Weekend Cocktail: La Paloma

Weekend Cocktail: La Paloma

Nearly everyone has a tequila story, and most of them don’t end well. I can’t say the spirit has an undeserved reputation, since every time I drink it I start looking for someone to punch. Regrettably, I’m almost always surrounded by close friends and loved ones in these instances, and so mis puños furiosos have mostly gone unthrown. I know some men wouldn’t let that stop them, but I guess guys like me just don’t have what it takes to really ruin a Thanksgiving.

The truth is that of all the occasions I’ve consumed tequila, only once did it ever lead to the purchase and subsequent discharge of a canister of bear mace. If that isn’t some kind of record, it ought to be.

Maybe tequila gets the dander up because it’s not all that easy to drink. It’s understandable that a person could go through life thinking tequila tastes like it was strained through an old boot stuffed with used Band-Aids… unfortunate, but understandable. It has a distinctive taste and smell that can throw a person who hasn’t acclimated themselves to it.

There are ways around this problem, though. As with any liquor, a little care in the selection will improve the experience. Budget allowing, always look for the words “puro de agave” or “100% agave” on the bottle. The mass-produced tequilas that loom so large in those regrettable memories from college were likely mixtos, blends of agave and fermented sugar cane. They aren’t even necessarily from Mexico. I always say to drink what you like, but I really don’t like mixtos. Many tequila aficionados say to avoid them completely.

Nowadays it’s not at all difficult to find 100% agave tequilas. Whether your tastes run to blanco, reposado, or añejo, the good stuff is within reach. Take a gander at the top shelf. Many of the available lines of all-agave tequilas are affordable, flavorful, and suitable for both mixing and sipping.

Quality tequila can change your entire perspective, and not just by putting you on the floor (though that might still happen). This week’s cocktail is an excellent example of how to ease into an appreciation of tequila.

La Paloma

  • 2 oz 100% agave tequila blanco
  • 1/2 oz fresh lime juice
  • 6 oz grapefruit soda (try Pellegrino Pompelmo)
  • salt (optional, but highly recommended)

To begin, rim the edge of a Collins glass with salt. I first attempted this drink without, but subsequent testing has convinced me that salt improves the experience to a not-insignificant degree. It is perfectly acceptable (and let’s face it: easier) to throw a pinch of salt in with the liquor instead of coating the rim. However you’d like to do it, I do recommend it.

Fill the glass with ice, then add the lime juice and tequila. My selection was the 1800 Silver, which has a very smooth and clean taste.

Top off with the grapefruit soda. I used a canned soda, but you may also use a mixture of grapefruit juice and soda water. Add a slice of citrus and a cherry as garnish and serve it up.

The best part of this drink is how sippable and refreshing it is. The grapefruit is the dominant flavor, and manages to tame the tequila without muting it. Here’s where the salt is important. Without it, the Paloma is a little too sharp and loses some of its charm. But with it, the taste is nicely rounded.

La Paloma’s slightly bitter, sparkling flavor is perfect for days when the heat and humidity are at their highest. File it away for Cinco de Mayo to liven up the drink selection – move away from the neon-green margaritas. I can’t promise you’ll wake up the next morning without regrets. You may have one fewer, though, because at least you drank well.

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Neal Dewing lives and works in Portsmouth, Virginia. He is the co-host of The Fifth Estate, a podcast examining culture and politics.
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