So yesterday, Shake, Stir, Muddle launched with the very first One for the Road-Test – an amateur but enthusiastic home bartender’s crack at a classic cocktail. The Tequila Sunrise.
There is a painful extended metaphor here about the sunrise of this blog, the dawn of a new life in bringing together SSM’s great loves – writing, travel and booze – but like many things Tequila Sunrise, this is probably best avoided.
Take for instance The Eagles’ unwelcome ear-worm (you know you want to…) or the execrable 1988 Michelle Pfeiffer/post-mullet Mel Gibson/Kurt Russell offering of the same name which made a very original story-line link between drug trafficking and Tequila because you know, Hollywood loves a lazy racist cliché (so you don’t have to bother watching the whole movie, look at this photo – once you know Leo is a cop and Mel an ex-drug dealer trying to go straight for the sake of his son, this love triangle pretty much covers it all).
To be fair, it was the 1980s, an era not exactly known for fine movie making (with the notable exception of pretty much everything from John Hughes – all 23 of them ranked from worst to best here for real Gen X controversy).
But is the cocktail a different story?
I don’t love a sweet cocktail and I’m more a scotch fan than tequila, but it was a particularly good travel experience that led me to pondering the history of the Tequila Sunrise. So all in the name of research, this blog is born.
Here’s what we know; the Tequila Sunrise was not invented in Mexico. There are currently two claimants on the dawn of the sunrise – in Arizona (coincidentally the same state in which John Hughes briefly attended University), and in Sausalito, California.
National Geographic blogger Jeff Burkhart did a great job of assessing the two claims in 2012 (here) and seems to come down on the side of California, but the birth of the question for me rose at the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix.
Wander into this Art Deco beauty and you’ll be as keen as I was to believe their claims. Join a Biltmore History Tour and you’ll hear a lot of forgettable stats about square footage of ballroom space, but you’ll also get a few gems to keep. About honeymooning actors who became Presidents, about bungled Prohibition raids and Marilyn’s preferred swimming pool. You’ll hear about Irving Berlin writing “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” by the Catalina Pool, and about a cocktail with a famous name. And you’ll want it all to be true.
And when you’re in a bar, surely wanting something to be true is true enough?
So, yes. The Biltmore. In brief, this is one of my favourite hotels in the world, and I would go back to Phoenix in a heartbeat. Frank Lloyd Wright (who had very little to do with the design of the Biltmore but whose influence is evident everywhere) established his winter residence, Taliesin West, in Phoenix, inspired by the colours of the desert.
And we think we know heat in Australia but go to Arizona and you’ll learn that a couple of 40 degree plus days a year in summer do not a swallow make. Or something like that.
The Biltmore is the opposite of those hotels that we all stay in sometimes, comforting ourselves that we only go to our cell-size room to sleep anyway. At the Biltmore you want to make time to lounge around. You want to try the restaurants (Wright’s – where dinner is followed by a plate of green fairy floss the size of a human head, and where they have a single bottle of Australian wine – Grange Hermitage – on the wine-list for a pretty good price. Not a good enough price for me to buy it, but remarkable anyway) and Wright’s Bar. I’d suggest you probably don’t need to spring for the extra to stay in the Ocatilla Wing though, although they do kick in a “free” breakfast and a couple of wines before dinner.
But quick, let’s get back to the bar.
The Wright’s Bar menu has both recipes – The Classic and The Biltmore Original – and details their claim that bartender Gene Sulit invented The Biltmore Original version in the late 1930s. It’s here.
Since the One for the Road-Test is about recreating classic cocktails at home with no training, it seemed logical to start with more familiar version, The Classic. It has four ingredients – tequila, ice, orange juice and grenadine.
It’s kind of hard to call ice an ingredient and keep a straight face but given how important it is in some cocktails, I’ll begrudgingly keep it in here. Really open to debate on the validity of that though.
I used Silver Patron tequila – not the best tequila money can buy, but a good quality offering. It’ll cost you about $85 for 750mLs. The Wright’s Bar Menu lists Sauza Blue Agave Tequila as their primary ingredient, Silver Patron is also made of 100% blue agave so I gave myself some license with that. (The NY Times had quite a good piece on the hierarchy of tequilas if you’re interested – spoiler alert, if it’s called tequila, it has to be 51% blue agave. See it here).
Grenadine and Orange Juice I got from the supermarket. I got the best pulp-free juice I could find there and the only grenadine on offer – Cawsey’s Grenadine Cordial. That was about $14. I got the ice out of my freezer (genius).
You’ll have seen Grenadine, it’s the red cordial used in most bars to make pink lemonade. It’s really red and really sweet. It was originally made from pomegranate and I suspect if you went to the trouble to make your own grenadine (here’s a link to someone who wants to tell you how but I haven’t tried it and can’t vouch for it), this cocktail would benefit, but it was a Sunday afternoon, I was on deadline. Judge me if you will.
The Wright’s Bar Menu doesn’t list quantities so I turned to Google and found this;
1 cup tequila
2 cups orange juice
1.5 tablespoon grenadine
Half a cup of crushed ice
- Put ice in glass
- Pour in tequila
- Pour in orange juice
- Lastly, pour grenadine carefully into the centre of the glass so it falls to the bottom and creates the signature sunrise effect
- Enjoy responsibly
And here it is (amateur bartending status evident in presence of lemon pips).
So what did SSM think of the Tequila Sunrise?
Well, it’s pretty, and easy to make. An impressive-looking start for the amateur home bartender.
But it also seems a little like a breakfast cocktail. Or something you’d drink when you were 19. So we followed it with a martini and that seemed a whole lot more satisfactory.
I’ll try the other recipe in a few weeks and am a little more optimistic since it has a fair whack of lime in it, but it really doesn’t matter, I’m in love with the myth more than the cocktail.
Next time: we get some Kiwi professionals to strut their martini magic.
PS Before you go, this from the final, brilliant scene in 1987’s Planes, Trains and Automobiles should erase The Eagles and leave you with a peaceful, easy feeling (sorry).