This Spicy Paloma Cocktail warms you from the inside out. Thanks to a generous kick in the face from a brown sugar jalapeño simple syrup, you won’t know if it’s the tequila blanco heating you up or capsaicin. No matter what, this cocktail is going to be your default drink all summer long.
This post was first published in 2018 with, I regret to admit, convoluted instructions on getting the most flavor out of the grapefruit. I’ve updated the recipe to make it more streamlined and user-friendly. This recipe is still for those who are of legal drinking age, though.
What does Paloma mean?
Paloma (pah-LOW-ma) is the Spanish word for “dove.” In Puerto Rico, that’s our word for pigeons, as well, but this ain’t a Puerto Rican recipe, so we’re sticking with dove.
I would love to tell you why this cocktail is named so, but I have no idea. Actually, you’d be hard-pressed to find any originating story on the cocktail. Maybe the fact it’s so light and effervescent can lead you to drink one too many? We all know how that can send us soaring. Maybe it’s because it’s a fun, calming drink, which relates to the peace doves are known to represent? I won’t claim to know the answer, but I do know how to make a good one.
Where does the Spicy Paloma Cocktail come from?
Like all great tequila cocktails, the Paloma comes from Mexico. Traditionally, you make a paloma with grapefruit soda or soda de toronja (like Jarritos or Squirt) and tequila blanco. Here lately, bartenders mix in some sort of puckery citrus juice like lime or lemon. Palomas are citrusy and refreshing and not heavy, making them perfect for swelteringly hot days.
This particular spicy paloma comes from me. There are many different ways to mix this cocktail, so I thought a spicy version would be fun and started developing. I infuse jalapeño peppers in a brown sugar and water mixture to create a spicy simple syrup. The brown sugar gives the simple syrup a caramel flavor, which tempers the pepper’s heat.
The tequila in this drink is very subtle, but it’s still tequila, so drink responsibly.
What ingredients are in a Spicy Paloma?
To make this spicy palomas, you need tequila blanco, grapefruit soda, grapefruit juice, lime juice, brown sugar, water, and jalapeño pepper. If you like salt, as I do, you need kosher salt for the rim of your cocktail glass.
Though this is a spicy paloma recipe, the jalapeño is optional if you’re not big on spice. Likewise, you can make this a mocktail by omitting the tequila and adding more of the grapefruit soda in its place.
What kind of pepper do I use for the spicy simple syrup?
I use a jalapeño pepper to make my spicy simple syrup. Jalapeños are always easy to find, relatively cheap, and get the spice job done. But, if you want to change things up, use a serrano pepper or a Thai chili pepper instead. If you’re really into heating things up, try this recipe with habanero pepper infused into the simple syrup. I actually want to know how that one goes if you do try it. It’s going to be fiery.
After rinsing the pepper, thinly slice it and throw it (and the seeds) into a small pot with brown sugar. I’m using brown sugar because I want a caramel flavor in this cocktail like in the original post. Before, I was brûlèeing the grapefruit, but one day I got impatient and used the same flavors to make the simple syrup like this, and I haven’t looked back.
Can I use white sugar instead of brown for the spicy simple syrup?
You can most certainly replace the brown sugar in the simple syrup with regular granulated sugar. Use the same amount, too.
Add the cold water to the pot with the sugar and pepper slices. Stir everything together and set the pot on the stove. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat while stirring to dissolve the brown sugar. Once the mixture comes to a boil, turn the stove off. Allow the peppers to infuse into the simple syrup for 15 minutes.
After the peppers have infused their flavor and heat into the simple syrup, strain them and the seeds away before discarding them.
How long can I store simple syrup?
This spicy simple syrup (and many other simple syrups) can store in the fridge for about 7-10 days. I find that’s the best time since, after 2 weeks, mine start developing white fuzz on the surface.
Allow the simple syrup to cool completely, then transfer it to a jar with a tight-fitting lid or a squeeze bottle with a cap. Store it in the fridge for up to 10 days. If you’re making your cocktails now, though, you can just leave it at room temperature.
What kind of Grapefruit do I need for my Spicy Paloma?
Well, that depends on how much of a fan of sour you are. I’m middle of the road, myself. I can and do enjoy sour flavors, but not a crazy amount of it. The great thing about this recipe is that the spicy simple syrup balances the sour of the grapefruit without you doing too much.
If you’re not a big fan of sour, use a Ruby Red or Flame grapefruit for this recipe. If you like a nice balance of sweet and sour, go for a less sweet variety like Marsh or Pink Marsh. These latter varieties are less sweet than the former but aren’t bitter, which we want to avoid in this recipe.
Do I have to use fresh grapefruit juice for palomas?
Choose a grapefruit that feels heavy for its size and one that has firm flesh. Use a citrus juicer to juice the grapefruit and strain off any seeds or larger bits of pulp. One large grapefruit should yield enough for this recipe, which is 3/4 cup. While you have the juicer out, go ahead and juice the limes, too.
You don’t have to use freshly-squeezed grapefruit juice for these palomas, but it does make a difference in the overall flavor if you do. Canned grapefruit juice tends to have a tinny flavor, which you won’t get rid of just because you mix it with tequila. You won’t care after a few sips, but it won’t be the best cocktail you can make.
If you are making these palomas for a larger party, buying grapefruit juice may be a better option. I get that no one wants to spend hours juicing grapefruits. *Read on for how to make this cocktail into a pitcher Spicy Paloma version.*
Pour the grapefruit juice into a pitcher and the lime juice into a separate container. I do this because some grapefruits are sweeter than others, and that will dictate how much sour lime juice I need to balance out the cocktail.
What kind of tequila do I need to make a Paloma?
One of the key ingredients in this recipe is tequila. Tequila blanco is the tequila of choice for most palomas because of how smooth it is. It doesn’t interfere with the fresh grapefruit flavor. I recently made this cocktail with reposado, though, and I have to say it’s quite good. You don’t want to alter the grapefruit flavors, or the jalapeño, with the woody, aged taste of an añejo, though. It just muddles the flavors too much. A lighter tequila is what you want.
As a college student, my name was synonymous with Jose Cuervo. Suffice it to say there’s a reason why JC’s tequila is so cheap. There’s also a reason why just a whiff of it makes me shudder. Since tequila is such a prominent taste here, you need to use the best brand you can afford. But, on the other hand, because you are mixing this in a cocktail, you don’t need to use an extremely expensive tequila.
Choose a tequila that you can sip on its own, too. You don’t want your paloma to taste like moonshine. I find that Herradura, Terremana, Casamigos, or Canta Negra are fine. Patrón, too.
What kind of glass do I serve a Paloma cocktail in?
Highball glasses are best for these Spicy Palomas because you can float the soda on top without worrying about spills. Also, it gives you enough room for ice and stirring the base into the soda since it’s a soda cocktail.
You can also use a double old-fashioned glass, but you’ll have more cocktail mix leftover from this recipe. I mean, not that there’s anything wrong with having 4 cocktails instead of 2.
While we’re on the subject of serving the palomas, use nugget ice if you can. It chills the cocktail thoroughly and dilutes it while you drink. I find this is a good idea since it’s potent. If you’re not into diluting your drinks (Hector), you can use larger ice cubes.
Do I salt the rim for a Spicy Paloma?
I love a bit of salt in my palomas. Hell, I love salt in anything with tequila. I don’t know why it makes the cocktail taste better; it just does.
I use a wedge of grapefruit to moisten the side of my highball glass. Once it’s wet, sprinkle a generous amount of kosher salt where you rubbed the grapefruit. Set the glass aside to dry for 5 minutes, so the salt doesn’t fall off when you handle the glass later.
Once the salt has dried to the glass, go ahead and add enough ice to fill them half- to three-quarters of the way full.
How do I mix the Spicy Paloma?
Fill a large cocktail shaker with a handful of ice. Next, add the lime juice to the shaker.
Can I add less of the Spicy Simple Syrup?
What I like most about this recipe is how you can customize the flavors to suit your drinking needs. If you’re not feeling particularly spicy today, add just a small amount of the jalapeño simple syrup. If you want to really put some hair on your chest, add more. You can also omit the simple syrup altogether and make it a traditional paloma.
Add the spicy simple syrup to the cocktail shaker.
Follow that with the tequila blanco.
Finally, add the freshly-squeezed grapefruit juice.
Cap the cocktail shaker and give it a vigorous shake for 30 seconds. Once the exterior frosts over, you can stop shaking.
Divide this mixture equally between your two ice-filled cocktail glasses.
What kind of soda goes in a Spicy Paloma?
I use Jarritos soda anytime I can in this recipe. It’s a Mexican soda, so it’s the most authentic. You can find it in any store that sells Mexican or Hispanic foods or drinks. You might also be able to find it in most stores that don’t cater to Latino cuisine.
If you can’t find Jarritos grapefruit soda, use Squirt, Fresca, or another grapefruit soda. If all else fails, you can replace the grapefruit soda with regular soda water. Since we have the fresh grapefruit juice in here, it will still taste great. A little lighter on the grapefruit flavor, but still fantastic.
Float as much or as little of the grapefruit soda into the glass and garnish as desired.
How do I garnish my Paloma?
You can garnish your cocktails with peels from the grapefruit, jalapeño slices, or the oven-dried grapefruit slices pictured.
Place thinly sliced grapefruit rounds onto a sheet pan lined with a silicone baking mat and bake them at 250°F for 20 minutes, flipping once during the baking. You can also dehydrate them for 10 hours (or overnight) in a food dehydrator. I usually have these on hand because Hector likes to snack on them. They come out tasting like sweet grapefruit chips!
You can also just skip the garnish altogether.
Pitcher Spicy Paloma Recipe
You can easily make these spicy palomas into a pitcher cocktail if you’re planning a large gathering.
Just quadruple the ingredients minus the grapefruit soda, but instead of shaking it all together in a cocktail shaker, stir it together in a large pitcher. Store the pitcher in the fridge until you’re ready to serve. Pour the base over ice in the individual glasses and float as much of the soda as desired. This works great if you set it up on a cocktail bar.
What foods go well with paloma cocktails?
To make this a legit cocktail party, serve your Spicy Palomas with these recipes:
These cocktails go well with tons of appetizers or just plain tortilla chips (or nothing at all).
Pin this for Later!
I’m sure you’ll love this new and improved Spicy Paloma Cocktail. If you do, let me know in the comments below.
Don’t forget to pin this recipe to your cocktail boards, then share it with your crew.
Spicy Paloma Cocktail
- cocktail shaker
For the Jalapeño Simple Syrup (can be made up to 10 days ahead)
- 1 large jalapeño thinly sliced, seeds reserved
- 1/4 cup (55 grams) brown sugar
- 4 ounces (118 milliliters or 1/2 cup) cold water
For the Spicy Paloma Cocktail
- 1 ounce (30 milliliters) lime juice
- 2 ounces (60 milliliters) Jalapeño Simple Syrup (or to taste)
- 4 ounces (120 milliliters) tequila blanco
- 6 ounces (180 milliliters) grapefruit juice
- grapefruit soda to float
- kosher salt for rimming the glasses, optional
- grapefruit slices fresh or dried, optional
- jalapeño slices optional
Prepare the Jalapeño Simple Syrup
- Add the jalapeño pepper slices and seeds to a small pot with the brown sugar. Add the cold water to the pot and stir everything together. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat while stirring to dissolve the brown sugar. Once the mixture comes to a boil, turn the stove off.
- Allow the peppers to infuse into the simple syrup for 15 minutes. After the peppers have infused their flavor and heat into the simple syrup, strain them and the seeds away before discarding them.
- Allow the simple syrup to cool completely, then transfer it to a jar with a tight-fitting lid or a squeeze bottle with a cap. Store it in the fridge for up to 10 days. If you're making your cocktails right away feel free to leave it at room temperature.
Rim the Cocktail Glasses (Optional)
- Use a wedge of grapefruit to moisten the sides of two highball glass. Once it's wet, sprinkle a generous amount of kosher salt where you rubbed the grapefruit. Set the glass aside to dry for 5 minutes, so the salt doesn't fall off when you handle the glass later. Once the salt has dried to the glass, fill them half- to three-quarters of the way full with ice.
Mix the Spicy Paloma Cocktail
- Fill a large cocktail shaker with a handful of ice. Next, add the lime juice, jalapeño simple syrup, tequila blanco, and grapefruit juice to the shaker. Cap the cocktail shaker and give it a vigorous shake for 30 seconds. Stop shaking once the exterior of the cocktail shaker frosts over.
- Divide the spicy grapefruit base equally between your two ice-filled cocktail glasses. Float as much or as little of the grapefruit soda into the glass and garnish as desired.
- Enjoy your Spicy Paloma Cocktail responsibly.
Tips, Swaps, and Subs:
- Use a serrano pepper, Thai chili, or habanero pepper instead of a jalapeño to make the spicy simple syrup
- Replace the brown sugar with granulated sugar or turbinado sugar
- The Jalapeño Simple Syrup can be stored in a sealed container in the fridge for 7-10 days
- If you can't find Jarritos grapefruit soda, use Squirt, Fresca, or another grapefruit soda. If all else fails, you can replace the grapefruit soda with regular soda water.
Dried Grapefruit Slices (for garnishing):
- Place thinly sliced grapefruit rounds onto a sheet pan lined with a silicone baking mat.
- Bake the fruit in a 250°F (130°C) oven for 20 minutes, flipping once during the baking.
- Remove the pan from the oven once crisp and allow to cool completely. Store in an air-tight container at room temperature for 2 weeks.
Pitcher Paloma Instructions:
Jalapeño Simple Syrup
2 large jalapeños, sliced
8 ounces (227 grams) brown sugar
2 cups (473 milliliters) cold water
4 ounces (120 milliliters) lime juice
8 ounces (240 milliliters) Jalapeño Simple Syrup
16 ounces (480 milliliters) tequila blanco
24 ounces (720 milliliters) grapefruit juice
Grapefruit soda to float
- Prepare the jalapeño simple syrup as instructed, then allow to cool.
- In a large pitcher, stir together the lime juice, Jalapeño simple syrup, tequila blanco, grapefruit juice until combined.
- Store the pitcher in the fridge until you're ready to serve.
- Pour the base into ice-filled highball glasses and float as much of the soda as desired.
- Garnish as desired.
Spicy Paloma Mocktails:
- Omit the tequila from recipe and replace it with additional grapefruit soda.
Original (non-spicy) Paloma Cocktails:
- Omit the Jalapeño Simple Syrup from the recipe.