Four Modern Riffs on the Tequila Sunrise

Bartenders share their unique recipes for the beloved cocktail, with substitutions like blue curaçao, pineapple juice and tamarind syrup

September 6, 2023 6:52 am
four versions of a tequila sunrise cocktail stitched together in a collage
This juicy cocktail is a classic for a reason.
Baar Baar/Minnow Bar/Ritz-Carlton/Mack Ordaya

Like many classic cocktails, a couple different people claim to have invented the Tequila Sunrise. One story says that the drink was created at Agua Caliente, a Tijuana, Mexico, resort that was popular with Americans during Prohibition. But Arizona Biltmore, A Waldorf Astoria Resort also claims to have invented the drink. While we can’t hop in our time machines and tell you the true story, one thing’s for certain: the mix of tequila, orange juice and grenadine is undeniably delightful.

The Tequila Sunrise experienced a surge in popularity during the 1970s and ‘80s, decades that are often considered a low point in cocktail culture. Don Henley sang about the concoction, and the Rolling Stones considered it a favorite. There was even a 1988 film named after the drink. While the movie doesn’t seem like a winner, the cocktail is a classic for a reason.

The original drink is wonderfully lowbrow, but it got us thinking about how bartenders might interpret the cocktail. So we asked four pros to teach us how to make their version of the drink, upgraded with different juices, syrups and even spirits. If you’re in the mood for something fruity, juicy and easy to drink, these modern Tequila Sunrise variations will do the trick.

a tropical cocktail in a green tiki glass with a purple orchid and paper umbrella
Wet Money
Mack Ordaya

At Washington, D.C.’s Tiki TNT, you can sip lush, tropical drinks with waterfront views. “For years, I marveled over the South Pacific tiki bars I visited on dive trips as an instructor, the types where you pay for your drink with the soggy money stashed in your swimsuit pocket,” says Todd Thrasher, owner of Tiki TNT. “The blue curaçao is representative of the crystal clear waters from my diving days. Wet Money is a fun wink to that experience and speaks to the atmosphere that I wanted to create with Tiki TNT.” The bar is connected to Thrasher’s Rum, which is used in this Tequila Sunrise variation. But if you can’t get your hands on a bottle, any white rum will do.

Wet Money

Servings: 1

  • 1 oz. Espolòn Blanco Tequila
  • 1 oz. Thrasher’s White Rum
  • .25 oz. blue curaçao
  • .5 oz. lemon juice
  • 1.5 oz. passion fruit puree
  • 2 droppers salt water
  • Orchid, for garnish
    1. Combine all liquid ingredients in a shaker with ice. Strain into a tiki mug or a tall Collins glass with crushed ice. Garnish with an orchid, if desired.

a tequila sunrise cocktail on a wooden table
Miami Sunrise
Minnow Bar/Olivia Sheehy

There are few places more lovely than the tiled patio at Minnow Bar, which is tucked inside Miami’s Kimpton Angler’s Hotel. Their sweet-tart Tequila Sunrise variation is perfect for tequila drinkers looking to stray from their typical Margarita. “I like to say this is a mash-up of a Tequila Sunrise and a Mexican Firing Squad,” says bartender Diandra Parchment. “It’s the perfect cocktail for those who like to have the best of both words and is best enjoyed on a late summer afternoon.”

Miami Sunrise

Servings: 1

  • 2 oz. Don Julio Añejo
  • 2 oz. pineapple juice
  • 1 oz. pomegranate juice
  • .75 oz. lime juice
  • .5 oz. agave
  • 5 dashes bitters
  • Dehydrated blood orange, for garnish
    1. Add liquid ingredients to a shaker with ice, shake well and pour into a Collins glass filled with cubed ice. Top with crushed ice and a slice of dehydrated blood orange.

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a red cocktail in a collins glass with a spicy salt rim and tamarind garnish
Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge
Baar Baar

It’s difficult to find food and cocktails that are more beautiful than what’s served at Baar Baar, a contemporary Indian restaurant in NYC’s East Village neighborhood. Not only is the Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge a riff on the Tequila Sunrise, but it’s also inspired by a classic ‘90s Bollywood movie of the same name. “Our version of the Tequila Sunrise includes a tamarind-blackberry syrup that gives the same sweetness/sourness you’d get from orange juice,” says Baar Baar head mixologist Chetan Gangan. “It’s refreshing and different but still brings to mind the classic.”

Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge

Servings: 1

  • 2 oz. blanco tequila
  • 1.5 oz. tamarind syrup (recipe below)
  • .75 oz. lime juice
  • .75 oz. soda
  • Mix of chat masala and sea salt, for the rim
  • Tamarind candy, for garnish
    1. Add the tequila, syrup and lime juice to a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake and strain into a rimmed Collins glass and top with soda. Garnish with tamarind candy.

Tamarind Syrup

Servings: 3 liters

  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 4 cups tamarind puree
  • 2 cups blackberry puree
  • 2 Tbsp. pani puri masala
  • .5 Tbsp. cumin powder
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cups sugar
    1. Add all ingredients to a pot and bring to a boil. Cook over high heat for 20 minutes or until liquid is reduced to a syrup-like consistency. Store in an airtight container and keep in the refrigerator for up to one month.

a layered cocktail in front of a sunset gradient
Sunset Paradise
Ritz-Carlton/Olivia Sheehy

Puerto Rican sunsets are known for their vibrant purple, orange and red gradients, which is exactly what bartender Juan Gabriel Rosado at Flor de Sal — an open-air restaurant at Dorado Beach, A Ritz-Carlton-Reserve — wanted to convey with this modern Tequila Sunrise variation. “We created the Sunset Paradise while admiring the beautiful pink and purple sunsets at Flor de Sal,” Rosado says. “I love a good Tequila Sunrise — the simplicity and the look of it are spectacular. I wanted to make a play on the classic cocktail by adding butterfly pea flower tea, which better represented our scenery in Puerto Rico. Additionally, I swapped out the grenadine for cranberry to enhance the balance between the sweetness and tartness of the cocktail.”

Sunset Paradise

Servings: 1

  • .5 oz. blanco tequila
  • .25 oz. triple sec
  • 1 tsp. peach brandy
  • 1.5 oz. orange juice
  • 1 oz. cranberry juice
  • .25 oz. lime juice
  • .5 oz butterfly pea flower tea
  • .5 oz. vodka
  • Dehydrated pineapple slice, for garnish
    1. Shake peach brandy, triple sec, orange juice, lime juice and tequila with ice. Mix the vodka with the butterfly pea flower tea. First layer cranberry juice, then strain orange-peach tequila mixture on top and finish with the butterfly pea flower-vodka floater. Garnish with a slice of dehydrated pineapple.


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