Tequila and Grapefruit — the Paloma

It’s May of 1862, the early days of the American Civil War. Mexico had a war on its hands, too; they were fighting the French, and it was going poorly.

Mexico had just come to the end of its own civil war; it was out of cash and unable to pay its international debts. France had taken exception to this, sent an army and navy to Veracruz, and was marching to take Mexico City and claim its gold. They did take Mexico City, did claim their gold, and eventually installed their own emperor. Briefly.

But the road to Mexico City held a surprise. A small force of Mexican infantry and Zapotec Indians routed a much larger force of French near Puebla, three or four days’ march outside the capital. It was a small victory, but it would take another year for the French to finally take Mexico City. It was an inspiring, symbolic victory, and became a rallying point for the Mexican people and armies in what would become a years-long struggle to regain control of their country. It was May 5, 1862; a few days later, the President declared a national holiday in honor of the “Battle of Cinco de Mayo”, and the celebration of that uplifting, but inconclusive, victory continues today, typically with street fairs, dancing, food, and drink.

It took me a long time to catch on to Cinco de Mayo. Commemorating Mexican army victories is not part of my family heritage, any more than being a pretend Irishman on St. Patrick’s Day. But over time I’ve learned that just as St. Patrick’s is a good day to drink beer and Irish whiskey, Cinco de Mayo pleases me as a fine excuse to refresh my acquaintance with tequila.

And it needs to be refreshed. For some reason, winter and tequila just don’t go together in my cocktail repertoire. A good springtime celebration is just what it takes to jolt me back into the cool summer drinks regimen.

And this year I’m setting the Margaritas aside; this time, my tequila drink of choice is the Paloma.

Mixing the Simple Paloma

In its simplest form, the Paloma (“The Dove”) is basically a highball—a tall, cool glass of tequila and grapefruit soda. Some people dress it up with a salty rim, margarita-style, or squeeze half a lime over the top, but that sort of embellishment runs counter to the basic blue-collar simplicity of the highball. It’s a tequila analog of rum-and-Coke, Jack-and-Coke, bourbon-and-ginger, or even the gin-and-tonic—it’s basically your favorite flavor of soda with lots of ice and a shot of your favorite hooch. Quick, easy, cool, and satisfying.

Paloma (Highball)

  • 2 oz blanco tequila
  • grapefruit or citrus soda

Add ice to a highball glass. Add tequila, then top up with soda. Optionally, squeeze a half lime over the top, and add the shell into the drink.

There are any number of grapefruit sodas you can use in the Paloma. The most popular seem to be Squirt, which seems to be available everywhere, and the less-widely-distributed Mexican brand Jarritos.

Mixing the Cocktailian Paloma

But if you aren’t into commercial sodas, you can also make the Paloma from scratch.

All you need is fresh lime, grapefruit and soda water.


La Paloma, photo © 2016 Douglas M. Ford. All rights reserved.
La Paloma



  • 2 oz tequila
  • ½–¾ oz fresh lime juice
  • 2 oz fresh grapefruit juice
  • pinch of salt or ½ tsp 1:4 salt solution
  • ¾ oz simple syrup
  • soda or tonic to taste

Combine all ingredients except soda with ice, and shake until cold. Pour, including ice, into a highball or Collins glass; include the spent lime shell, and top with a splash of soda or tonic. Optionally, garnish with a grapefruit or lime twist.

Use a good tequila. A decent blanco seems to be traditional, but aged tequilas will work well, too. Just mix with one you like.

The two ounces of grapefruit juice in this formula is more than you’ll encounter in many recipes, but this proportion maintains the grapefruit-forward aspect of the drink. I’ve found that less juice just gets lost in the mix.

Lime keeps the citrus aspect from being one-dimensional, and seems to brighten the overall flavor.

The salt is a classic accompaniment to tequila, and also seems to raise the flavors in the drink. I use a one-part-salt to four-parts-water solution; you could just add a pinch of salt directly into the drink and hope it dissolves, but it’s hard to maintain consistency with that technique. You might also find that the salt is not helpful if you use older tequilas.

(I’ve seen recommendations to add salt to the rim, Margarita-style. I’m against it; it’s messy, and this is not a Margarita.)

The soda is there to brighten the drink with a bit of fizziness. You can add a little or a lot, according to your taste. Paloma is meant to be a tall drink, so l lean toward topping up the glass with the fizzy—and that is probably why I lean toward a strong portion of grapefruit juice. You might find that you enjoy the Paloma mixed with the less traditional tonic instead of standard sparkling water; the note of bitterness from the quinine seems to enhance the overall flavor.

So there you have the Paloma, two ways. Whether you take the easy highball approach, or the made-from-scratch, fresh fruit cocktailian path, Paloma is another cool refresher for the hot days ahead.


17 thoughts on “Tequila and Grapefruit — the Paloma

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  1. I could not find any pre-made grapefruit soda, so I tried making my own. Sadly, I skimmed over the part about making a salt SOLUTION, and dumped 1/2 tsp. of salt in my drink. DOH! This was not one of those happy mistakes that results in something wonderful: I just have a very salty drink. Lesson of the day: Read TWICE, measure once. Cheers.

      1. The formula was fine — In my haste to make this drink, I read it too quickly. Tried it again and it was delicious! In the proper amount, the salt gives this refreshing cocktail a nice finish. Thanks for another great suggestion.

    1. I like that version,. too. The special thing about “doing from scratch” is that you can tune the formula to your liking. More work, but a better result, it seems.

  2. I split the difference and use grapefruit Jarritos with a squeeze of lime and a pinch of salt. I’ve found the tequila/salt/lime combo works with every kind of Mexican soda I’ve tried, though some are better than others. And mezcal with Sidral green apple soda is fantastic.

    Is that 1:4 salt to water, or the other way around? Are you using kosher salt or just regular table salt?

    1. The salt solution is 1:4 salt to water. As it happens, I am using kosher salt, but I measure by weight, not volume, so it doesn’t matter.

      Mezcal with green apple soda, note to self. Thanks!

    1. I’ve never encountered “Paloma” lemonade, but yes, I agree. There seems to be a general acceptance that grapefruit is the hallmark flavor in the Paloma highball, but when I was researching the drink, I ran into a couple recipes that were quite accepting of lime or lemon soda as an alternative.

  3. There are some very nice Italian grapefruit sodas that should work with this. Trader Joe’s has my favorite (just a TJs brand,) Squeezing a grapefruit just sounds hard

    1. Hi, Kevin, yes, it depends on whether you’re looking for a quick refresher, or if you’re mixing for flavor. If you’re using grapefruit or other citrus sodas, the only rule would be to make sure you use one you really like.

  4. There’s a recipe in Charles H. Baker Jr’s “The Gentleman’s Companion” for what he calls tequila por mi amante, which is a strawberry infused tequila. It translates to “tequila for my beloved” which is a little overwrought, but my Mexican friends call it tequila Rosa, or pink tequila. He recommends equal parts by weight of tequila and sliced strawberries infused for 2 weeks. I’ve found that 48 hours is sufficient, and I’ve also found that this stuff makes a super good Paloma. Very fruity, but not any sweeter than a regular Paloma.

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