Credit: Kevin Carlow

Yeah, it’s tequila weather.

I mean, I drank tequila after nearly every shift back in Boston, no matter the weather, but I never really “got it” until I moved here. If it’s pushing 120 degrees, and your sweat is sublimating off of your skin, it’s tequila time. Forget the dainty tipples of England and the Northeast—the Collins, the Pimm’s cup, even the southside. When it’s hot, you need salt, ice and tequila.

I have covered the margarita and its cloudy history before in this column. I touched on the Mexican “firing squad” in a column on the great Charles Baker. I mentioned the Oaxacan old fashioned at some point, but if you order old fashioneds when it’s 118, please seek help. Let’s diversify your tequila portfolio with some other classics, shall we?

The Paloma

Mexico’s favorite cocktail is the paloma. That’s right, gringo: You’re doing it wrong with those margaritas. At its simplest, this cocktail is grapefruit soda (like Squirt or Jarritos—not La Croix Pamplemousse, please) and tequila in a tall glass with ice, lime and sometimes salt. That was the way I first tried this drink, at college in the late ’90s, thanks to a Texan buddy (from YOU-stuhn) and a vending machine that gave out free Fresca when my roommate tipped it over just so.

The history of this drink is rather muddy. Some sources attribute its creation to Don Javier Delgado Corona of the La Capilla bar in Jalisco, or someone by the name of Evan Harrison from a 1953 pamphlet called “Popular Cocktails of the Rio Grande.” I dug a little deeper and found a wonderfully sleuth-y post on Alcademics debunking both theories. I thoroughly recommend reading it in its entirety if you are feeling drink-nerdy.

I will summarize it here: It seems that Don Javier never claimed to have invented the cocktail, and Evan Harrison is a bartender and proprietor in Massachusetts born decades after the drink was popular. Some jokers in Boston apparently rewrote a bunch of Wikipedia pages back in the early 2010s to attribute classic cocktails to local bar buddies. (Come on, people! Like this job isn’t hard enough as it is!) The author of the Alcademics piece (Camper English), cocktail history god David Wondrich and others have sought to find a paloma recipe printed from before the current century without luck. Wondrich found a few ads from Squirt recommending adding tequila to their soda; these go back to at least the ’70s. Squirt is an American product, created in 1938 in Phoenix, so is the paloma an American invention? Shrug. If so, it had to go away and come back much later to get any traction outside of Texas.

These days, you’re much more likely to try one at a craft cocktail bar using ruby-red grapefruit juice (another American invention), fresh lime, sugar and club soda. Here’s a basic template:

  • 1 1/2 ounces of tequila, either blanco or reposado
  • 3/4 ounce of grapefruit juice
  • 1/2 ounce of lime juice
  • 1/2 ounce of simple syrup (or 2:1 agave and water syrup)
  • Tall, salted, glass with ice; soda to top. Garnish with grapefruit peel; express the oil

The El Diablo

Feeling extra-midcentury? Try this Tiki classic, first in print in 1946 in Trader Vic’s Book of Food and Drink. It’s an easy one.

  • 1 ounce of tequila
  • 1/2 ounce of creme de cassis
  • Juice of half a lime
  • Collins glass, ice; top with ginger ale and spent lime shell

Most craft bars do their own take on this—adding mezcal, more tequila, some jalapeño; or substituting ginger beer for ginger ale; or all of the above. All of these make for a great drink; feel free to experiment. Use vintage Collins glasses for extra credit, and don’t forget a cherry or two.

Tequila Sunrise

Add some Mick Jagger to your sweaty swagger! He popularized this cocktail in the 1970s, although he didn’t invent it. Some say it was invented at The Trident in Sausalito; some say it was created by sleepless bartenders in San Francisco—who knows? My bet is that it traveled north from Mexico, since a similar drink was documented by Charles Baker in the 1930s. So many roads lead to Charles Baker.

Forget the dive-bar version, with orange juice from the gun and grenadine from a plastic bottle. Use fresh-squeezed orange juice and real grenadine (or even just pomegranate juice), as well as a quality tequila, for a nice “eye-opener.” I used to make one with some added citric and malic acid in solution, so the cocktail ended up with more tang and balance.

  • 2 ounces of reposado tequila
  • Collins glass, ice; top with fresh orange juice
  • (Optional: citric/malic acid solution to taste)
  • 3/4 ounce of grenadine, drizzled over the top and allowed to sink

Ranch Water

I couldn’t end this without mentioning this über-hip West Texas highball. There’s not a lot of history to speak of here, although it seems that it’s been a regional favorite there for many decades. I imagine the name is a take on ‘branch water,” as in “bourbon and branch water,” the low-iron spring water traditionally added to whiskey in the Southern states. In this case, the water is Topo Chico mineral water. The simplest version is just that, tequila and lime over ice. Other recipes call for sweetened lime juice. Some recipes are basically a margarita with soda water added as it’s consumed. Everybody has a version now, it seems. Try this one.

  • 1 1/2 ounces of blanco tequila
  • 3/4 ounce of lime juice
  • 3/4 ounce of simple syrup
  • Build in a Collins glass over ice; top with Topo Chico

Then again, you can always just enjoy your tequila “cruda”—with salt and lime (made even better with the addition of an iced-cold Mexican beer). I love a Boilermaker, and this is one of the best. If you can find a place that does “sangrita” (a mix of tomato and orange juice, a little lime, some Worcestershire and dash of hot sauce), even better. It’s hot out, and you’ll need those electrolytes.

Kevin Carlow

Kevin Carlow has been a bartender and writer for most of his adult life. Having worked in nearly every position in the service industry at some point, he is currently a cocktail consultant, oyster shucker...