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When he's not busy running the cocktail program at New York City's Maialino, Erik Lombardo is giving us the rundown on all things spirits -- and showing us the best ways to drink them.
Today: A working man's margarita in preparation for this year's fast-approaching hot weather.
We're skipping right over spring and looking straight ahead to summer, and we're taking the Paloma with us.
But truth be told, this drink -- a refreshing mix of tequila, grapefruit, soda, and lime -- fares just as well at a outdoor dinner party in May as it will at the beach on a 90-degree day in August. (For the latter, just add solo cups.) The Paloma, Spanish for dove, is the working man’s margarita -- but it's as simple, and as wonderful, as a gin and tonic.
Typically it's made with grapefruit soda, but I'm a fan of making my own sodas using fresh fruit syrups and club soda. It takes only a little extra planning, and it's well worth the effort. Zest a grapefruit (if you can find white grapefruit, use it -- this slightly more bitter and funky variety holds up better to being made into a syrup) then juice it, and add the juice to the zest. Stir in an equal volume of sugar, and shake the mixture to dissolve. (Recruiting a friend helps.) Avoid heating the mixture to speed up the process, since heating it will replace the bright fresh flavor of the grapefruit with a darker candied flavor; think of the difference between a fresh orange and marmalade. Heating will also extract more bitterness from the zest, which is not what we want in the finished product.
Let it rest overnight, strain it the next day, and you’ve just made a non-alcoholic grapefruit cordial. This same method can be applied to any citrus -- just add club soda, and you've got yourself a fruit soda.
For those of you that wish to eschew the homemade route, Jarritos still makes a classic grapefruit ?soda for a Paloma. It’s crisp, tart, sweet, and refreshing, with the slightest hint of bitterness. Jamaican Ting is also a fantastic option if you can find it.
Regardless of which soda you choose, you cannot omit the lime. Grapefruit is tangy and bright, but for real tartness you need either lemon or lime, and the lime is far superior when paired with grapefruit. For tequila, stick with a nice blanco or plata. Bright, grassy, and just a little vegetal, they serve as the perfect complement to the funky and spicy citrus in the grapefruit.
If you’re using pre-made soda, feel free to just mix your drinks to taste, but for the fresh version, combine the following ratios in a shaker for a quick shake before straining over fresh ice and topping with club soda. Some cocktails are like air-conditioning, but the Paloma isn’t one of them. Rather, it makes you feel like you were born and raised in the tropics: You’ll still be hot, but you’ll revel in the heat.
2 ounces tequila
3/4 ounce lime juice
3/4 ounce grapefruit syrup
Top with club soda
Salt rim garnish (optional, but highly recommended)
Photos by James Ransom