As Cinco de Mayo rolls around, many will celebrate the holiday by hoisting margaritas. However, these two traditions, the party and the cocktail, may actually be more American than Mexican.
Cinco de Mayo (Spanish for the fifth of May) commemorates the Mexican army’s 1862 victory over France at the Battle of Puebla during the French-Mexican War. According to National Geographic, the anniversary of the victory is celebrated only sporadically in Mexico, mainly in the southern town of Puebla and in a few larger cities. In the United States, Cinco de Mayo has evolved into a celebration of Mexican culture and ancestry, similar to the way that St. Patrick’s Day and Oktoberfest celebrate the Irish and German heritage.
While the margarita is the #1 requested tequila cocktail in the U.S, the paloma is more popular in Mexico. Spanish for “dove,” the paloma is a refreshing highball made with tequila and grapefruit soda. According to Brown-Forman, which markets the El Jimador and Herradura tequila brands, 100,000 palomas are consumed each hour in Mexico.
While colas dominate the soft drink market in the United States, tropical fruit-flavored sodas are popular in Mexico. These preferred refreshments are believed to have evolved from agua fresca, or fruit waters, sold by street vendors throughout Latin America.
Mexican soft drinks differ from domestic sodas in two main ways. They are sweetened with natural sugar instead of corn syrup, which gives them a brighter flavor. They also tend to taste more like juice than the highly carbonated drinks favored in the U.S.
Squirt is a well-known brand of grapefruit soda in the States, however it has more of a lemon-lime flavor than the Squirt sold in Mexico. Jarritos, a popular Mexican soft drink brand, is available in many unique flavors, including Toronja or grapefruit. It can be found in Latin American markets.
Knowing these differences, one could make a paloma with Squirt or Jarritos, but for deliciously brisk version, I recommend using freshly squeezed grapefruit and lime juices topped with soda for a bit of fizz.
Just like a margarita, the paloma may be served with or without salt on the rim. The salt adds an additional layer of flavor: sweet, sour, and salty, with just a pinch of bitterness.
The paloma can be found at a few Washington Mexican restaurants including Oyamel and Rosa Mexicana. Chief mixologist Jon Arroyo at Founding Farmers in Foggy Bottom offers a different take, with an added kick most don’t have.
Arroyo uses house-made chipotle syrup to add seasoning and the drink is topped off with a mescal floater to give it an extra agave punch. These smoky elements provide one more level of complexity.
“I’m a big supporter of spice mixed with fruits,” Arroyo says. “I like the balance.” Arroyo’s cocktail starts out crisp and refreshing, then it hits you with spicy smack.
Founding Farmers is a perfect place to try the paloma on Cinco De Mayo if you want to avoid the rush at area Mexican restaurants. Or if you prefer to dine-in, try this easy-make paloma at home.
1/2 oz fresh lime juice (1/2 lime)
3 oz fresh grapefruit juice
2 oz tequila
1/2 oz agave nectar (or simple syrup)
Rim a Collins glass with salt. Mix first four ingredients and pour over ice into glass. Top with club soda or grapefruit soda.
Dixie Liquor in Georgetown will host a tequila tasting on May 5, from 5-8 pm.