"It's just a Paloma variation with a cordial instead of a grapefruit soda," Zac Overman, the bar manager of Seattle's 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.
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.
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.