Celebrate Cinco de Mayo with a Paloma Cocktail

Americans love a good reason to drink... St. Patrick’s Day! Fourth of July! The election—regardless of which side of the fence you’re on! Cinco de Mayo is tomorrow and as far as the eye can see, our nation’s restaurants are prepping guacamole and queso by the pounds, and stocking up on tequila to serve to the masses. (Friendly reminder, Cinco de Mayo celebrates the Mexican army’s 1862 victory over France at the Battle of Puebla—it is not Mexico’s Independence Day.) 

Lately, the age-old Margarita has taken a backseat to it’s Tequila-based cocktail cousin, the Paloma—wildly popular in Mexico and finally making headway in the United States. What’s said to the be the brainchild of Don Javier Delgado Corona, owner of La Capilla bar in Tequila, Jalisco Mexico, the Paloma is a refreshing blend of Tequila, grapefruit juice and soda water—or grapefruit soda, like Fresca—served with a lime wedge. 

So why are bartenders in love with this pink-hued cocktail? “A Paloma lives in a slightly different category, as it’s a highball-style cocktail,” says Noah Small, beverage director of Empellón restaurants in New York City. “It isn't shaken; it's built in a tall glass ready to serve. I think it's a refreshing and crave-worthy delivery system for agave spirits if you're feeling like something other than a Margarita.”

Small’s Paloma at Empellón Al Pastor features Ting grapefruit soda, Peloton de la Muerte Mezcal and oregano. “We chose Mezcal over Tequila for this expression. The higher abv [alcohol by volume] cuts the sugar content of the soda and the minerality pairs beautifully with grapefruit. As for the Ting, I think it’s simply the best grapefruit soda you can buy. It delivers pure grapefruit flavor that holds up to alcohol. And the flavor of Mexican oregano reminds me of grapefruit oil—it adds a third, earthy dimension to the cocktail.”

At the newly-opened Sugar East in Midtown Manhattan, the aptly-named Grapefruit cocktail is a blend of Codigo Rosa Tequila, grapefruit, lavender honey and lemon, all shaken together with an egg white. “I believe that the the Paloma’s rise in popularity stems from, in my opinion, a more refreshing type of sour summer cocktail over the traditional Margarita,” says Sugar East’s mixologist Jeremy Strawn. “It’s nearly impossible to outdo a great cocktail like a Margarita, but using fresh grapefruit juice, a little lemon and the right Tequila proves to be really refreshing. I have always had amazing results mixing grapefruit and lavender together—they’re a natural pairing.”

“The Paloma is such an underrated cocktail,” states Eric Liebtag, general manager of food and beverage at The Corner Office in downtown Denver. “I have found that with my experiences over time, grapefruit pairs much better than lime with tequila.” Liebtag makes his variation with Altos Reposado Tequila, Del Maguey Vida Mezcal, Deep Eddy Ruby Red Grapefruit Vodka, grapefruit, lime, charred serrano peppers and a grapefruit IPA. “When we were redesigning the cocktail menu for this year, our focus was to find drinks that were classics, but that haven’t really been taken all that seriously in the cocktail world of late,” says Liebtag. “We’ve had incredible success over the last two years of making our version of beer cocktails, so that was the inspiration behind our twist on this classic. Grapefruit is a great product to work with and we wanted to build the Paloma from the ground up—we chose to concentrate on flavors that would help elevate the cocktail. We added spice, smoke, citrus, sweet and then of course the Ballast Point Grapefruit Sculpin, which is an awesome product to mix with or drink on its own.”

The Paloma at The Corner Office in Denver.

Bar Manager Kim Stodel serves a Margarita-Paloma hybrid at Providence in Los Angeles—the Mano de Chango features Angelisco Blanco tequila, Pierre Ferrand Curaçao, guava syrup, lime and of course, grapefruit. Stodel uses leftover guava pulp from the house-made guava syrup to create a fruit leather garnish, part of Providence’s zero-waste cocktail philosophy. 

The Mano de Chango at Providence in L.A. Photo by Kyle Deven.

The La Saladita at Trina’s Starlite Lounge in Boston’s Somerville suburb is a blend of El Jimador Blanco Tequila, grapefruit and St. Germain, topped with a Pacifico floater. “We named the cocktail after our co-owner Beau Sturm’s favorite surfing beach in Mexico," says general manager Emma Hollander. "The St. Germain works well with the floral elements of agave while balancing the tart citrus. It’s a refreshing grapefruit fizzy twist—Beau always calls it the workingman’s Margarita.” 

Housemade grapefruit beer is the secret to the Paloma at The Pastry War in Houston. “It has an interesting tang to it,” says general manager Sarah Cuneo. “It's a little sweeter than a Margarita, but a little more savory at the same time.” 

“With the focus these days on fresh ingredients,” continues Liebtag, “I would expect modern versions of the Paloma to start showing up on more menus and taking over more what some would consider more 'popular' cocktails, like the Margarita, Mule and Mojitos.”

As the saying goes, when life hands you a grapefruit, make a Paloma cocktail. 

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Hero image by Evan Sung.

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