5 Modern Takes on the Paloma From Pro Bartenders

You need to try these thirst-quenching highballs at home

July 28, 2023 6:29 am
paloma variations with illustrations of limes and tequila
We'll be mixing these creative Palomas for the rest of summer
Olivia Sheehy

The Paloma — traditionally prepared with a mix of tequila, grapefruit soda, lime juice and salt — is the most popular drink in Mexico, even more so than the Margarita. It dates back to at least the 1950s, when grapefruit soda was first commercialized. During the decades since, this tangy, thirst-quenching highball has been popularized around the globe, and now it’s often served with fanciful interpretations. Some signature Palomas include variations that swap out the tequila for other agave or Mexican spirits. Others take poetic license with the grapefruit soda component while adding additional flavors and sometimes spice levels. 

Below are a few modern Paloma riffs created by bartenders around the United States, with adaptations suited for any home bar. Each of these cocktails is served in a highball glass.

yellow highball cocktail with a salted rim
Christina Helmer

“My inspiration for ingredients typically stems from sharing meals with loved ones,” says Javelle Taft, bar manager at Death & Co NYC. In this instance, he somehow saw a correlation between Palomas and a hamachi crudo with citrus garlic ponzu sauce he ate in Maui, Hawaii. He uses Don Fulano Blanco tequila for its authentic roasted agave flavors as a base. “It’s an eastern play on a Paloma with some green citrus notes and a hint of salted, smoked chili.” He elaborates that calamansi, native to the Philippines, “adds a fruity note, like a heightened mandarin.” To serve, Taft recommends making a salt rim combining equal parts nori, smoked sea salt and cayenne pepper in a small saucer. Just rub citrus on the rim of the glass and dip in the saucer.


Servings: 1

  • 1.5 oz. Don Fulano Tequila Blanco
  • .5 oz. Blume Marillen liqueur
  • .5 oz. honey syrup (2:1)
  • .5 oz. fresh lime juice
  • .25 oz. calamansi purée (found at specialty grocers and online)
  • Soda water, to top
  • Lime wedge, for garnish
    1. Fill the rimmed glass with ice. Shake all ingredients, save for the soda water and garnish, with ice. Strain into the glass, and top with soda water. 

“I wanted to add different layers using both a nod to Mexican-inspired flavors with a kick from Ancho Reyes Verde, plus a little Memphis inspiration with the Memphis BBQ bitters,” says bar consultant Christian Sanders, founder of Strangeways. This food-friendly take is built around Alma de Jaguar Blanco tequila, a 100% agave and additive-free brand that supports the Northern Jaguar Project wildlife conservancy.

Notorious C.A.T.

Servings: 1

  • 1.5 oz. Alma Del Jaguar Blanco
  • .5 oz. Ancho Reyes Verde liqueur
  • 1 oz. fresh grapefruit juice
  • .5 oz. agave syrup
  • .75 oz. fresh lime juice
  • 1 dash (6-8 drops) Bitter End Memphis BBQ Bitters
  • 2 oz. club soda
  • Salt and lemon zest, to rim
  • Lime wheel or wedge, for garnish (optional)
    1. Prepare a salt rim for the glass by adding coarse salt to a small saucer with a bit of lemon zest. Rub the rim of the glass with lime and dip in the salt.

    2. Add all ingredients to a shaker except the soda and garnish. Shake with ice until well chilled. Add ice to the prepared glass and strain ingredients over. Top with club soda. Add lime wedge or wheel, if using.

paloma with a tajin rim
Med Paloma

Though it’s an Italian coastal-themed restaurant, one of the house cocktails at Porto in Boston is a Paloma adaptation. To serve the Mexican national cocktail with a Mediterranean twist, the bar team concocted a version using Los Magos Sotol as a base. “We felt that sotol gave us an opportunity to introduce a different depth of a smoky, earthy flavor to a cocktail that is known for being very light and bright,” says Jon Mendez of A Street Hospitality. “The citrus syrup the team makes in-house allows them to control the balance of earthy and bright flavors.” In keeping with the Mediterranean theme, they use a boutique Greek soda brand.

Med Paloma

Servings: 1

  • 1.5 oz. Los Magos Sotol
  • .5 oz. fresh lime juice
  • 1 oz. homemade citrus cordial (recipes available online, or use store bought)
  • 2 dashes cardamom bitters
  • 3 Cents Greek Artisanal Grapefruit Soda
  • Tajín spice mix (available online and in select grocery stores), for rimming glass
  • Lime wedge, for rimming glass
    1. Rub a highball glass with the lime wedge and dip into a small saucer of Tajín seasoning. Set aside. Shake all ingredients, except for the soda, with ice until well chilled. Add ice to rimmed glass. Strain sotol mix into glass over the ice. Top with soda.

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Beau de Bois, bar and spirits VP at Puesto (which has multiple locations in Southern California), prepares an aromatic Paloma using a base of El Tesoro Tequila and a touch of lemon verbena juice, which can be brewed from commercial tea if not available fresh. “Lemon verbena will make almost anything better,” de Bois says. “The aromatics and flavor are very similar to candied lemon.” This refresher has what he describes as “serious X factor” to stand out amongst the Palomas.

Verbena Paloma

Servings: 1

  • 2 oz. El Tesoro Blanco Tequila
  • .5 oz. fresh lime juice
  • .25 oz. lemon verbena, freshly squeezed or brewed from tea leaves
  • 4 oz. Fever Tree Grapefruit Soda
  • Grapefruit quarter moon, for garnish
  • Maldon salt, for garnish
  • Sprig fresh lemon verbena leaves (if available), for garnish
    1. Add all ingredients, save for the garnishes and soda, to a tall glass. Add ice, then top with soda. Garnish with a grapefruit quarter moon and a fresh sprig of lemon verbena, if using, then sprinkle a pinch of Maldon salt on top.

paloma cocktail with a mint sprig and striped red and white straw
Casanova Frankestein
Michael Neff

Michael Neff, bar director of Bar Loretta and Gimme Gimme in San Antonio, Texas, serves up a spicy Paloma using both tequila and mezcal. “We’ve been playing a lot lately with blending different agave spirits,” he says. “Spiking tequila with different mezcals is a great way to add new depths to traditional tequila cocktails. This blend works well with the traditional Paloma flavor profile and carries the added heat [from a DIY tincture] perfectly.”

Casanova Frankestein

Servings: 1

  • 1 oz. Tequila Ocho Plata Tequila
  • .5 oz. Mezcal Vago Elote
  • .75 oz. fresh grapefruit juice
  • .5 oz. fresh lime juice
  • .5 oz. simple syrup
  • Club Soda
  • Pinch of salt
  • 3 drops Five-Star Tincture (recipe below)
  • 4 oz. high proof spirit (Neff uses Tapatio 110 Tequila)
  • 1 small packet dried peppers, about 20 (Neff uses chili pequin)
  • For the Five-Star Tincture
    1. Combine the high-proof spirit and dried peppers in a mason jar, cover and shake. Let sit for at least three hours but preferably overnight. Neff warns, “this will hurt if you get it most places on your body,” so it’s best to handle with rubber gloves.

  • For the cocktail
    1. Combine all remaining ingredients except club soda in a cocktail tin and shake briefly with ice. Pour into a tall glass over fresh ice. Top with club soda and garnish with “something green,” like a mint sprig.


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