The Paloma is Mexico’s endlessly refreshing answer to the Rum and Coke and the most popular tequila cocktail after the Margarita (except in Mexico, where it's more popular than the Margarita). There are two approaches to making one, the "classic" way with grapefruit soda, or the “fresh” way with fresh grapefruit juice, simple syrup, and soda water (really more of a tequila collins). I prefer the soda version. It's more authentic, easier to prepare, and just flat out tastier.
Finding grapefruit soda can be a bit of a challenge, it isn’t as easy to find as other basic cocktail mixers like Coke, ginger ale, tonic. The most pervasive brand is probably Fresca, which makes a decent Paloma. The only problem is it's sugar-free and contains aspartame, an artificial sweetener that has a kind of hollow metallic finish. Still, it works in a pinch.
My favorite grapefruit soda for a Paloma, and I've tried a lot of them, Paloma is the recently released Q Grapefruit Soda. It’s bright, tart, a touch bitter, and has the most authentic grapefruit flavor. I personally think it’s a little too dry, which is why I like to add a scant 1/2 oz of simple syrup to the recipe. Though feel free to adjust that to taste, or omit it all together. Other grapefruit sodas that are commonly used and totally delicious (and arguably more traditional), are Squirt (my second choice), Ting and Jarritos Grapefruit. More on those below.
2 oz blanco tequila
5 oz Q Grapefruit Soda (or another grapefruit soda)
scant ½ oz simple syrup - omit if using another grapefruit soda
2 lime wedges
pinch of salt (about ⅛ - ¼ teaspoon)
In a collins glass add the tequila, simple syrup, and fill with ice. Add the pinch of salt, squeeze in the juice from the first lime wedge. Gently fill with the grapefruit soda. Briefly stir to integrate. Squeeze in the second lime wedge. I like to add a final sprinkling of salt, but that's optional. I like it salty.
Best grapefruit sodas for Palomas.
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More Thoughts on Grapefruit Soda
The trio of traditional Paloma grapefruit sodas - Squirt, Ting and Jarritos Grapefruit - are all fairly similar. They're reminiscent of grapefruit in the way that cherry Jolly Ranchers are reminiscent of cherries. Tasty, but definitely artificially flavored.
To me, what distinguishes them is their grapefruit concentrate content. Squirt, an American product, contains a 2% or less, which gives it just enough "real" grapefruit flavor while still evoking a kind of grapefruit Sprite - which is kinda what you want. Ting is from Jamaica and contains a whopping (in this case) 6% concentrate making it more bitter than the others, but not in a way I find especially satisfying. Jarritos is from Mexico and has zero concentrate, just "natural flavors", aka extracts. It's nice, though its the least grapefruit-y and sweetest of the bunch. On the plus, side Jarritos has real sugar, not high fructose corn syrup like the others.
The reason Q Grapefruit Soda is so good is it relies on grapefruit essential oil for its flavor, which is why it tastes like fresh grapefruit. Also why its more expensive.
These aren't the only options course. Recently there has been a proliferation of grapefruit beverages in hitting the market from Spindrift to Izze to Gus. They're all fine but are best enjoyed on their own, not as cocktail mixers. In Palomas, they leave something to be desired. Stick with the brands above.
No Salt Rim?
Traditional Paloma recipes call for the glass to be rimmed with salt, but I prefer to throw the salt right into the glass. For one, it eliminates a step, which I will always take the opportunity to do as long as it doesn’t sacrifice quality, but I think it suits the drink better too. Unlike the Margarita, where a salt rim serves as a pleasant contrast to what’s in the glass, the salt in a Paloma plays a more active role. It brightens all the flavors, offsets sweetness, which commercial sodas are loaded with (except Q), and counteracts the bitterness from the grapefruit (especially Q), adding another intriguing layer to the drink. This is for the same reason some people sprinkle salt on fresh grapefruit.
Bottled Paloma at Leyenda
Pardon the plug, but I'd be remiss if I didn't mention include a mention of the bottled Paloma I developed for Leyenda (Clover Club's sister bar across the street). It's carbonated and bottled in-house, so there's a higher carbonation than you'll ever get making it from scratch. If I do say so myself, it is the best Paloma you'll ever have. So if you ever find yourself in Carrol Garndes, Brooklyn, swing by and give it a try!
The History of the Paloma
Despite being a relatively recent creation by classic cocktail standards, the origin of the Paloma has been elusive until fairly recently. In this article from Camper English - whose blog/site Alcademicsa fantasticstic resource for booze-related nerdiness - outlines the amusing account of the Paloma’s wikipedia page, which for years sported an entirely made-up backstory that was referenced by multiple blogs across the internet, only confirming the falsehood for many people.
Luckily for us, we have David Wondrich to set things straight. As usual, he is my primary historical resource for this cocktail, which is all laid out in his recent article for the Daily Beast.
In summary, it appears that Squirt was the first grapefruit soda used in Palomas. It originated in the U.S. in the 1930s and entered the Mexican market in 1955. One assumes it was mixed with tequila immediately, but there isn’t hard evidence of it until the 1970s in the form of some Squirt marketing.
It was even later in the 1990s that the first references of a coalesced mixture of blanco tequila, Squirt, lime, and salt appear as an established drink. Ground zero seems to have been a town called Tlaquepaque, a shopping and tourist hub outside of Guadalajara. In the 1997 book “A Cook’s Tour of Mexico” the recipe is listed as the Lazy Man’s Margarita. In 2000's “Cowboy Cocktails” lists it under its current moniker, La Paloma (which means “the dove”) and calls the drink “virtually the national drink of Guadalajara”.
This was perfectly timed. With the rise of the modern cocktail renaissance and expanding interest in agave spirits, not to mention tequila finally getting a 2-ingredient drink of its own, the Paloma was poised to break out. And it did. The Paloma's spread over the past decade, particularly the last few years has been remarkable, and it looks to be just getting started.