If I could buy you all one bottle of booze, it would be a good bottle of mezcal. And, if I were to be a little bossy and tell you what to do with the gift, I'd make sure you drank it straight. Mezcal is a spirit that doesn't need mixing: It's briny and smoky and oily like Scotch, yet bright and herbal like the very best tequila. But, once you'd gotten a sense of the stuff, once you'd gotten hooked on that salty-savory profile, I'd tell you to hurry up and make this drink.
There's nothing wrong with a standard Paloma. Tequila works great with lime (duh) and sweet-tart grapefruit soda, and it's worth it to try this fancified version made with fresh-grapefruit cordial, too. My new favorite use of agave spirits, though, is in this frozen drink, which is bright and tart like a margarita, but not too sweet. The soft, floral side of fresh grapefruit juice comes forward, along with perfectly balanced bitterness. The mezcal is what makes it truly great, adding a subtle savory quality and an herbal layer, almost like leaves of oregano in good olive oil. You may think of mezcal as smoky, but the smoke from roasted agave is just a whisper in this drink, allowed to shine with help from a bit of salt. You'd miss it if it were gone, but it doesn't overpower the fresh side of the cocktail.
In her lovely cookbook Small Victories, Julia Turshen shares a recipe for Paloma Slushies that kicked off my obsession and led me to this drink. Turshen's version starts with fresh grapefruit and tequila, whirred in a blender with kosher salt, honey, and ice. Instead of squeezing the limes with a citrus juicer, though, she cuts the peel off each lime and pops the remaining fruit in the blender whole. It means you get more juice from each fruit, but there's a bit of variation there that makes me nervous. Some limes are big! Some little! Some are oddly dry; some popping with juice. I'd rather know exactly how much lime to add, even if it means an extra measuring step.
In addition to swapping out the tequila for mezcal, I made one more adjustment. I like to limit last-minute fuss as much as possible, so I prefer to batch up the ingredients in advance in a sealable container—I use Mason jars for this, but even a freezer-safe zipper-lock bag works if you seal it carefully—and stash the mix in the freezer. Not only does this cut down on prep once your guests arrive, it also gives the booze-and-juice mixture a chance to chill way down. A couple of hours is fine; four is better; up to 10 is great. There's enough alcohol and sugar in there to keep it from freezing solid. Blended with ice, your pre-chilled Paloma stays frosty a bit longer, which is lovely on a hot summer day.
Now, if I could only buy you all a swimming pool...