Behind the Bar

Is the Paloma Poised to be the Next "It" Cocktail?

From grapefruit sodas to shrubs to liqueurs, this citrus-based tequila drink is all the rage.

All praise the Paloma. Photo by Kevin Kramer. All praise the Paloma. This version comes from Lyn 65. Photo by Kevin Kramer.

The Paloma might just be the next “it” cocktail.

Jordan Silbert, CEO and founder of Q Spectacular Mixers, believes this so strongly that he reformulated his grapefruit soda just so it would be a better ingredient in Palomas. Two years ago, Silbert’s wife, Jenn Proulx, had introduced him to the cocktail, and he noticed it appearing on bar menus more frequently. He also saw bartenders who used his grapefruit soda in their Palomas would often add additional grapefruit juice to the drink. “It was then I realized the soda should be geared toward Palomas,” Silbert says. “I changed the recipe, making it much stronger, more bitter, and tarter than the original.”

Silbert’s reformulated soda made its debut on shelves and in bars earlier this year, and the trend he noticed two years ago is starting to pick up steam. “Palomas are now in many great cocktail lounges across the country,” Silbert says, adding that among his travels in the past week, he’s spotted them at places in both Austin and Cincinnati.

Q grapefruit soda.

“Grapefruit, in general, just seems to be a trend,” says Jami Olson, bar manager at Lyn 65 in Minneapolis. “People’s palates are changing, and they are more open to that bitterness.”

Paula’s Texas Grapefruit Liqueur made its debut last year, and its makers didn’t realize just how popular it was going to be.

“We didn’t realize how mixable it was,” says Carolyn Kelleher, marketing specialist for Empresario, which includes Paula’s Texas Spirits under its umbrella. “Grapefruit was so versatile, being mixed with Irish whiskey, rum, vodka, and champagne, but the Paloma is the number one cocktail it is used for, and I’ve been seeing it pop up on menus a lot more recently.”

“It was just time for the Paloma, anyway,” adds Dee Kelleher, president of Empresario. “I feel it’s a Starbucks factor — people have a taste for things that skew bitter. Aperol has really grown in popularity, and it has flavor notes of grapefruit, and we’re seeing more Italian amaros on menus…”

“And we’re seeing grapefruit bitters on menus, too,” adds Carolyn Kelleher.

A traditional Paloma is made with blanco or silver tequila, a sweet Mexican grapefruit soda like Jarritos, and a squeeze of lime, served on the rocks with a sprinkle of salt or even a salt rim. Sometimes it’s made with Squirt or Fresca. But it’s going more craft lately, using Paula’s Grapefruit Liqueur or substituting mezcal instead of tequila.

“In the past year, I’ve seen a lot of interesting takes on the Paloma,” says Danny Nally, manager of the Tiny Tavern in Chicago. “I’ve made them with grapefruit beer instead of grapefruit juice, and I’ve used mezcal instead of tequila. I’ve also added about ¼ ounce of green Chartreuse to spice things up.”

Olson says one of her favorite ways of making a Paloma is to use the French Pamplemousse rosé wine infused with grapefruit flavors. She also makes another version with a tequila that she’s infused with peppercorns, then adds basil, lime, and a grapefruit soda. Silbert says he also likes making Palomas with Ancho Reyes and Ancho Reyes Verde liqueurs, and his wife loves making a Paloma with mezcal and a jalapeño and salt rim.

Paula's Texas Grapefruit LiqueurCarolyn Kelleher says she’s seen Palomas made with rosemary infusions, and she’s also seeing the cocktail served on draft at quite a few bars and restaurants. “Anytime you see a cocktail on tap, it means they’re selling a lot of them, so they have them on tap to get them served really quickly.”

Dee and Carolyn Kelleher both say that one of their sales executives saw that the Paloma was so popular that he requested a new Paloma poster be made so that they could be placed all over his sales territory. “We start with the mixologists, then it trickles down to the Applebee’s and Chili’s restaurants — we’re now seeing that movement towards a broader audience,” Carolyn Kelleher notes.

Olson says she believes it’s growing in popularity because it’s a cocktail that’s easy to replicate at home. “If it’s something people can make at home, and they go to their favorite bar and see a Paloma on the menu, then of course they want to compare theirs with the bar’s,” Olson says. “Also, depending on how a bartender makes a Paloma, it is a cocktail that can be made with hardly any calories at all, depending on how you go, and the low-proof, low-cal thing might also be a part of its popularity.”

“Palomas feel a lot like what the Mules were eight years ago,” Silbert says. “It’s not the Mule yet, but it’s getting there.”

Jeanette Hurt is the author of Drink Like a Woman and is an award-winning writer focused on spirits, food and travel.

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