What's Really In A Tequila Sunrise?

Imbued with the golden yellow, orange, and red hues of a spectacular sunrise, one of Mexico's favorite cocktails lives up to its name. The tequila sunrise holds a cherished spot on bar menus across the globe, including at La Contenta in New York City, whose owner CNBC credits with saying that tequila gets "into your soul" and "transports" you to Mexico. In fact, tequila, the obvious main ingredient in a tequila sunrise, can only legally be called tequila if it's made in Jalisco, Mexico, or a handful of other municipalities, per Decanter.

As a crucial ingredient of the cocktail bearing its name, it's important to distinguish real tequila from related spirits. Genuine tequila comes from 100% agave, specifically the Mexican Blue weber agave plant, Decanter notes. As it grows, the plant forms a pineapple shape from which the heart, or piña, fills with the sweet sap used to make tequila. For the ultimate tequila sunrise, check the bottle ingredients for "100% agave spirits" — nothing else. After all, piñas those took as many as 12 years to grow that deliciously sweet sap for your drinking pleasure.

Another agave-based distilled spirit created outside the designated tequila-making regions is mezcal, which is often mistaken for pure tequila. You may find agave mixed with sugars or other sweeteners, bearing the name "mixtos," explains Thrillist. For the aforementioned classic cocktail, spring for the real-deal tequila, and then start adding the classic ingredients that make up a tequila sunrise.

Ingredients as dependable as the morning sun

Like many enduring cocktail concoctions, the tequila sunrise comes with very few ingredient variations. Almost universally, recipes for a tequila sunrise involve three or four main items, two typical garnishes, and sometimes a mistaken and very misunderstood organism lurking in the bottom of the glass.

High-quality tequila comprises the central part of the tequila sunrise, but usually not the largest quantity. That would be orange juice, preferably fresh-squeezed, followed by grenadine syrup, depending on the particular recipe. Some recipes call for a splash of lime juice along with the tequila, as noted by Spruce Eats. Adding the ingredients in a certain order, with the thick grenadine syrup at the end, creates that glorious sunrise effect that remains if the drink if unstirred.

Now, let's get down to what goes on the rim and what shouldn't go at the bottom of the glass. Traditional garnishments include an orange slice perched on the rim and a few maraschino cherries bobbing across the cocktail. And as for the storied tequila worm? Fortunately, it's a total myth that tequila comes with a worm in the bottle or, even worse, squiggling or chilling out in the underworld of your glass. That would instead be mezcal, and even then, it rarely comes inside a "fine" bottle of spirits, per CNBC. Apparently, the reason for the worm is pure marketing from the mid-1900s, which spread myths about the worm serving as an aphrodisiac.