Cocktail Club host Jackson Cannon shares an origin story obsession, and the local bartender who pranked the New York bar scene.
The truth is that this wildly popular cocktail of agave spirit (usually tequila) and grapefruit soda was likely invented in Mexico after the introduction of Squirt and other grapefruit sodas in the mid-twentieth century. It’s murky when, where, and who first poured those together and named it for the dove or “la Paloma” in Spanish. But it’s clear to those of us who enjoy this craveable cocktail that the drink turns on when the agave bridges with a sparkling grapefruit soda by the addition of a touch of salt and lime. Even if the ingredients used aren’t top shelf, the drink can come together in a harmony befitting a true classic.
For many, just knowing how to successfully concoct this peaceful sipper is enough. For others, pinning down the true origin story has been an obsession. This pursuit has been fueled by the fight over how to best put a Paloma together and in one case, a particular dispute right here in Boston led to an avalanche of misinformation, and an intense conversation in the cocktail community over not only this recipe, but best practice for research toward over-the-bar-top storytelling.
Cocktails are entertainment and the historical fictions we serve alongside them frame the experience for our guests. Absent the true story, the show tender in all of us will repeat or invent a little lie to give some context for your drink if that’s what we think you desire.
David Suro-Piñera, agave spirits advocate and president of Siembra spirits, grew up in Guadalajara, Mexico and says a drink calling for tequila, grapefruit juice, and a splash of Squirt was served at big events and festivities in the 1980s, but the name was confusing. Like many other drinks, la paloma got a craft cocktail makeover in the last decade, with commercial grapefruit soda being replaced with fresh grapefruit and soda water.
It’s a bar fight over which way is better. A Wikipedia hack allowed an apocryphal tale to sweep into the origin story vacuum, duping high-end craft tenders and brand ambassadors alike. In 2009, Deep Ellum barman Evan Harrison — currently a partner at Vincent’s, Mamaleh’s Delicatessen, and State Park in Cambridge — was frustrated that his opinion wasn’t given enough credence by ownership. He logged into Wikipedia and changed the entry on the Paloma to cite that it was actually created by him. Subsequent updates to the page mentioned the fictitious pamphlet, “Popular Cocktails of the Rio Grande” as the place Harrison published the recipe. The forensics on this Wiki and other Boston bar-based drink pranks were researched thoroughly by Jeremy Floyd and chronicled by Camper English at Alcademics.
It’s a hilarious ride that leads to Harrison being credited on the menu at the esteemed Death and Co. in New York City and being referenced in numerous blogs and YouTube videos. And yet, the truth is, he’s right about the drink. All this misinformation (hurting no one) serves to improve our service and holds us closer to the traditional version of the cocktail than we might have been. He squirts a little lime juice in the eye of the aloof New York bar scene and puts all on notice that they are open to ridicule if they don’t do real research on the backstories they tell.
Is it a lie that tells the truth? Maybe. For my part I do love to ask when serving a Paloma, ‘Have I ever told you about how Evan Harrison did NOT create this drink?’
What you’ll need
- 1.5 oz. mezcal
- .75 oz. lime juice
- .5 oz. agave nectar
- Shake on ice and strain on to fresh ice in a highball glass
- Top with a spectacular grapefruit soda
- Garnish with lime slice