The short answer is that a Paloma is made with tequila, not gin. The Paloma is a popular tequila-based cocktail that originated in Mexico. It’s made by combining tequila with grapefruit-flavored soda, lime juice, and salt.
What is a Paloma?
A Paloma is a refreshing, grapefruit-flavored cocktail that has its roots in Mexico. It’s made by combining tequila with grapefruit soda, freshly squeezed lime juice, and a salt-rimmed glass. The combination of tart grapefruit, grassy tequila, bright lime, and salty flavors makes this drink a popular choice in Mexican restaurants and bars.
Here is a typical Paloma recipe:
- 2 ounces blanco tequila
- 3-4 ounces grapefruit soda (such as Squirt or Jarritos)
- 1 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
- Salt, for rim of glass
To make a Paloma, first rim a highball glass with salt. Fill the glass with ice cubes. Add the tequila and lime juice, and top with grapefruit soda. Garnish with a lime wedge if desired. The cocktail is meant to be refreshing, so don’t skimp on the grapefruit soda!
History of the Paloma
The Paloma was created sometime in the mid-20th century in Mexico. The exact origins are unclear, but it’s believed this cocktail was invented in or around the city of Tequila in the Mexican state of Jalisco.
One story credits Don Javier Delgado Corona, owner of La Capilla bar in Tequila, with inventing the drink in the 1940s or 1950s. According to this tale, Don Javier experimented with combining local tequila with freshly squeezed grapefruit and lime juices, topping it off with soda. The mixture proved to be refreshing and delicious, and the Paloma was born.
Another account traces the drink back to a restaurant called La Bikina in the town of Jerez, Mexico. As the story goes, a bartender at La Bikina named Feliciano first came up with the idea of mixing tequila blanco, lime, salt, and the Squirt grapefruit soda that had recently been introduced to Mexico. The resulting cocktail was christened the Paloma, the Spanish word for “dove,” because Feliciano thought the drink was as graceful as a dove.
In both versions of the Paloma’s origins, the use of tequila blanco is key. Blanco tequila, sometimes called white or silver tequila, is unaged and has a fresh agave flavor that pairs perfectly with the grapefruit and lime. Añejo and other aged tequilas would overpower the other ingredients.
While we may never know the definitive history behind the drink, it’s clear the Paloma originated in Mexico as a way to showcase the flavors of freshly made tequila along with citrus and salt. Its refreshing flavor profile made it a big hit, and the Paloma grew especially popular in Jalisco and the neighboring state of Sinaloa.
From its beginnings in western Mexico, the Paloma eventually spread across the country. In recent decades it’s also become popular in the United States and beyond, with many bars and restaurants putting their own spin on the classic recipe.
Popularity in the United States
Although the Paloma cocktail was enjoyed for years in Mexico, it wasn’t until the late 1990s and early 2000s that it really took off in the U.S. Several factors helped drive the drink’s surge in popularity:
- The rising interest in tequila, especially 100% agave tequilas, in the 1990s. As more Americans explored quality tequilas, drinks like the Paloma provided a refreshing way to enjoy them.
- The growing appreciation for Mexican cuisine and drinks in the U.S. Ban on imports of high-quality tequila were lifted, making it more accessible.
- Changing tastes among American cocktail drinkers. Many became interested in refreshing, lighter drinks compared to heavy, spirit-forward cocktails.
- The introduction of premium, 100% agave tequila brands like Patrón to the U.S. market in the 1990s. This helped change tequila’s reputation from a party drink to an elegant spirit.
By the early 2000s, the Paloma had been discovered by bartenders and drink aficionados, and started appearing on menus across the country. Its popularity has steadily risen since, making it a mainstay at upscale Mexican restaurants, bars and lounges. It’s also frequently found at non-Mexican establishments due to its crowd-pleasing flavor profile.
Is a Paloma Made with Tequila or Gin?
So that settles the debate – a Paloma is made with tequila, not gin or any other spirit. While tequila is essential, the other components also have an important role to play:
Tequila is the base spirit and star ingredient in a Paloma. Traditionally, blanco/silver tequilas are used. Their herbaceous, agave flavors shine through in the drink, complementing the grapefruit and lime. Blanco tequilas like Sauza Silver, Espolòn Blanco, or El Jimador work well and won’t break the bank. For a smoother, more elegant Paloma, try a 100% agave blanco from Patrón, Casamigos, or Cazadores.
The grapefruit soda adds sweetness and citrus flavor. Squirt is the most common brand used, but Jarritos, Fresca, or other grapefruit sodas can also work. For a non-alcoholic version, the soda becomes the main ingredient.
Fresh Lime Juice
Freshly squeezed lime juice is also vital. Bottled or pre-made lime juice won’t provide the same bright acidity and flavor. Lime zest can also be used as a garnish.
A salted rim contrasts nicely with the sweet and sour flavors. Kosher salt or coarse sea salt is best. The salt should be applied to just half or a third of the glass so drinkers can control the salty taste.
What Makes a Paloma Different from Other Cocktails?
There are a few key things that distinguish the Paloma from other cocktails:
- Base spirit: A Paloma is always made with tequila, most commonly unaged blancos.
- Citrus flavors: Grapefruit and lime are essential components, providing tart and tangy fruit flavors.
- Salt: The salted rim is a signature Paloma garnish not found on most cocktails.
- Refreshing taste: The tequila, citrus and soda create a lighter, crisp drink compared to many cocktails.
- Mexican origins: The Paloma was created in Mexico as a way to showcase tequila and local ingredients like grapefruit and lime.
These qualities make the Paloma unique. While it contains some of the same ingredients found in drinks like the Margarita, Sea Breeze or Greyhound, the specific tequila-grapefruit-lime combination sets it apart.
Would a Paloma Work with Gin?
While tequila is a must, some may wonder if gin could potentially work in a Paloma-inspired cocktail. Gin and grapefruit are certainly complementary flavors, so how would a “Paloma” made with gin taste?
Using gin instead of tequila would fundamentally change the drink. Here’s what you could expect from a gin-based Paloma:
- It would lose the grassy, agave flavors that tequila contributes. Gin’s herbal, piney botanicals would take over.
- The flavor balance would tilt more towards grapefruit, with the gin accentuating the citrus.
- Lime would help cut the richness of gin but couldn’t replicate tequila’s freshness.
- It may require added sweetness to balance the tart grapefruit and dry gin.
- The salted rim would seem out of place without tequila’s briny, salty qualities.
While gin may work in proportions and ratios tweaked from the classic Paloma recipe, the drink would have an entirely different flavor profile. You’d essentially end up with a basic gin and grapefruit cocktail. The complex interplay between tequila, citrus and salt that makes the Paloma special would be lost.
How Does a Paloma Differ from a Tequila Sunrise?
The Tequila Sunrise is another famous tequila cocktail. Like the Paloma, it mixes tequila with fruit flavors. But besides both containing tequila, the drinks have significant differences:
A Tequila Sunrise is made with tequila, orange juice and grenadine syrup as the key ingredients. A Paloma contains tequila, grapefruit soda and lime juice. So while both include tequila and fruit, the types of fruit flavors used are very different.
The Tequila Sunrise is sweet and tropical tasting, thanks to the orange juice and grenadine. A Paloma is tart, tangy and citrusy due to the grapefruit and lime. The overall flavor profiles are distinct.
The Tequila Sunrise was invented in the early 1970s at the Arizona Biltmore hotel. It was named for the colorful layers created by the tequila, orange juice and grenadine. The Paloma has its roots in Mexico and dates back at least to the 1940s or 1950s.
In the U.S., the Tequila Sunrise gained huge popularity in the 1970s after rock stars like the Rolling Stones and Eagles began drinking it. The Paloma was relatively obscure in the U.S. until the late 1990s and 2000s, when it started appearing on upscale Mexican restaurant menus.
While both cocktails are shaken drinks containing tequila and fruit juices, the specific ingredients and histories make the Paloma and Tequila Sunrise distinct from each other.
What Are Some Paloma Recipe Variations?
One of the great things about the Paloma cocktail is how adaptable it is to different interpretations and twists. Here are some popular recipe variations:
Grapefruit juice or other citrus juices can replace some or all of the grapefruit soda for a less sweet, more intense flavor.
Herbs & Spices
Fresh herbs like mint or basil and spices like chili powder or ginger can add creative new dimensions. Just don’t overpower the grapefruit and lime.
Other Tequila Types
While blanco is traditional, reposado or añejo tequilas can provide a deeper, more complex flavor.
For a zero-proof Paloma, use all grapefruit soda and lime juice. You can also use nonalcoholic tequila alternatives.
Oranges, Meyer lemons, blood oranges or other citrus fruits can put a creative spin on the classic grapefruit Paloma.
The possibilities are nearly endless for giving the basic Paloma template your own signature twist.
Where to Enjoy Palomas in the U.S.
Here are some top spots across the United States to sip an authentic Paloma cocktail:
Oyamel – Washington, D.C.
This upscale Mexican eatery from famed chef José Andrés serves a classic Paloma with Patrón Silver tequila, fresh grapefruit and lime juices, agave nectar, and Jarritos Toronja soda.
Empellón Taqueria – New York, NY
At chef Alex Stupak’s popular Empellón Taqueria in Manhattan, the Paloma is made withinea blanco tequila, lime, grapefruit cordial and seltzer for a well-balanced refreshment.
Xoco – Chicago, IL
Rick Bayless’ Xoco offers a tangy Paloma prepared with Sauza tequila, freshly squeezed grapefruit and lime juices, agave syrup, and Squirt soda.
Rosaliné – Los Angeles, CA
This modern Mexican spot in LA’s trendy Echo Park neighborhood serves the classic tequila-grapefruit-lime Paloma but with an upscale twist of passion fruit air to top it off.
Mi Vida – Baltimore, MD
Baltimore’s Mexican hotspot Mi Vida offers a Baltimore Bajito Paloma made with hometown favorite Sagamore Spirit tequila along with Jarritos grapefruit soda, lime juice, and agave nectar.
Those are just a few top places to experience authentic, well-crafted Palomas made with quality ingredients. But the drink’s basic formula means you can also easily make it at home to enjoy the classic tequila-citrus flavors.
So in answer to the original question – yes, the Paloma cocktail is distinctly made with tequila, not gin. While some recipes may substitute other spirits, a true Paloma showcases the herbaceous agave flavors of tequila along with tart citrus and a salted rim. This light, refreshing drink was originally created in Mexico as a tasty way to sip tequila. With its crisp, tangy grapefruit flavors and salt-lime accents, the Paloma has become popular both in Mexico and north of the border in the United States and beyond.