Every Cinco de Mayo, we are inundated with variations on the Margarita. While there is nothing wrong with this tequila tipple – either up, on the rocks or frozen, with salt or no salt – it's not the only libation to toast Mexico's victory against Napoleon III's army at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. (Though widely believe, Cinco de Mayo is not actually Mexico's Independence Day – that would be September 16.)
Enter the Paloma. Basically a grapefruit component of some kind – soda, infused syrup, cordial – mixed with tequila or mezcal, there are an infinite number of variations of this uber-quaffable sipper (which means "dove" in Spanish). It's really easy to adapt and be creative with it, it's incredibly popular in Mexico, and its simplicity means that everyone has their own take on it – just like the Gintonic in Spain. It's a cocktail that can either be an effortless two-ingredient elixir, or just as easily be dressed up, which is what makes it perfect for any kind of Cinco de Mayo or summer gathering. Here are some ideas to get the party started:
Recipe courtesy of Drumbar, Chicago, IL
“Palomas appeal for when you would like to enjoy the simplicity of a refreshing beverage but don’t want to skimp on the complexity,” says bartender Gary Matthews. “They are great alternatives to Margaritas when you want to be refreshed but are looking for a bit of a longer drinking experience.”
- 1 ½ oz. jalapeño-infused Tromba Blanco Tequila (see Note)
- ¼ oz. Crème de Mure
- 1 oz. Grapefruit-lemongrass cordial (see Note)
- Marigold flower, for garnish
Add the first three ingredients to a cocktail shaker, add ice, and shake until chilled. Strain into a rocks glass over fresh ice, and garnish with the marigold flower.
For the jalapeño-infused Tromba Tequila Blanco:
Add 3 thinly sliced jalapeños (with seeds) to a 750ml bottle of Tromba Tequila Blanco. Store in a cool, dark place several days until desired heat is reached, shaking once or twice per day. Strain out solids.
For the grapefruit-lemongrass cordial:
Combine 2 cups of grapefruit juice (zest reserved), 2 cups of lime juice (zest reserved), 4 cups sugar, 3 chopped lemongrass stalks, 2 ½ teaspoons citric acid, and 1 ⅓ teaspoons magic acid to a pot and bring to a simmer until sugar is dissolved. Cool completely and add zests. Let rest overnight in the refrigerator, and then strain out solids.
Recipe courtesy of Bodega, Chicago, IL
For this bottled Paloma, bar manager for Bodega, Bunny Slope and The Berkshire Room Christian Hetter clarifies the juices with agar-agar, and adds water to account for the dilution you would get in a shaken drink. “The ‘Red’ has always been a gussied up version of my go-to summer slammer, which is just pouring tequila and Aperol into a Solo cup with ice and topping it with Jarritos Grapefruit, and adding a pinch of salt and a squeeze of lime,” he says.
- 2 oz. Blanco Tequila
- 1 oz. Clarified grapefruit juice
- ½ oz. Clarified lime juice
- ½ oz. Aperol
- ½ oz. Simple syrup
- ½ oz. Filtered water
- 8 drops of 20% saline solution
Mix all ingredients together. Carbonate at 45 psi for 3-4 days in the refrigerator, shaking twice daily. Bottle cocktails into 187ml crown cap bottles capped with a bench capper. Serve it over ice with the oils expressed from a swatch of grapefruit peel.
Flama Blanca Paloma
Recipe courtesy of Taco Bamba, Vienna, VA
Beverage manager Amin Seddiq says there are lots of ways to switch up the Paloma, including grilling the grapefruit, topping the drink with different bubbles like Cava or tonic, adding in herbs like cilantro or mint, and swapping out tequila for mezcal. “The appeal of a Paloma is that it's so refreshing and can be enjoyed during any season,” he points out. “It's a simple but flavorful cocktail that allows the agave spirit to shine.”
- 1 ½ oz. Del Maguey Vida Mezcal
- ½ oz. Agave nectar
- 2 oz. Fresh grapefruit juice
- ½ oz. Lime juice
- 2 oz. Jarritos Grapefruit Soda
- Grapefruit wedge and salt, for rimming glass
Rub the grapefruit wedge on the outside rim of a Collins glass, rim with salt, and set aside. Add the mezcal, lime, agave nectar and grapefruit juice to a cocktail shaker, add ice, and shake until well chilled. Strain into the prepared Collins glass over fresh ice and top with the soda.
Recipe courtesy of Greenleaf’s Pool Room, Richmond, VA
“The traditional Paloma is so easy to make but tastes like a bona fide cocktail,” admits owner Jim Gottier. Tajin seasoning – made with chilies, lime and sea salt – is a savory rimmer that goes nicely with smoky mezcal. “Swapping out lime for grapefruit is a simple change that even a die-hard Margarita fan can handle.”
- 1 ½ oz. Mezcal
- 1 oz. Grapefruit juice
- 1 oz. Turbinado simple syrup (2:1 sugar to water ratio)
- ¼ oz. Lime juice
- 1 oz. Club soda
- Lime wedge and Tajin seasoning, for rimming
- Grapefruit peel, for garnish
Rub the outside of a rocks glass with the lime wedge, rim with the Tajin seasoning, and set aside. Add mezcal, juices and simple syrup to a cocktail shaker, add ice, and shake until well chilled. Double strain into the prepared glass over fresh ice, top with club soda, and garnish with the grapefruit peel.
Salted Rosemary Paloma
Recipe courtesy of Naren Young, Dante, New York, NY
Want to hold the tequila but still sip a Paloma? Try this mocktail version, which gets tons of flavor from a salted syrup made infused with rosemary.
- 2 oz. Grapefruit juice
- ½ oz. Salted rosemary syrup (see Note)
- Grapefruit wedge and citrus salt, for rimming
- Grapefruit slice, for garnish
Rub the outside of a Highball glass with the grapefruit wedge and rim with citrus salt. Build the drink in the glass, with the juice and syrup added, topping it off with the soda and gently stirring. Garnish with the grapefruit slice.
For the salted rosemary syrup:
Combine 4 ½ cups of water, 2 cups sugar, 3 rosemary sprigs and 6 tablespoons of Maldon salt to a low boil. Turn the heat off immediately and allow it to cool. Strain out solids and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 months.
Grapefruit / Vanilla Paloma
Recipe courtesy of Espita, Washington, D.C.
This batched Paloma gets its potent grapefruit and vanilla flavor from oleo saccharum, a classic technique of extracting the essential oils from citrus by combining their zests with sugar and letting it macerate. Grapefruit wedges or peels frozen into an ice mold would add color and additional flavor, if desired.
- 1 ½ liters Sparkling water
- 1 750ml bottle Mezcal
- 2 ½ cups Grapefruit / vanilla oleo saccharum syrup (see Note)
- 8 ¾ g Citric acid
- 8 ¾ g Lactic acid
- 4 ½ oz. Giffard Pamplemousse
- Grapefruit wedges or peels, for garnish
Mix together all ingredients except garnish in a large punchbowl. Add an ice block to keep it cold. To serve, ladle it out into punch glasses over ice and garnish with a grapefruit wedge or peel.
For the grapefruit / vanilla oleo saccharum syrup:
Peel the zest from 8 grapefruit and combine it with 1 1/2 cup sugar and the seeds scraped from 2 vanilla beans in a resealable bag. Press out air and seal, rub zest and sugar together to release oils, and leave at room temperature until sugar dissolves. Remove peels, add 1 ½ cups boiling water and stir. Let cool.
Kelly Magyarics, DWS, is a wine, spirits and lifestyle writer, and wine writer, in the Washington, D.C. area. She can be reached through her website, www.kellymagyarics.com, or on Twitter and Instagram @kmagyarics.