Forget the Margarita: Toast to Cinco de Mayo With A Paloma Cocktail

Today, as we celebrate Cinco de Mayo, both bartenders and drinkers alike will be reaching for their favorite agave distillates in honor of this Mexican holiday. Many glasses will be poured — from the crisp and classic blancos to American-influenced, heavily-aged Añejos to the smokey, rustic mezcals. Some of us will pay our boozy tributes to the Battle of Puebla in the form of a mixed drink.

For most, the choice of mixed drink is a no-brainer. The margarita is one of the most famous and recognizable cocktails in the world. Its success remains deserved — a good tequila daisy is a thing of beauty. Still, mixed drink options are endless.

The Paloma (dove in Spanish) is a staple of bar culture in Mexico and is made with tequila blanco (the least aged tequila, also known as “white” tequila), lime juice, sea salt, sparkling water, and grapefruit. The bartender builds the drink in a salt-rimmed collins glass and pours in tequila, lime, grapefruit, and soda, integrating the ingredients with a spoon.

Like all great mixed drinks, the Paloma’s history remains mysterious. “Some say the drink comes from a bar in Tequila, Jalisco in 1965 named La Capilla,” says Oscar Valle, bartender at Licoreria Limantour in Mexico City. While we might not be 100 percent sure of its origins, we do know that the Paloma appeared in a slightly reconstructed way in the middle of the cocktail renaissance of the 21st century. Avoiding sweet grapefruit soda in favor of fresh juices and sparkling water, bartenders transformed the drink to a staple of the contemporary American cocktail scene.

“It is an excellent way to see (and taste) the drink from a natural perspective,” Valle says, referring to the absence of artificial carbonated mixers.

Thyme Paloma Cocktail

There have been more than a few variations on the fresh Paloma since its creation. Bartenders have added jalapeño and habanero to reinvent the drink as a spicy cooler. Others have worked with various infusions to highlight different flavors of grapefruit. For me, the Paloma is an ideal excuse to get obscure and reach for a bottle of acid phosphate. The chemical was a staple of the soda fountain scene, found in drinks like the Japanese Thirst Killer and in most original commercial colas. In a Paloma it helps balance sugar (in this case, rich yet clean cane syrup) against water without using too much lime juice, which can beat up the less acidic grapefruit.

“A good way to serve this drink is with options and variations, without losing the sense of it” Valle says.

Whether you like your Paloma cocktail old school, deconstructed, reconstructed, or supplemented, the important thing is to respect the sacred agave. Choose a good, proper tequila and don’t cover it up. Celebrate it!

Paloma Recipe

2 oz Blanco Tequila (I love Siembre Azul for this)
.75 oz grapefruit juice
.75 oz cane syrup
.25 oz lime juice
3 dashes of acid phosphate
Sea salt

Use a lime wedge to rim a collins glass with sea salt. Build the drink in a shaker on ice. Shake and strain into the glass. Top with Perrier. Garnish with a fresh lime wedge.

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