Cinco de Mayo, the day that celebrates a nearly impossible Mexican victory over the French at the Battle of Puebla in 1862, co-opted by frat boys and chain Mexican restaurants all over the United States, is once again upon us. Accompanying this minor Mexican holiday (no, it’s not Mexican Independence Day, that’s in September) will be the usual gush of articles telling you to drink 100% agave tequila, make margaritas with fresh lime juice, or imploring you to try an artisanal mezcal.
But for something different this year, try something that would actually be consumed by a Mexican, the Paloma. It’s a simple “cocktail” consisting of tequila and grapefruit soda. And before you ask, no, I don’t want to try your housemade grapefruit soda, which usually consists of nothing more than grapefruit juice and soda water. Au contraire, in this one I prefer real, artificial grapefruit soda.
The tequila you’ll use depends on what brand of soda you’ve got around. The bottle most Mexicans reach for is Jarritos Toronja. It’s round, and soft, and sweet—quite sweet. So I usually recommend a bright, sharp, peppery silver tequila if you’ve got Jarritos. El Tesoro Platinum will definitely do the trick here.
A popular option in the United States is good, old fashioned Squirt. Now, I know Squirt doesn’t have the most shining reputation these days among the foodie cognoscenti, but it’s a little drier than Jarritos and goes well with a dry reposado tequila, something rounder without too much sweetness from the wood. I usually grab one of my trusty bottles of Siembra Azul Reposado to pair with Squirt. It’s rich and lush, but bold enough to cut through the high fructose corn syrup.
But probably my favorite grapefruit soda comes from nowhere near Mexico, and that’s the San Pellegrino Pompelmo. It’s brighter than the others, with more of that fresh grapefruit pop that I look for when mixing with tequila (tequila and grapefruit are a natural pairing). The Pellegrino has enough sweetness to deliver the drink to the mid-palate, but with enough dry, crisp brightness to elevate the experience to a whole other level. I haven’t found a better drink than Siete Leguas Blanco mixed with Pompelmo. It’s the perfect alternative to all-you-can-eat taquitos and Kid Rock’s greatest hits.
• 2 oz. tequila
• 4 oz. grapefruit soda
• Fresh lime
Salt half the rim of a tall glass. Add tequila and ice, and top with grapefruit soda. Garnish with a lime wedge.
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Jeffrey Morgenthaler is the bar manager at Pépé le Moko and Clyde Common, the acclaimed gastropub at the Ace Hotel in Portland, Oregon. He is also author of The Bar Book: Elements of Cocktail Technique.