Friday, August 16, 2013

Cocktail of the Week: The Paloma

Forget what you’ve heard – possibly even from me – about the margarita. The real national drink of Mexico is a simpler concoction that showcases tequila to greater effect than its better known relative, and if anything may be more refreshing.

Paloma means dove in Spanish. It’s also a native infestation that attacks the leaves of maguey (agave) plants, source of mezcal and tequila, so calling a cocktail by that name may be ironic or a bid to ward off bad luck. Like the margarita, La Paloma incorporates tequila, lime juice and salt. The primary difference with the last ingredient is that instead of going on the rim of the glass, the salt is typically tossed right into the drink. That step, unfussy in the extreme, is essential to the Paloma’s street-level appeal; there’s no worry about even distribution as the salt gets right to work on the ice and unleashes the tequila’s flavor. The absence of triple sec also allows the spirit to shine more brightly.

Still more important is the final element: grapefruit soda. It’s a magnificent time-saving step, adding sourness and sass in one fell swoop. The traditional choice in Mexico is Squirt, with some favoring Ting from Jamaica or, madre de dios, Fresca. My personal preference is Jarritos, for two reasons:

1. It’s authentically Mexican.
2. It’s available in the store in my building.

As La Paloma has caught on north of the border, bartenders are classing them up with fresh grapefruit juice for tartness and club soda for fizz. These Palomas, along with those made with mezcal, tequila’s smokier cousin, can be sublime. But I have no quarrel with the down-to-earth original. I’ve always been a man of the people.

Alcademics offers a round-up of twenty Paloma variations including an earlier Cocktail of the Week, the 212.

The Paloma

2 oz. tequila
½ oz. lime juice
pinch of salt
several oz. grapefruit soda

Combine the first three ingredients in a Collins glass. Add ice, then soda. Stir. Garnish with a lime wedge.