The Paloma’s simple formula—tequila, lime juice, and grapefruit soda, built directly in the glass—lends itself to countless variations. One of the easiest is this smoky riff that swaps the classic blanco tequila for mezcal.
Mezcal has been made in Mexico for centuries and is traditionally sipped neat, but the early 2000s saw bartenders in the U.S. experimenting with the spirit in cocktails like the Oaxaca Old Fashioned and Mezcal Negroni. As an agave-based spirit composed of a wider range of sub-categories including tequila, mezcal is a natural substitution in drinks like the Margarita or Paloma. Like tequila, it adds earthy and vegetal notes to a cocktail, but it’s generally more smoky and savory.
Since there are only three ingredients in a Mezcal Paloma, using fresh lime juice and a high-quality mezcal will go a long way. Squirt and Jarritos are common grapefruit soda brands, and both are bartender favorites that are available stateside. Squirt will offer a slightly tarter flavor profile, while Jarritos may appeal to those seeking a sweeter drink.
2 ounces mezcal
1/2 ounce lime juice, freshly squeezed
4 ounces grapefruit soda, to top
Tajín, for rim
Salt, for rim
Garnish: lime wedge
Rub a lime wedge around the edge of a highball glass, and dip the rim in salt and Tajín (optional).
Add the tequila and lime juice to the glass, and fill with ice.
Top with grapefruit soda, and stir briefly and gently to combine.
Garnish with a lime wedge.
What’s the Best Mezcal for a Paloma?
Mezcal espadín, made with agave angustifolia, is best for mixing in most cocktails, as it generally has a more consistent flavor profile than other mezcals. Up to 90% of mezcals on the market are made with this agave plant—the most common variety of agave—since it is easier to cultivate than other varieties and usually more affordable. Many pros recommend Del Maguey Vida for mixing, as the mezcal was created specifically with cocktails in mind.
What’s the Difference Between Mezcal and Tequila?
Tequila is technically a type of mezcal, but can only be made with one species of agave—the blue Weber agave plant—whereas mezcal can be made from more than 40 different agave varieties from several regions across Mexico.
Tequila and mezcal also generally differ in how they’re produced. Tequila is typically made with agave hearts that are steamed in above-ground ovens, while mezcal is made by roasting the agave hearts underground in rock-lined pits, imparting the smoky and savory qualities that many associate with the spirit. Additionally, most mezcal is made in the Mexican state of Oaxaca, while most tequila is produced in Jalisco.