When considering tequila cocktails, there are a few that usually immediately come to mind. The Margarita is, perhaps, the most famous of them all — and for good reason as this drink is bright, refreshing, and perfectly balances sweetness and tartness. There’s also the Paloma and the Tequila Sunrise, among a few others, and that’s before you get into the world of spicy tomato-based tequila drinks. You may have tried the Bloody Maria or a Michelada, but what about the sangrita?

Technically speaking, a sangrita isn’t actually a cocktail, but a companion drink that’s meant to be enjoyed along with a shot of tequila, such as Don Julio, as a kind of a palate cleanser. Sangritas require a bit of work to make, but once you gather the right ingredients it’s really not overly complicated. “[The sangrita is] a big part of culture in Mexico, especially in Jalisco where the drink originated,” said Christopher Reyes, partner and beverage director of Aldama in Brooklyn. “I’d say 90 percent of the time when ordering tequila, sangrita is served alongside, so it’s a very popular tradition.”

Sangrita (the name means “little blood”) is a drink that is said to have originated in 1920s Guadalajara, when people saved the leftover juices from pico de gallo to enjoy as a digestif with their tequila. While we usually think of pico de gallo today as a kind of salsa with diced tomato, onion, and jalapeño, it can also refer to a kind of fruit salad made with different types of sliced fruit, cucumber, and chili. Traditionally, the juice was reserved to drink out of small clay cups called caballitos later in the afternoon with a pour of tequila on the side.

Today, while staying true to its origins, a sangrita is often given a modern spin, frequently made with a combination of tomatoes, spice, and citrus, which provide a nice counterpart to the earthy, grassy notes of a 100 percent agave tequila like Don Julio on the side. “Like any other bar recipe, the fresher the ingredients the better,” said Reyes. “However, I have seen many bars in Mexico use canned tomato juice, which can taste just as delicious in my opinion.” Reyes says that a blender is quite useful for making this drink, and he prefers not to make his sangrita overly spicy. “I’d rather have it on the mild side so you’re able to enjoy the tequila as well,” he said. “You don’t want your mouth on fire.” While you can enjoy a sangrita with an aged tequila like Don Julio Reposado, Reyes prefers to pair it with a blanco, believing that you should save tequilas that have been matured in wood for sipping on their own. And even though you might pair the sangrita with a shot, go ahead and sip it instead of throwing it back, because high-quality tequila is best savored thoughtfully and slowly.

While the sangrita can be enjoyed all year long, there’s something about the warmer weather that lends itself to appreciating this drink. As people start to turn to clear spirits, like blanco tequila, in the spring and summer, a well-made sangrita alongside a pour of high-quality tequila is an incredibly appealing option. And Don Julio really is a fantastic choice to use for this pairing. Since its founding in 1942, Don Julio has been a beacon of quality in the world of tequila, from the careful selection of the agave piñas (“hearts”) by expert jimadors, to the slow cooking method of steaming the piñas for three days in earthen ovens, to the careful distillation process, ending with maturing the aged expressions in specially selected white oak barrels. Every step of the process is based on tradition and quality, which are factors as important to tequila as they are in making a drink like a sangrita.

If you would like to try making a sangrita at home, Reyes has an easy-to-follow recipe that is as simple as it is delicious:

Sangria Recipe, featuring Tequila Don Julio Blanco:

(Serves 32 ounces, 2 ounces per person)

Don Julio:

  • 1 ½-ounce shot of Tequila Don Julio Blanco

Sangrita Shot:

  • 500 ml tomato juice (fresh would be best, blended and strained, but canned also works)
  • 150 ml fresh orange juice
  • 200 ml fresh lime juice
  • 50 ml Maggi sauce*
  • 50 ml Worcestershire sauce
  • 50 ml Tabasco
  • Salt and pepper to taste

*Maggi sauce can be easily purchased from a number of grocery stores, as well as InstaCart and Amazon.

Directions:

  1. Mix all ingredients together by hand in a mixing glass (no ice).
  2. Serve in a shot glass with a salted rim, alongside a shot of Don Julio Blanco. Alternate sips to allow the sangrita to act as a palate cleanser.

This article is sponsored by Don Julio.