Sangrita: Tequila’s Sassy Companion

More good tequila is drowned by bad mixers than any other spirit.

Well, I don’t exactly have the figures on that. But in this Margarita Nation, oceans of bottled sour mix gets shaken up with tequila, wiping out any hint of one of Mexico’s greatest exports. It’s enough to make tequila lover and cookbook author Lucinda Hutson see red.

“So many cocktails overwhelm the tequila,” says Hutson, author of “¡Viva Tequila! Cocktails, Cooking, and Other Agave Adventures,” many of them sweet. “They’re like dessert before dinner.”

Instead of dumping so much stuff into a nuanced spirit like a good tequila, try it neat, with a chaser alongside. Enter the sangrita.

Translated as “little blood,” the drink is a citrus, pomegranate and chili sipper meant to accentuate the tequila’s herbaceous flavor and heat. It’s taken hand-in-hand with tequila: a sip of tequila, a sip of sangrita, one complementing the other.

Although traditionally made with pomegranate, orange and lime juices, with a chili component for plenty of heat, most in the U.S. are made with tomato juice. Hutson rails against them, finding them too thick.

And don’t even mention the bars that compete for the most unusual variation, adding Sriracha, garlic or horseradish. They taste more like a bloody mary, Hutson says: “But that’s not what we’re making. We’re making a chaser that should absolutely highlight tequila, not take away from it.”

Sangrita’s texture should be light, though not watery. It should taste tart and sweet, with some salt to bring out flavor, and should give a rush of heat from chili (ground chilies or a good hot sauce).

Popular in Mexico for years (indeed, an order of tequila is served with sangrita without asking, Hutson says), sangrita is gaining ground up north as well, though it’s still relatively unknown. Most of the nine tequila bars I visited for tastings say that customers rarely ask for it.

You can change that at your house. The sangrita here is taken from among the three in Hutson’s book. She likes to serve it ice cold in old tequila bottles, with bottles of tequila, both tucked into an ice bucket.


Prep: 15 minutes

Makes: 1 2/3 cups (about 6 servings)

Adapted from “¡Viva Tequila!” by Lucinda Hutson. Her original recipe makes 7 cups (about 24 servings), enough for a big party. We’ve cut it down to one-quarter that amount, but the recipe is easily scaled back up.

1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice, about 4 oranges

3 ounces bottled 100 percent pomegranate juice

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice, preferably from Mexican limes (aka key limes), 2 or 3 limes

2 to 3 tablespoons hot sauce, such as Salsa Valentina or Salsa Tamazula

Pinch of salt

Stir ingredients together in a pitcher. Chill overnight or longer (it just gets better). Before serving, adjust flavorings al gusto (to taste) for the perfect balance. Serve the chilled sangrita and blanco tequila each in tall shot glasses (called caballitos) or another type of small glass. Keeps refrigerated for more than a week.

This article on Sangrita was originally published on the website of the Chicago Tribune