How to make the original Tequila Sunrise (and other tequila cocktails) for Cinco de Mayo

a tequila sunrise drink

We decided to think nostalgically and went back to the source of the first tequila-based cocktail to gain notoriety in the U.S.: the Tequila Sunrise.

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Tequila is having its moment: According to industry reports, more than 200 new tequila brands are entering the marketplace every year. Equally noteworthy, the Tequila Matchmaker database suggests that more than 2,300 tequila brands currently exist.

It wasn’t that long ago, however, when Cinco de Mayo represented the one day out of the year when drinkers gravitated toward Mexico’s most famous distilled spirit. With that in mind, we decided to think nostalgically and went back to the source of the first tequila-based cocktail to gain serious notoriety in the United States — the Tequila Sunrise.

Although the drink rose to prominence during the 1970s, that version, which became famous thanks to the Rolling Stones — and more specifically the British rock band’s 1972 summer tour — was a cloyingly sweet concoction laden with orange juice. The original Tequila Sunrise, created at The Wright Bar inside the Arizona Biltmore during the 1930s, relies on pomegranate syrup (grenadine), crème de cassis, lime juice and club soda. According to Jim Kearns, the Arizona Biltmore’s director of beverage, the OG Tequila Sunrise is “slightly dry with an effervescent, refreshing finish.”

Not surprisingly, the drink’s lack of orange juice — and, really, its starkly different flavor profile compared to the mixed beverage of Mick Jagger’s era — catches a lot of the resort’s guests by surprise. “We do add a nod to the orange, by garnishing the cocktail with a blood orange wheel,” Kearns explains. “But the lack of orange juice is always the first impression and a great conversation starter.”

a tequila sunrise drink
How to make the original Tequila Sunrise (and other tequila cocktails) for Cinco de Mayo

We’ve shared the Arizona Biltmore’s original Tequila Sunrise recipe below, but make sure you use a high-quality grenadine if you plan to recreate it at home. As Kearns acknowledges, the syrup “accentuates the tartness of the lime juice and the sweetness of the cassis.” Also, take the time to squeeze fresh lime juice. “There is no substitute,” the beverage director declares.

Original Tequila Sunrise recipe


2 oz. blanco tequila (Don Julio is recommended)
.75 oz. lime juice
.75 oz. Lejay Crème de Cassis
.25 oz. grenadine (suggested brand: Liber & Co.)


Combine all ingredients in a pint glass and stir quickly to combine. Fill the glass with crushed ice (pebble ice preferred). Top with soda water and garnish with a blood orange wheel.

In Kearns’ estimation, the Cantarito is another of the Arizona Biltmore’s cocktails that effectively showcases the distinctive flavors and aromas of tequila. Here’s how to make that one.

Cantarito recipe


2 oz. blanco tequila
.5 oz. lime juice
.5 oz. lemon juice
.5 oz. grapefruit juice
.5 oz. orange juice
.5 oz. Tres Agaves Agave Syrup


First, rim a Cantarito mug with Chimoy and Tajin. Combine all ingredients in the mug and give a quick stir to combine. Fill the mug with ice, then top with Jarritos grapefruit-flavored soda. Garnish with half wheels of fresh orange and grapefruit.

While both the Tequila Sunrise and the Cantarito celebrate tequila, Kearns points to a classic margarita or Tommy’s Margarita (recipe below, courtesy of Julio Bermejo at Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant in San Francisco) as the cocktail that, in his opinion, best showcases the flavor of distilled Blue Weber agave.

Tommy’s Margarita recipe


2 oz. reposado tequila
1 oz. lime juice
.5 oz. agave nectar


First, rim half of a rocks glass with salt. Combine all ingredients in a shaker tin with ice and shake well. Strain into the rocks glass and garnish with a lime wedge.

Parting thoughts

If you’re curious as to which particular tequila styles or brands work best in a proven recipe, Kearns encourages side-by-side taste tests, as that’s the only way to understand how a particular tequila will influence a cocktail’s overall flavor profile. “Some tequilas have floral characteristics,” he explains. “Others have pronounced notes of pepper and spice. Some show strong notes of citrus. Others, especially Valles or lowland tequilas, tend to have earthy characteristics. The ones best suited for use in a particular recipe depend strongly on the other ingredients used in the recipe and the individual drinker’s tastes.”

And if you’re up for some at-home experimentation to create unique tequila-forward cocktails, Kearns advocates tasting and analyzing the distinctive flavors of a particular tequila first, then pairing modifiers and other ingredients that complement those foundational characteristics. “Think of flavors that stand out in the spirit,” he says, “then utilize other ingredients that will bolster or play off of those flavors.”

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