Tequila Sunrise Cocktail

Tequila Sunrise Cocktail

There are many things to love about the tequila sunrise. It’s easy to mix up at a moment’s notice, and a beautiful, refreshingly fruity highball cocktail. You don’t need any special skills to create the “sunrise” effect because it occurs naturally. Of course, there’s also tequila. When you add all that up, it’s no wonder that the tequila sunrise is one of the most popular tequila drinks.

The History of the Tequila Sunrise

There are a few stories behind the origin of the tequila sunrise. As with the history of most cocktails, things get a little cloudy at times and it's hard to know which story to believe.

One account claims that the drink welcomed tourists to Cancun and Acapulco in the 1950s. A more plausible story points to Gene Sulit, who tended bar at the Arizona Biltmore Hotel in the 1930s and '40s. He likely created the original version.

Another credits it to bartenders Bobby Lazoff and Billy Rice at The Trident, a restaurant in Sausalito, California, during the tequila craze of the 1970s. It's thought that this is where the drink transformed into the popular version we enjoy today.

The Ingredients for a Stellar Tequila Sunrise

Here's what you'll need for the now-famous version of the tequila sunrise.

  • Tequila: The best tequila for a tequila sunrise is whatever you have in stock. There’s no need to go top-shelf, but you also want to pour a tequila that you actually enjoy. The fruit flavors in this cocktail are heavy, so it’s OK to be frugal when choosing the tequila.
  • Orange Juice: It’s totally fine to buy a carton of juice for this cocktail, but for the most delicious and refreshing drink, opt for fresh squeezed.
  • Grenadine: Grenadine is a nonalcoholic, pomegranate-flavored syrup that adds sweetness to balance out the tart orange juice. It’s so thick that, when poured, it sinks to the bottom of the glass and slowly rises up, just like a sunrise.
  • Garnishes: The traditional garnishes for a tequila sunrise are orange slices and maraschino cherries.

You might be interested to know that while the ingredients above make an undeniably great cocktail, the famous orange juice and grenadine version is not actually the original. If you want a taste of the first ever tequila sunrise, you’ll need lime juice, crème de cassis, and club soda. It’s equally delicious and includes the sunrise, but it has an entirely different taste (see this recipe variation below for all the details on how to make it). Both drinks make a fabulous brunch cocktail.

Tips for Making a Tequila Sunrise

  • Don’t stir: The key to a beautiful, layered tequila sunrise is to avoid stirring the drink after adding the grenadine so it won’t mix with the juice. If you do, you’ll have a blush pink drink rather than an eye-catching orange and red layered drink.
  • Temper the sweetness: If the tequila sunrise is a tad too sweet for your taste, try it with a dash of lime or lemon juice. This can balance out the taste without compromising the appearance and central flavor of the drink.
  • Make a big batch: To turn the tequila sunrise into a pitcher cocktail, simply increase the ingredients. Use 1 part tequila to 2 parts orange juice, or use 3 parts juice to soften the alcohol. Add the grenadine either in the pitcher or pour it into each glass. Likewise, use ice in the pitcher or glasses, or both.

What’s the Difference Between a Tequila Sunrise and a Tequila Sunset?

Quite often, tequila sunset is just another name for a tequila sunrise. Then again, it can be an entirely different recipe. Some use grapefruit juice instead of orange, while others use a blend of pineapple and orange. In all of those, though, the grenadine is at the bottom, just like in a sunrise.

For the opposite effect that places a red layer at the top of the drink (like a true sunset), you’ll need to use a lighter ingredient than straight grenadine. One option is to mix a little soda with grenadine before adding it to the tequila mix. Blackberry brandy is commonly used as a substitute for grenadine in a tequila sunset, and most brands should be light enough to float on top.

Other red liquors may work as well, depending on their specific gravity. You could even use dark rum; mix it with food coloring if you really want the red layer. With all of these tequila sunset options, create layers in the cocktail by pouring the top layer over the back of a barspoon so it floats.

The Spruce Eats / Cara Cormack

“With an attractive appearance and catchy name, the tequila sunrise lives on from the era of 1970s and 80s cocktails. I like to squeeze in a lime wedge or two to balance things out. Don’t overthink the pouring of the grenadine. Dump it in; it’ll fall right to the bottom of the glass.” —Tom Macy

Tequila Sunrise Cocktail Tester Image A Note From Our Recipe Tester


  • 2 ounces tequila

  • 4 ounces orange juice

  • 1/2 ounce grenadine

  • Orange slice, for garnish

  • Maraschino cherry, for garnish

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Tequila sunrise cocktail ingredients gathered

    The Spruce Eats / Cara Cormack

  2. In a highball glass filled with ice cubes, pour the tequila and orange juice.

    Tequila and orange juice over ice in a high ball glass

    The Spruce Eats / Cara Cormack

  3. Stir well.

    Orange juice, tequila, and ice stirred together in a cocktail glass

    The Spruce Eats / Cara Cormack

  4. Slowly pour the grenadine around the inside edge of the glass. It will sink and gradually rise to mix with the other ingredients.

    A high ball glass with orange juice, tequila, and grenadine

    The Spruce Eats / Cara Cormack

  5. Garnish with an orange slice and cherry. Serve and enjoy.

    Tequila sunrise cocktail garnished with an orange slice and a cherry

    The Spruce Eats / Cara Cormack

The Original Tequila Sunrise Recipe

The original tequila sunrise is sparkling, light, and features crème de cassis, a sweet black currant liqueur with a deep red color. To make this drink, pour 1 1/2 ounces of tequila and the juice of half a lime into a collins glass filled with ice. Top with club soda, then slowly pour 3/4 ounce crème de cassis into the drink. Garnish with a lime wheel and maraschino cherry.

How Strong Is a Tequila Sunrise?

Assuming that you pour an 80-proof tequila and end up with a 7-ounce drink, the alcohol content of either tequila sunrise will be around 11 percent ABV (22 proof). You can pour as much tequila or as little juice and soda as you like to make stronger or weaker drinks, but it’s almost always a relatively mild cocktail.

Recipe Variations

The signature sunrise effect of the tequila sunrise has inspired many drinks over the years. If you enjoy that touch of sweetness and the beautiful impression it leaves in your glass, give one of these recipes a try:

  • When you don’t feel like drinking (or if it’s too early in the morning), skip the tequila, and enjoy a virgin sunrise. It’s a tasty way to sweeten up your OJ.
  • There is a margarita for everything, and the blended tequila sunrise margarita is quite fun.
  • The firefly pairs vodka and grapefruit juice with grenadine to create a simple, tart drink.
  • Similarly, the ruby rum sunrise is a sweet-sour rum cocktail with grapefruit juice.
  • A stunning martini-style drink, the sour sunrise switches to bourbon whiskey. This can be made with just tequila and orange juice as well. For these “up” versions that are not served over ice, shaking the liquor and juice over ice, then straining it into the glass lightens up the drink.
  • The peach candy corn cocktail is a playful whipped cream vodka cocktail that’s ideal for Halloween.
  • For a delicate mocktail featuring peach juice, try the sparkling peach sunrise.
  • The Waterloo sunset mixes gin, elderflower, and Champagne with a raspberry-flavored sunrise.


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