Adios, Margaritas: A Cinco de Mayo Cocktail
To try Derek's recipe for the Spicy Paloma, a riff on the traditional Margarita that incorporates grapefruit and jalapeño, click here.
I've always preferred a quiet bar on a Monday night to the raging antics of the weekend. So I decided my tradition is to skip Cinco de Mayo (aka Cinco de Drinko) and focus instead on the day before, or even the day after. You see, while Cinco de Mayo is a legitimate holiday, it's also become a celebration of drunkards and amateurs much like St. Patrick's Day.
Cinco de Mayo, also like St. Patrick's Day, is not necessarily a national holiday. Neither does it celebrate Mexico's independence. It commemorates the victory of the Mexican army, led by General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguín, over the French in 1862. This delayed the French occupation until 1863.
This year I decided to celebrate my new tradition at Mayahuel, a New York City bar where the entire cocktail menu is based on tequila and mezcal. Noted bartender Phil Ward created the menu. Mayahuel is named after a fertility goddess in Aztec mythology and personifies the maguey—an indigenous name for the agave plant. Our divine interlocutor was bartender Eryn Reese, who suggested I begin with their Spicy Paloma when I asked for a Margarita alternative. Good choice.
Now don't get me wrong—the Margarita is a fine cocktail and has earned its place as North America's favorite. The simple combination of real tequila, Curaçao, and fresh squeezed lime juice with a salted rim has a delicious, savory zing, but there are many other great tequila or mezcal drinks. It's a shame these get subsumed in a single drink. And La Paloma is one of the best.
La Paloma is a combination of tequila, lime juice, and grapefruit soda with an optional salted rim. Often the grapefruit soda is substituted with fresh grapefruit and soda water. Mayahuel's version infuses the tequila with jalapeño for a spicy twist. Although I often worry about over-spicing when it comes to jalapeños—as alcohol is an amazing solvent—this one was just spicy enough to express the pepper without tasting like burning.
Well, it was so delicious I forgot to ask for the recipe. (Kudos to Mayahuel and Eryn.) Therefore, I made my own recipe that you'll find below. So enjoy the holiday. Just make sure to celebrate it on any other day than Cinco de Mayo.