Like many Highballs with short ingredient lists, the Paloma is deceptively simple to make. Despite what you may think, it is not as easy as pouring tequila into a glass and topping it with grapefruit soda. To help us understand how to make better Palomas, we tapped Kieran Chavez, the beverage consultant at Castell Rooftop Bar & Lounge in New York City. Here Chavez gives us all his inside tips on making the best Paloma, every time.
Use Blanco Tequila or Mezcal
When it comes to what type of tequila Chavez uses for his Paloma, he finds that reposado or añejo tequilas are too complex for the drink. “If I am using tequila, I am always going to use a blanco tequila,” he says. “I want my Paloma to be crisp and refreshing. The fruitiness of a blanco tequila doesn’t mask any of the flavors in the drink. You want to taste the grapefruit flavor.”
Like many bartenders, Chavez likes to use mezcal in his Palomas as well. But he suggests that it shouldn’t be a mezcal that you would want to sip straight, or one that is more complex.
Chavez’s go-to bottles are Tequila Cabeza, which is fruitier; Pueblo Viejo Blanco; and Siete Leguas Blanco. “You don’t want something that’s too spicy.” For mezcal he suggested using Del Maguey Vida, Fidencio Clásico or Ilegal’s joven mezcal.
Always Use Fresh Lime Juice
No matter what tequila or mezcal you use at the base of your Paloma, it is absolutely necessary that you add a touch of fresh lime juice to the drink. “You need lime [juice] to brighten the drink and give it that kick of acid that it needs,” says Chavez. It is also important that you don’t add too much lime or the drink will become unbalanced and too acidic. He found that the sweet spot for fresh lime juice is around half an ounce.
Make Your Own Grapefruit Soda (It’s Very Easy)
Making your own grapefruit soda is quite simple. All it requires is simple syrup (or an agave syrup that is two parts water to one part agave), fresh squeezed grapefruit juice (Chavez likes Ruby Red grapefruits better than yellow grapefruits, which can be more bitter and less sweet) and soda water. Chavez prefers to build his Palomas with his own grapefruit soda because it makes a cocktail that is brighter, fresher and more quaffable than one that uses store-bought grapefruit sodas, which tend to be super saccharine. If you absolutely must use a store bought grapefruit soda—rather than making your own—it is best to use soda that doesn’t use corn syrup as an ingredient.
It is important to remember that salt not only cuts sweetness and bitterness in a cocktail, but it also gives drinks more depth and better mouthfeel. It also makes you want to drink more of your drink. As crucial as salt is to a Margarita, it is as equally important to a Paloma. “It’s going to enhance all the flavors in the drink and pump them in a way that’s different than anything else.”
While most people only use a pinch of salt or a few dashes of saline solution to their Paloma, Chavez uses more than that. The amount of salt should be to taste, but however much you’ve been using, try upping that. You can also incorporate the salt into the simple syrup so that it is fully dissolved and easier to mix into the cocktail.
Build the Drink in the Glass
While some bartenders argue that shaking your juice, sugar and spirits together when making a Paloma results in a better cocktail, Chavez believes otherwise. “Shaking [the ingredients] might chill the drink faster, but you want this to be a drink that you can make quickly,” he says. “It’s important that the drink stays simple.”
Chavez suggests that you add all the ingredients to the glass, top with ice and then add soda. Stir at the end just to incorporate and to make sure that the drink is evenly mixed.
Serve Your Paloma in a Highball Glass
No matter what you have seen done at a bar (or if you only have smaller glasses at home) using anything other than a highball glass for your Paloma is a big no-no. “If you use a smaller glass—like a rocks glass—you’re going to be more inclined to use less soda,” says Chavez. “Even if you add too much soda [water] when using a highball glass, the worst that is going to happen is that the drink is too refreshing and you drink it faster.”
Garnish with Fresh Grapefruit
Skip the salt rim or the slice of lime. These garnishes are totally unnecessary when serving a proper Paloma. The only garnish you need is a wedge of grapefruit. “A slice of fresh grapefruit makes an architectural statement on the glass,” says Chavez. “You can also use a dehydrated grapefruit, which are not as much fun to eat.”