The Upgraded Paloma Recipe

A little work in advance makes a cocktail to drink all summer.

Two glasses of salted grapefruit cordial cocktail

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Why This Recipe Works

  • Macerating grapefruit peels in sugar makes for a complex and concentrated cordial with a rounded, almost buttery character.
  • Campari tames the cocktail's sweet and sour character, while a hit of salt brings the whole drink into focus.

"It's just a Paloma variation with a cordial instead of a grapefruit soda," Zac Overman, the bar manager of Seattle's now-closed Sitka & Spruce tells me, about the fizzy pink drink listed on his menu simply as "Grapefruit." The Paloma is one of the great warm weather drinks, easy enough to make in the stupefying heat of summer and refreshing as all get out: tequila, grapefruit soda, and a squeeze of lime juice in a glass, with enough ice cubes to make the drink sweat all over the table.

Overman's version is more complicated. You have to peel a grapefruit, carefully avoiding the bitter pith, bury the peel in sugar, and let it macerate for 24 hours. Then juice a bagful of grapefruit and limes, stir the juice into your sugary base, and then start making your cocktail. It's a recipe for a cramp in your wrist as much as a drink in your glass.

I consider it a lesson in patience. Do a little work now, wait a bit, then reap far greater rewards than the instant gratification of the original.

Overhead shot of two salted grapefruit cordial cocktails

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Take a taste and you'll see where all your hard work went. Where the typical Paloma follows a predictable path to sweet-and-sour fizzy refreshment, this drink has an almost rounded, buttery quality from all the oils in the grapefruit skin, yet it's perfectly thirst-quenching. A touch of Campari makes it a little more complex and sophisticated, and there's a wee hit of salt to, as Overman puts it, "make you go back for another sip."

Overman's recipe makes one drink and nearly a pint of the grapefruit cordial, which means your upfront investment will pay out for many drinks to come. The cordial is also far more flavorful than any grapefruit-juice syrup. So much of grapefruit's flavor and aroma is found within the top millimeter of its rind, and by mixing that rind with sugar and letting it macerate, you extract all those flavorful oils into a heady, super-concentrated syrup called an oleo-saccharum. You then combine it with grapefruit juice, lime juice, and salt for a potent flavor base.

Two salted grapefruit cordial cocktail garnished with grapefruit peel

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

The cordial will keep for weeks in the fridge, which means every time you want a cocktail, all you need is some tequila (Overman goes for the saline bite of Chinaco, though any 100% agave blanco will do), some lime, and Campari. It's also easy to batch in larger amounts, then pour from a pitcher into multiple ice-filled glasses. Or you can drizzle extra cordial over fresh fruit or ice cream; it's as friendly with dessert as a mixing glass.

Sometimes nothing beats the simple brightness of a Paloma with grocery store grapefruit soda. But what are you doing right now? Can it wait half an hour? Good. Then make yourself a cordial and drink this highball upgrade all summer long.

June 2015

Recipe Details

The Upgraded Paloma Recipe

Active 30 mins
Total 24 hrs
Serves 8 servings

A little work in advance makes a cocktail to drink all summer.


For the Salted Grapefruit Cordial:

  • 1/2 cup fresh juice from 2 large Ruby Red grapefruit, plus peel of 1 Ruby Red grapefruit with little to no white pith (see notes)

  • 1 cup sugar

  • 1/4 cup fresh juice from about 8 limes

  • 1/4 cup water

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

For One Cocktail:

  • 2 ounces blanco tequila, such as Chinaco

  • 1 ounce salted grapefruit cordial

  • 3/4 ounce fresh juice from 2 limes

  • 1/4 ounce Campari

  • Seltzer


  1. For the Salted Grapefruit Cordial: Bury grapefruit peel in sugar in a pint-sized container. Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours.

  2. The next day, add grapefruit juice, 1/4 cup lime juice, water, and salt to sugar and stir or shake until sugar is completely dissolved. Remove grapefruit peel and refrigerate cordial, which will last for several weeks.

  3. For the Cocktail: In a cocktail shaker, combine tequila, 1 ounce of cordial, 3/4 ounce of lime juice, and Campari. Fill shaker with ice, and shake until well chilled, about 15 seconds. Strain into a highball glass filled with ice and top with soda to taste. Garnish with a grapefruit twist if desired.


Since you need the grapefruit peel on day 1 and the juice on day 2, you can peel 1 grapefruit on the first day, then store the peeled grapefruit in the refrigerator overnight until you are ready to juice it the next day.

Nutrition Facts (per serving)
258 Calories
0g Fat
31g Carbs
0g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 8
Amount per serving
Calories 258
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 0g 0%
Saturated Fat 0g 0%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 238mg 10%
Total Carbohydrate 31g 11%
Dietary Fiber 0g 0%
Total Sugars 27g
Protein 0g
Vitamin C 15mg 73%
Calcium 14mg 1%
Iron 0mg 1%
Potassium 61mg 1%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)