The Paloma Is the Ideal Drink for Summer
It’s already a near-perfect mix of tequila and grapefruit soda. But simple and delicious variations are worth exploring.
Note: It’s World Paloma Day on May 22.
Why mess with a great thing?
The paloma is a near-perfect cocktail for summer. It’s delicious and ridiculously easy to make — at its simplest, it’s basically tequila and grapefruit soda (preferably Squirt). Maybe a lime. If you’re fancy, a salt rim. That’s it.
While the history of the drink is rather nebulous, there’s no suggestion that the drink was ever anything more than a two-ingredient crowd-pleaser. Taste Cocktails suggests the drink was named after La Paloma (“The Dove”), the popular folk song composed in the early 1860s, and that drink might have been created by Don Javier Delgado Corona, owner and bartender of La Capilla in Tequila, Mexico — certainly possible, given that he was also the inventor of the batanga, another ridiculously simple and delicious cocktail.
Today, the paloma is possibly the most popular cocktail in Mexico (it’s easier to find than a margarita, based on my travels). A combination of fruity, sweet and bitter, the drink is easy to make and easier to consume. “It’s a great alternative to the margarita as it’s not as strong by ABV because it’s a long drink, it’s slightly less acidic, bubbly and very refreshing,” says Jeff Bell, owner of New York’s cocktail den PDT. “It’s perfect on a hot summer day.”
So no need to get fussy with it, right?
“I’ll drink a paloma in all sorts of variations,” claims Thomas Mizuno-Moore, Senior Beverage Manager for the restaurant Aba, which has locations in both Austin and Chicago. “The versatility of the drink is the beauty of it. A lot of the appeal for craft cocktail applications comes from the fact that simple highballs provide a sturdy scaffold to layer other, more complex flavors on top of — so the paloma is nearly infinitely ‘riffable.’”
The elevated classic: El Tucán
Calle San Marcos is a summer pop-up/spin-off of NYC’s PDT (Please Don’t Tell), featuring agave-forward craft cocktails inspired by bartender Victor Lopez’s hometown of Puebla, Mexico. The alfresco bar offers a fairly straightforward, easy-to-replicate variation. “We added cucumber and basil to really bring at the beautiful green vegetal flavor of tequila so it’s not just tequila and citrus,” says owner/bartender Jeff Bell.
- 1.5 oz Altos Blanco
- .75 oz grapefruit juice
- .5 oz lime juice
- 2 slices cucumber
- 4 basil leaves
- 1 tbsp simple syrup
- 2 oz Grapefruit Jarritos
Shake ingredients (except Jarritos) with ice. Strain into a Collins glass, top with Jarritos. Garnish with a lime wheel.
For an unexpected kick: Paloma Negra
This riff on a paloma unexpectedly adds Mr Black coffee liqueur, which seems odd at first — until you realize Mexico is one of the largest coffee-producing countries in the world. “Coffee has always been a vibrant part of the drinking culture in Mexico, and the country has always been ahead of the curve in its ability to mix coffee with spirits,” says Stephen Kurpinsky, U.S. Brand Ambassador for Mr. Black. “The coffee that is created from our cold brew process is low in acidity and bitterness. Mixing Mr Black into margaritas and palomas allows for added complexity; with the paloma specifically, we balance the bitterness of the grapefruit with the roasty, toasty flavor of freshly roasted coffee.”
Salt rim a highball glass and combine ingredients in a glass over ice. Top with Squirt. Garnish with a grapefruit wedge.
Your Non-Tequila Option: Patagonian Paloma
At the Kimpton Hotel Fontenot’s Peacock Room in New Orleans, Bar Supervisor Jordan Deis uses Träkál, a Patagonian spirit made from pear and apple brandy and local herbs and berries, in lieu of the typical agave spirit. And that’s partially because, for Deis, it’s the fruit that’s the important ingredient in the drink. “Grapefruit is bitter, sweet, sour and undeniably complex. All the hallmarks of a well-balanced cocktail,” he says. “This fruit forces you to think, but also makes you thirsty.”
- 1.5 oz Träkál
- .25 oz simple syrup
- .25 oz lime juice
- Fever-Tree Grapefuit
Shake all ingredients except the soda with ice. Strain into a Collins glass and top with Fever-Tree Grapefruit.
Your spirits-free fix: Faux-Loma
“The most important change we made with this paloma is that it’s alcohol-free — we use a spicy pineapple cordial, made in-house in Austin, and using Appel’s Pineapple Serrano Cordial in Chicago, in combination with fresh lime juice and a pink grapefruit soda from Greece,” says Mizuno-Moore of Aba, a Mediterranean-inspired restaurant with a large zero-proof menu. “The heat from the chiles simulates the burn you might feel from tequila without any of the intoxicating effects.”
- .75 oz lime juice
- 1.5 oz Appel’s Pineapple Serrano Cordial
- 2 oz Three Cents Greek Grapefruit Soda
- 1 pineapple wedge
- 1 dash of Aleppo
Combine lime juice and Pineapple Serrano Cordial in a shaker. Add ice, shake until cold. Add grapefruit soda to shaker and strain over fresh ice in a Collins glass. Garnish with a pineapple wedge and a sprinkle of Aleppo.
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