The Cantarito Is the Most Fun Drink I’ve Ever Had

A cousin of the paloma, this regional Jalisco cocktail is refreshing, sweet and a bit spicy. And sometimes served by the gallon.

March 9, 2023 5:22 am
A closeup of a Cantarito from El Güero
A regular-sized Cantarito from El Güero, near the town of Tequila
Kirk Miller

During my last few trips to Jalisco, I’ve become entranced by a bustling roadside venue in Amatitán, an hour outside of Guadalajara, called Cantaritos El Güero. There, I’ve watched the staff pour full bottles of soda, juice and tequila into giant clay pots, which were then shared amongst large groups of tourists and locals.

What I was witnessing was simply a jumbo-sized version of the cantarito. While El Güero (which launched in 1997 as the first bar dedicated exclusively to the drink) might be appealing to visitors and the social media crowd with their substantial presentation, it’s simply a larger version of a popular tequila drink that you’ll find in normal proportions once you get into the actual town of Tequila.

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The drink’s origins are a bit murky. “It’s not possible to specify who invented this drink but apparently it was born during the Mexican Revolution (1910 – 1917),” says Francisco Quijano, the Master Distiller of Lunazul tequila, which just launched a Cantarito-themed campaign. “It was specifically in the state of Jalisco and created to refresh and reward the troops after a victorious battle, since tequila, its main ingredient, was a cheap drink and easy to obtain.”

The classic cantarito features fresh grapefruit, orange and lime juice, grapefruit soda, tequila, salt and chile piquin on the rim with lots of ice, though there are variations. According to Quijano, the traditional clay jar keeps the freshness and coolness of the drink for longer periods. 

“The cocktail itself is a strong cousin to the Paloma but with the addition of orange and the Tajin rim that can sometimes be adhered to the clay ‘little pitcher’ with chamoy,” says Lynnette Marrero, an award-winning bartender and Lunazul brand advocate. “There are a few variations: Salt or saline into the mixture seems to be something unique.”

A bartender making a cantarito at Cantaritos El Güero
Different sizes of cantaritos at El Güero
Kirk Miller

One reason you may not have heard about the cantarito? It’s a regional drink. “It’s not easily found in bars and restaurants across large cities like Guadalajara or Mexico City,” says Quijano. “The cantarito is more like a rural cocktail from Jalisco.”

Lunazul is trying to get the word out about this regional favorite. Their Cantarito Program, launched this month, is promoting the drink and the clay mug at bars and restaurants across the U.S. The brand is also hosting sweepstakes geared toward both bartenders and consumers, as well as promoting a philanthropic component: Lunazul is continuing and expanding on a longtime partnership with Casa Hogar, a community in Oaxaca that supports residents with disabilities and provides therapeutic assistance and opportunities. Through the partnership, the company and community are crafting more than 250,000 handmade cantarito mugs from locally-sourced clay. 

Thankfully, those half-gallon or gallon-sized drinks I experienced on that popular roadside stand actually have historical precedent; the larger size is how the cocktail was initially served in the Revolution days. And it’s still a tradition to have up to 12 people sipping at a big cantarito from the same large jar, using straws with different colors to differentiate who is sipping what. 

“It’s a funny way to enjoy the cocktail,” says Quijano. “But it’s also risky since at least one full bottle of tequila goes in … and all the contenders try to impress with their drinking tolerance.”

So let’s keep our cantarito love in the individual size. Below, a fairly traditional recipe from Marrero. 

Cantarito mugs and cocktails and fruit by Lunazul
A traditional take on a Cantarito via Lunazul

The Lunazul Cantarito

Prep Time: 5 mins

Servings: 1

  • 2 ozs Lunazul blanco tequila
  • 3/4 oz grapefruit juice
  • 1/2 oz orange juice
  • 1/2 oz lime juice, freshly squeezed
  • Pinch of salt
  • 3 ozs grapefruit soda (Fever-Tree preferred), chilled
  • Tajín seasoning (for rim)
  • Lime wedge (for garnish)
  • Instructions
    1. Prepare a clay cantarito cup by soaking it in cold water for 10 minutes.

    2. Rim the cantarito cup with Tajín seasoning.

    3. Add tequila, fruit juices and salt into a cocktail shaker with ice and shake until well-chilled.

    4. Strain into the prepared cantarito cup over fresh ice.

    5. Top with the grapefruit soda and stir briefly and gently to combine.

    6. Garnish with a lime wedge.


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