The Paloma / Faith + tequlia.
Before we get started, a quick point of order. I’ve had a few readers ask why I publish my recipes in such arcane units as US ounces despite being a European. My reasoning is explained on the measures page but in future I’ll try to remember to include metric alternatives in all my recipes. Feel free to berate me in the comments if I forget. Frankly, I’m too lazy to go back and alter all the older recipes so let’s just call it a grudging compromise and move on. Anyway:
The most popular tequila based mixed drink in Mexico is, perhaps surprisingly, not the Margarita but the Paloma – which is Spanish for dove. Comprised of a generous measure of tequila over ice topped up with grapefruit soda and a wedge of lime, you could think of it as a Mexican gin and tonic. I know what you’re thinking; “we can do better than that!” And you are quite right. But before we get to work let’s talk about tequila’s place in cocktails:
There is tequila and there is tequila. And in my opinion we should only ever use the latter; that being the kind that clearly states “100% agave” on the label. The reason so many people will tell you they hate tequila is because they’ve never actually had real tequila. What they’ve had – often long ago – is some cheap “mixto” tequila which was fired down their throat when they’d had far too much to drink already. The shot of tequila ends up getting the blame for the hangover that the ten previous drinks caused. Real tequila is a wonderful and very natural spirit that is both well regulated and a joy to explore. Once we’re safely into the 100% agave zone the market is quite fragmented with dozens of brands to choose between at quite a wide range of prices. Furthermore there are three grades of pure tequila; blanco/silver (unaged), reposado (slightly aged) and anejo (aged). While tequila prices can vary considerably there is not usually a great deal of price difference within the same brand for these three types.
That being so, I really can’t see much point in using white tequila when you can have smoother and more flavourful reposado or even anejo for just a little more. To cut to the point I like to stock a good budget reposado and a more mid-range anejo for my mixing purposes (see update below). As usual the high end offerings are best left for sipping, their finer nuances lost in a cocktail. In this case I used El Jimador reposado which is an excellent value for money 100% agave tequila and, apparently, the best selling tequila in Mexico. I figured 120 million Mexicans can’t be wrong. A jimador is the hombre who harvests the agave plants which is a tough but highly skilled job. I think you can see where I’m going with this…
So back to our Paloma. My version of the Paloma was born out of a lack of grapefruit soda in my neck of the woods but it was soon clear that it was likely to benefit from couple of upgrades along the way. The grapefruit soda is replaced with a good glug of either fresh (if available) or high quality bottled white grapefruit juice, a little lime juice, some agave syrup and just a splash of soda water. Reposado tequila instead of blanco also lifts our game significantly. The float of mezcal is entirely optional but, in my opinion, really takes it to the next level. As a result of these tweaks our pimped-out Paloma is less fizzy than the original but much more flavourful. While it’s moved a long way from the original recipe I feel I still need to pay homage to the base drink so I decided to name it after a singer who likes to sing about responsible drinking – Paloma Faith.
2oz / 60ml reposado tequila (I used El Jimador).
3oz / 90ml white grapefruit juice, fresh if possible otherwise quality bottled*.
0.5oz / 15ml fresh lime juice.
0.75oz / 22.5ml agave syrup*.
Shake with ice and strain into an iced Collins glass.
Top up with soda (about 2-3oz / 60-90ml) and stir.
Float a teaspoon (5ml) of good quality mezcal on top.
Garnish with a slice or wedge of lime.
Toast the jimadors – whose hard graft makes tequila possible.
*Both agave syrup and bottled white grapefruit juice should be available at your local health food shop.