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Behind the Bar: Tequila Cocktails

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The history of tequila drinks is actually a relatively short one. Until the recent cocktalian movement, just a handful of recipes defined the category.

The Margarita, of course, was the leader of this very small group. It was the first tequila concoction to gain widespread recognition and is still going strong. But the origins of this classic are as difficult to establish as the origins of the Martini.


Wealthy American socialite Margaret Sames claimed it was the signature cocktail at her summer home in Acapulco. Whether or not she invented the Margarita, she pioneered the use of Cointreau, and I’ve made her formula for 30 years.

Another theory is that Danny Herrera, owner of a watering hole in Rancho la Gloria, was its progenitor. According to lore, he created the Margarita for showgirl and film star Marjorie King in the 1930s. And award-winning author and advisory board member David Wondrich argues the drink was the result of a mistake.

A bit later, in the 1970s, the Tequila Sunrise seemed to be everywhere. The modern recipe is a dumbed-down version of what was served during Prohibition at the Agua Caliente Racetrack in Tijuana, which also included crème de cassis.

The Paloma, lately popular in the United States, has been a longtime favorite in the Mexican town of Tequila. The tipple’s invention can be dated to the release of the grapefruit soda Squirt, which provides its key flavor. Mexico’s best-known bartender, Don Javier Delgado Corona, owner of La Capilla in Tequila, is famous for his similar Batanga, a combination of tequila, lime juice and Coca-Cola.

Today, tequila and mezcal cocktails abound, and there are a number of establishments, like New York’s Viktor & Spoils, that specialize in them. Pair a chilled shot of the bar’s Sangrita Green or Sangrita Tradicional Pomegranate with a shot of your chosen tequila and salute this short but tasty agave history.

Sangrita Green

Contributed by Viktor & Spoils

  • 3 chunks Pineapple
  • 23 oz Pineapple juice
  • 8 Cilantro stalks
  • 8 Mint sprigs (leaves only, no stems)
  • Half a serrano pepper, seeded
  • .25 tsp Sea salt
  • .5 oz Simple syrup (one part sugar, one part water)
  • Glass: Shot

Add all the ingredients to a blender and puree. Fine-strain into a container with a lid and refrigerate for 2 hours. Serve in a chilled shot glass with a shot of tequila.

Sangrita Tradicional Pomegranate

Contributed by Viktor & Spoils

  • 16 oz Pomegranate juice
  • 8 oz Fresh orange juice
  • 4 oz Fresh lime juice
  • .75 oz El Yucateco Habanero Hot Sauce
  • 3 oz Simple syrup (one part sugar, one part water)
  • Glass: Shot

Combine all the ingredients in a half-gallon container and refrigerate for 2 hours. Serve in a chilled shot glass with a shot of tequila.

Master mixologist Dale DeGroff is the author of The Essential Cocktail and The Craft of the Cocktail. He is also a advisor.

Series & Type: TrendsBehind the Bar

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