The Contentious Origin Of The Paloma Cocktail

Picture a tequila cocktail, and odds are, a margarita comes to mind. While the classic drink is undeniably a wonderful vessel for the agave spirit, there are many other delicious options, too. Few come more casual than the Paloma, which, in its most basic iteration, is just blanco tequila and grapefruit soda, particularly the brand Squirt.

Beloved in Mexico, the cocktail occupies a realm similar to other combinations of spirits and mixers, with most crafting their own desired proportions and adding their own spin. As a result, the straightforward creation takes on contentious origins; no specific establishment or bartender is accredited for its invention.

Some cite legendary bar owner Don Javier, based in Tequila, Mexico, as the first to mix up the drink. While he likely did create the Batanga, the beloved bartender always refused credit for the Paloma. All that's clear is that the drink didn't exist until after 1938, the date when Squirt was first made in Arizona. Most likely, fans discovered the soda's synergy with tequila soon after, and word spread. It is the case that the advertisements for Squirt as a mixer for tequila appeared around 1950, but that predates when it was officially imported into Mexico.

The Paloma originated soon after Squirt soda

It's unclear on which side of the border the Paloma first appeared. Squirt soda didn't arrive in Mexico until 1955, although some semblances of the drink had already emerged. Regardless, the cocktail became — and continues to be — much more prevalent in Mexico than in the U.S. although it's forever gaining popularity. Less a fixture at bars, it's an accessible sling for get-togethers, with bottles of the soda reserved specifically for its creation.

With the explosion of the cocktail scene, new versions of the Paloma have emerged in the last few decades in both the U.S. and Mexico. Fresh grapefruit and lime juices have entered the mix, especially stateside. In many renditions, the cocktail is topped off with grapefruit soda or sparkling water rather than it being a predominant base. Plus, new liqueurs, salt, agave syrup, and other ingredients have been added to the mix.

In Mexico, the Squirt and tequila combination reigns as the go-to, but bartenders experiment with the form as well. For example, Oaxaca's esteemed Selva cocktail bar ditches the tequila entirely, instead combining a lesser-utilized palm tree spirit called Agua de Taberna with dry curaçao to replicate the flavor. Sipping on any of these evolved iterations, the Paloma's history turns increasingly fuzzy, but its core grapefruit and tequila character is easy to love immediately.