Mid-century Americans had a fascination with all things Mexican, from Acapulco to Zapatas Westerns. The cultural interplay between Mexico and el Norte at the time was undoubtedly insensitive and chauvinistic — plus ça change — but we can still enjoy some of its fruits. If you haven’t heard Nat King Cole sing in Spanish, for example, you owe it to yourself to take a listen.
With respect to cocktails, Mexico is rather special. While whiskey, vodka, gin, rum, and brandy are all made in various countries, Mexico produces an entire category of spirits that is unique to it – mescal and tequila. These spirits, distilled from the native agave plant, have been produced in Mexico since before the reign of Maximilian I. While mescal is made from maguey, a form of agave, tequila is made from the blue agave exclusively. As with any premium spirit, good aged tequila can be enjoyed neat or on the rocks. But sometimes the question arises, what mixes well with tequila? Hint, not Juggalos.
In America, the most popular tequila-based drink has long been the margarita, too often bludgeoned to death with pre-made mixes and bad spirits by Jimmy Buffet fans. In Mexico, however, they go a different route, favoring a flavorful highball comprised of tequila and grapefruit soda known as La Paloma, which means “dove” and is ironically also the name of a rehab center.
1 ½ oz. tequila blanco (whatever you use, make sure it’s 100% agave – NOT Cuervo)
½ oz. fresh lime juice
Pinch of salt (don’t leave out!)
4 oz. grapefruit soda
In a highball glass, combine tequila, lime juice, and salt; add ice; top off with grapefruit soda, and stir a few times gently. Garnish with lime wheel, if desired.
The best way to make this drink is with Jarritos soda. Many recipes lose the grapefruit soda once they head north, and substitute grapefruit juice and soda water, presumably due to some combination of unavailability and/or disdain for cheap soft drinks. It’s worth keeping an eye out for the real deal as the drink just isn’t the same without the toronja soda. Squirt and Ting are other somewhat-available brands (try beverage wholesalers and bodegas).
Now, no drink that we could responsibly suggest to you will ever match the Proust-meets-Snooki sense-memory of body shots of bad tequila slurped up while on spring break at Señor Frogs. But, when you’re ready to enjoy tequila for its taste, find some grapefruit soda, replace that half-empty bottle of Cuervo left over from a party years ago with some of the good stuff, and make up a batch of Palomas with which to mark the end of summer, especially if you can’t join Elvis for some Fun in Acapulco.