It turns out that in fact the Paloma, not the Margarita, is Mexico’s most popular way of serving tequila in cocktail form.
Despite the fact that when everyone thinks tequila cocktails they think of the classic lime-driven cocktail that is the Margarita, when in Mexico itself, it is the Paloma that really steals the show.
Unsurprisingly, the history of the Paloma is shrouded in mystery, lost in the annals of time and all those signifiers of that fact that the drink probably appeared in a few places around the same time.
One version of the story holds that the creator of the Batanga (Coca-Cola, tequila and lime juice) is also the creator of the Paloma. It’s credible, and the legendary Don Javier Delgado Corona – owner of the must-visit La Capilla bar in Tequila, Jalisco seems like as good a candidate as any.
How the drink spread from Mexico to the US is a little clearer, with a cross section of sources pointing the finger at Evan Harrison. The bartender published a pamphlet called Popular Cocktails of The Rio Grande, which plays on the citrus-producing region of Texas where a lot of the US’ grapefruit is farmed.
The fact that the Paloma, when served in Mexico, uses grapefruit soda and not actual grapefruit juice doesn’t seem to have been translated.
- 120ml Fresh grapefruit juice
- 15ml Fresh lime juice
- 60ml Tequila
- 80ml Soda water
- Grapefruit wedge
- Salt half the rim of a Collins/Highball glass (if salt desired).
- Combine the grapefruit juice, lime juice and tequila in glass.
- Add ice, stir down and top with soda water.
- Garnish with grapefruit wedge and serve.
- NOTE: For a different angle, try using a reposado or anejo tequila.
The lack of popularity of the drink relative to the Margarita seems to be due to a raft of factors, however author Teresa Finney recently pointed out that the Margarita came to popularity during the 70s alongside the development of premixes and slushy machines. It was very easy to mass-produce and serve, unlike a Paloma which requires soda.
Regardless, while it is tempting to compare the Paloma to a Margarita, the cocktail really is in a class of its own, and is well worthy of a spot on a good cocktail list.
Juice or soda?
Traditionally, in Mexico, grapefruit soda is used instead of fresh juice and soda water. That’s a two-fold problem for us here in the Antipodes, with Mexican and US brands like Jarritos and Squirt being both hard to find and non-cost effective; and the fact that your customers will probably prefer you juice them a grapefruit for the sake of flavour. That said, there are plenty of boutique grapefruit sodas on the market if you feel like putting the “traditional” option on your menu.
The Cantarito is the cousin of the Paloma and is also pretty popular in Mexico. Simply add a touch of lemon and orange juice to your tequila/grapefruit/lime combo for a bit more depth of flavour.
Another variation on the classic comes from the Stone Rose Lounge in New York City – here they infuse Thai chilli into Aperol before adding 20ml to a traditional Paloma recipe. The Aperol adds a touch of bitterness while the chilli leaves the drinker with a slight tingle on the palate – just be careful to not over-infuse the chilli, you’ll end up with a bit more than a slight zip and some potentially cranky drinkers.