fuel than a fine spirit, strong and distinctive but tasting of solvents with no sweetness.

That left my proposed drink a challenge to see if there was a way to mix that distinctive taste and find something that meshed. The proposal was for a drink called the Old Oaxacan which is as follows:

2 ounces mezcal
1 ounce simple syrup
.75 ounce lime juice
4-5 shakes angostura bitters
8 mint leaves
2 ounces champagne

Mix all ingredients, except the champagne, in shaker with ice. Shake and strain into a coupe, add the champagne and garnish with mint. I used a chocolate mint because it made sense to me when I considered the desert south of Mexico.

The end result was oddly harmonious and so much better than the spirit by itself or even in a simple mix with citrus and sweetener. It may be the champagne talking, but I finally understood the odd complexity of the roasted agave, and perhaps the idea to use it to make hooch in the first place.

David’s Review:

OldOaxWhen Jonathan and I were young, we launched model rockets, and, oddly, this drink made me remember those launches, not just the smoke but also the thrill of watching them streak into the sky nearly before you noticed.

If you read carefully, that’s the sum of my review. Mezcal seems an entirely different beast from tequila in its charcoaled taste, and, for reasons I can’t quite explain, this drink seemed particularly potent and particularly sudden in attack. It may be the champagne, which every celebrant knows goes to your head, but it could be that the other ingredients—angostura, lime, and a little simple syrup—hardly slow the drink down.

My daughter, the most instinctually culinary in our family, suggested I boil a lime peel with the sugar and water, but the smokiness of the mezcal subdued any subtlety that step may have imparted. The lime juice seemed muted too, and the angostura, though it gave the drink color, added a bitterness well in the background. My liquor purveyor described mezcal as the Islay of tequilas, and that description fits but there’s something western in it, more mesquite than oak.

Not that I’m complaining, mind you. The Old Oaxacan is interesting, a perfect accompaniment to guacamole and chips, a suitably more serious substitute to that sweet margarita you’ve gotten used to. One caution: if you’re expecting the familiar tequila-laced confection, overcome that anticipation. You’ll find something quite different here, an in-your-face confrontation with fire and sugar that speaks more to char than caramel.

David’s take: I loved it, though I suspect it’s not for everyone.

Jonathan’s take: A good tequila would still be my preference, but this didn’t kill my curiosity about the subset that is mezcal.

Next Week (proposed by David):

We’ve celebrated the Derby. We’ve celebrated the Preakness. So far, California Chrome has responded. With the Belmont next week, we can’t pass up a Belmont Breeze. Though part of me bristles at a drink so obviously and cravenly promotional, the ingredients and combination sound wonderful. And if it will help the horse, well, that’s a bonus.