The Paloma

Many a Margarita will be poured as folks raise a glass to Cinco de Mayo. But you may want to alter course and try a Paloma for some authentic cheer. This cocktail, which hails from Mexico—where they drink it instead of Margaritas—is an easy, peaceable drink: “La Paloma” means “the dove,” which is the bird of peace, the bird of salvation. Let’s drink to that!

A simple mix of tequila, lime juice, salt, and citrus-flavored soda, it has a relatively short history and appears to be from Guadalajara or thereabouts, and from no earlier than the 1990s.

The key to this Margarita-esque creation is the soda. When we think “citrus soda” we often think “lemon-lime” or “orange.” But, in Mexico, they tend to think toronja, which is grapefruit.

As cocktail guru David Wondrich noted when he featured this creation in Drinks magazine, the grapefruit soda “…touches the Paloma not only with sweetness, but with a little sourness and even some bitterness, too—both of which are boosted by the lime, whose bitter rind is thrown in along with the juice. Add the saltiness of the salt and you’ve got all four tastes recognized by Western science. But it doesn’t stop there—there’s the tequila, after all. When a proper, 100 percent agave reposado is used, as in Mexico, the spicy, vegetal notes of the tequila seem to combine with everything else to give this deceptively simple drink the elusive ‘fifth taste,’ the meaty, savory sensation the Japanese call umami.”

In Mexico, the preferred sodas for the Paloma are Wink, Squirt, Fresca, and the native Jarritos brand, which may be available in Latin markets locally. (I know some national stores sell the brand, but may not feature the toronja.) More readily available are domestic Squirt or Fresca, which are acceptable alternatives. If you use either of these, add a teaspoon or so of fresh grapefruit juice per drink.

Here’s to peace! Salud!

The Paloma

½ lime
1 ½ oz. reposado tequila
Pinch of kosher salt
Grapefruit soda

Fill a highball glass with ice. Squeeze lime half into it and drop in the shell. Add tequila and salt. Top off with grapefruit soda, stir lightly, and add a straw.

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Mary Subialka is the editor of Real Food and Drinks magazines, covering the flavorful world of food, wine and spirits. She rarely meets a chicken she doesn’t like, and hopes that her school-age son, who used to eat beets and Indian food, will one day again think of real food as more than a means to a treat—and later share this with his younger brother.