Grapefruit season’s winding down, and pepper season’s kicking up! And so our thoughts turn to where these two ingredients intersect best: inside the spicy paloma cocktail.
Also, let us not forget that Cinco de Mayo is next week. (Observed on a limited scale in Mexico, this adopted “holiday” conveniently coincides with the year’s first outdoor happy hours across the U.S.) In fact, it’s the paloma — not the margarita — that ranks as the most popular tequila drink in Mexico.
Spanish for “dove,” the traditional paloma cocktail is a simple mix of grapefruit soda and tequila. Our adaptation from Food & Wine started making its appearance in our kitchen in late winter as a quick and easy craft cocktail. We dig the flavors it combines: the refreshing tartness of grapefruit, the deep spiciness of jalapeño, a subtle sweetness from the agave nectar, the complexity and smokiness of mezcal and the fizz of soda. The simple ingredients also make it a great drink to take to parties and on trips. Show up to a dinner party with this, and your friends with flock all around you, cooing sweet praise in your ear.
On our love for mezcal (pronounced mes-’kal):
Mezcal (also spelled mescal) gets its smokiness from its traditional production method. Watch the above video, and as fellow gardeners, you might dig how the giant agave hearts (piñas) are piled, covered with agave fiber and smoked for days. This process is not normally used for tequila. Also, the Mexican government allows mezcal to come from 150 species of the agave plant, whereas tequila can only be fermented from blue agave (Agave tequiliana). Due to the variety of of agave species, flavors vary greatly across the different villages and regions where it’s produced, much like wines or scotches.
The Spicy Paloma
Bars often serve palomas with grapefruit-flavored soda like Jarrito, Squirt or Fresca, but for the spicy paloma we’re using fresh fruit for a farmers market-squeezed taste. We’re also looking forward to when our own pepper plants start producing jalapeños.
Makes one 12-ounce serving.
2 oz mezcal
1/2 fresh grapefruit, squeezed (or 2 oz juice)
1/2 oz agave nectar
2 dashes mole bitters (find sourcing and DIY details via Serious Eats; you can can also substitute Angostura bitters)
1-4 slices jalapeño (to preferred heat)
4 oz club soda
Coarse ground salt (for rim, optional)
Prepare a salt-rimmed highball glass half-full of ice. Muddle jalapeño slice(s) and 2 dashes of bitters in a second glass or cup. Add mezcal, grapefruit juice and agave nectar. Stir and strain through fine mesh into ice-filled cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously for 20 seconds or until shaker is frosted. Pour into prepared highball glass. Top with soda and garnish with de-seeded jalapeño.
For large batches, mix a larger proportion of mezcal, grapefruit juice, agave nectar in a thermos. Muddle the jalapeños and bitters to taste and strain into thermos. Pour indivual servings over ice, add club soda and garnish. Substitute up to half of the mezcal with tequila reposada for a less expensive yet still smokey cocktail.