On this episode of “Cocktail College,” host Tim McKirdy breaks down the Paloma, a classic highball cocktail made with tequila and grapefruit soda. McKirdy is joined by NYC-based bartender and Solid Wiggles co-founder Jack Schramm, who shares the history of the drink as well as the many different sciences and techniques for making a modern-day Paloma. Tune in to learn more.

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Jack Schramm’s Classic Paloma Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 ounces tequila, preferably Siete Leguas Blanco
  • 1 ounce fresh grapefruit juice
  • ¾ ounce fresh lime juice
  • ½ ounce simple syrup
  • 5 drops 20 percent saline solution
  • Club soda, to top

Directions

  1. Build all ingredients except soda in a shaking tin.
  2. Fill with ice and shake until chilled.
  3. Strain into an ice-filled highball glass.
  4. Top with soda.

CHECK OUT THE CONVERSATION HERE

Tim McKirdy: Welcome to VinePair’s “Cocktail College” podcast. I’m your host, Tim McKirdy, and today we are joined by Jack Schramm. Jack, thank you so much for joining us.

Jack Schramm: Tim, thank you so much for having me. Happy to be here.

T: It’s a wonderful, bright, sunny day here in New York. And we’re going to chat about a cocktail that is apt for those occasions, though maybe slightly warmer than we’re seeing right now.

J: Yeah, I would say definitely warm, but with this amount of sun would be a perfect time for this cocktail.

T: I really wanted to have, I don’t know if you remember that late-’90s classic song “Butterfly,” playing.

J: Oh, by Crazy Town? Oh yeah.

T: I really wanted to have that playing as we were coming in. I don’t think we’ll be allowed that copyright. But listeners, imagine that in your head right now, because today’s topic is the Paloma. It’s Spanish for “butterfly,” I do believe.

J: I have had “Butterfly” by Crazytown on so many bar playlists. It’s such an unexpected hit on a busy Friday night when “Butterfly” by Crazytown comes on. Mostly because I would get the staff so excited about it, because it’s so dumb. It’s such a bad song. Yet it’s still a perfect busy Friday, Saturday night bar playlist.

T: It’s very nostalgic for people of that age group. Was it the same time the Chili Peppers were kicking off in the U.K.? That’s when it came over. I always thought that was a Red Hot Chili Peppers song, but it could have been. So we’re chatting about the Paloma today, this tequila cocktail. And the first thing that I want to speak about, that I find kind of crazy, is that tequila is this incredibly popular spirit among the best-selling spirits in America. It is right up there with whiskey, specifically bourbon, and vodka, which never goes out of fashion.

J: Definitely the most popular spirit in New York bars.

T: Right. And the Margarita is the most iconic tequila cocktail in the world. But beyond the Margarita, we really only see the Paloma, right? It’s so strange.

J: Not so much. There’s the Mexican Firing Squad, like lime and Grenadine. But it’s definitely nowhere near as popular. And what else? Let’s see. There’s the Tequila Sunrise, but it’s hard to call that a proper cocktail. There are ways to make it tastier, but it’s still going to be a little bit of a joke if you put it on a menu.

T: Yeah. It’s so strange that that would be the case. But certainly, I do think that for most folks, the other tequila cocktail that has broken into the mainstream somewhat is the Paloma. It’s just a wonderful drink. In certain respects, you could look at it and be like, is this a wonderful candidate for what we’re trying to do with this show? Because classically, or most commonly, it’s tequila and grapefruit soda, ideally Mexican. I’m hoping we can maybe move beyond that in today’s recording, but that is the most widely recognized version.

J: Yeah, absolutely. The beauty of the Paloma is that it’s delicious in both its highbrow and its lowbrow variations. I love tequila and Squirt, especially if you’re finding Mexican Squirt that is cane sugar. That’s an absolutely delicious one and one. It’s up there with the Gin & Tonic, for quality of spirit plus mixer. But it can also be this transcendent fresh fruit experience that you’re looking for from the modern cocktail bar. In my mind, that’s the beauty of it. It can exist in harmony in these two worlds.

T: And when you’re looking at cocktails yourself from that bartender point of view, and we’ll get into this, too, you’ve done very experimental stuff and utilize crazy techniques. Do you get excited when you see a drink that is very widely recognized, but also very simple in its natural form? Is that something that you look at and you’re like, “Oh my God, this is cool. Can we really play with this?”

J: Oh, absolutely. There’s a reason that all the good classic drinks have somewhere between two and four ingredients. The simplicity can often say a lot more than a drink that has eight, nine, or 10 ingredients. There are countless delicious cocktails with a whole bunch of ingredients in them, but they’re not necessarily drinks that I’ll want to order more than one of in one sitting. I can sit down, and I shouldn’t be having more than two Martinis, but it’s not out of the question. Same goes for Daiquiris and Margaritas and Palomas, for that matter.

T: And the Paloma is one of those drinks that you can absolutely get started on and keep going. Probably too far before you realize it.

J: If you’re on a beach and you’ve got a good frozen Paloma, too sweet out of a frozen drink machine, but the sun is beating down and you’re in and out of the ocean, it’s ideal.

T: So whether you are looking at the simplest form of it or some kind of elevated take, what are you looking for specifically when someone hands you a Paloma? What do you want to get from that drink?

J: I want it to tell the story of the place and the experience that I’m having in the place. If I sit down at a fancy cocktail bar and they have a Paloma on their menu in the classic cocktail section, I’m expecting to get fresh grapefruit juice, fresh lime juice, maybe a blend of tequila and mezcal, really well balanced, with enough of an additional sweetener. I don’t care if it’s simple or agave, I can go either way on this drink. In balance, everything is harmonious and delicious and super refreshing. That kiss of carbonation from being topped off with soda. And if I’m in a dive bar, I want a tequila and grapefruit soda that is equally delicious. Or if I’m on a beach ordering a drink from a hut somewhere, I would love to have tequila and Squirt.

T: Talk about one of those failsafe orders when you are in a dive bar. It’s more interesting, let’s be honest, than a vodka soda or a gin and soda, and maybe even a Gin & Tonic. I don’t know. I’m not the biggest fan of that drink. If we equate flavor to fruitiness, certainly the Paloma does take that simple combo dependable to a different level. You cannot go wrong with this. But this is “Cocktail College.” We’re here to elevate drinks and cocktails, so we’re going to mainly focus today on how you might go about taking this to the next level, how you might really dial in to it. Let’s start with tequila: blanco, reposado, and maybe cristalino. I’d love to get into the different styles, but let’s start with blanco first.

Breaking Down the Paloma

J: Sure. Because in my mind, it’s the only answer for Palomas and Margaritas. Obviously, there are occasionally exceptions. But in general, if I’m going to make a citrus-forward tequila cocktail, I’m going to reach for a blanco tequila.

T: When it comes to agave aficionados, it can become quite a dogmatic field. I don’t want to get too far into additives and whatnot, because on the one hand you could argue that some of those things have driven the immense popularity of tequila here. I’m not a proponent of it; just putting that out there. But I will say this, there’s different profiles of blanco tequila. You have those ones that taste sweeter and vanilla. And then the others that are more earthy and vegetal, you really taste the agave. Which route are you going down?

J: I generally try to avoid the vanilla and sweeter varieties of, especially, blanco tequilas. I would say that the spirits that excite me the most to drink are ones that exhibit a really strong terroir character. With agave spirits, you get a real sense of taste of place when they’re utilizing really good farming practices for harvesting wild agaves. You hope that it’s happening as sustainably as possible, because wild agave and the farmed agave populations are on the verge of collapse because of over-farming. I’m not necessarily interested in aged agave spirits because I think that they hide that character. If I want to add vanilla extract to tequila, I can do it myself.

T: You can add that in there.

J: I don’t need to drink tequila that’s named after a year to taste vanilla. The ultra añejos don’t interest me. Every once in a while, a stirred cocktail with an añejo tequila can be really exciting. If I want to add a little touch of a cinnamon note without literally grating cinnamon or doing a cinnamon syrup, I think that reposado tequila is a great way to do that. Or an Amburana Cachaça. Those are my cinnamon routes without adding cinnamon to it, into a drink specifically.

T: There is this real misconception that when it comes to tequila, if you want to sip, you should be going down the aged route. If you want to use it in cocktails, you should only be going down blanco or whatever. I think some of the finest blanco tequilas that I taste every year are the ones that offer the most complexity. They are floral, fruity, mineraly, and incredibly complex spirits.

J: If we’re going to focus on blanco tequilas, the way that I divide them in my brain for specific cocktails is highland versus lowland. The highland is going to offer a lot more of that floral ethereal, and the lowland is going to be a lot more earthy and mineral driven. So for Margaritas, I love a big, fat, rich, lowland style tequila like a Fortaleza. My perfect Paloma would be Siete Leguas Blanco, because it’s that highland, light, more ethereal style. They lend themselves really well to those specific drinks.

T: It speaks to the serve of those drinks as well, and those flavor profiles. So that’s where you go in terms of blanco tequila. You’ve also touched upon reposado there, too, because I think that I’m with you. I really don’t see much use for myself, at least extra añejos or añejos. But I do like that subtle influence of vanilla, if it is from a reposado and if it’s genuine. I love that. I was just wondering, in your mind in this particular cocktail, you’re keeping the reposado?

J: Yeah, I’m going to generally avoid reposado for super-high-acid shaken style cocktails. I just prefer the pure vegetal, mineral quality of a blanco.

T: And given that as well, we’re departing in this episode from the classic tequila and Squirt composition. So basically, we have a blank slate here. You talked about your blanco. Will you ever supplement with a split base? You mentioned mezcal earlier. Our initial conversation there, talking about tequila, we only really have these two major cocktails. I mean, mezcal doesn’t have any propriety.

J: There’s what? There’s Joaquín Simó’s Naked and Famous.

T: That’s a drink that I love, by the way.

J: It’s incredibly delicious.

T: But it definitely hasn’t made it on the mainstream. You’re not walking into any bar in New York and being like, “Hey, can I get Naked and Famous?”

J: You can, if you walk into a place that calls itself a cocktail bar and you see all the telltale signs. Lots of cheater bottles, they could say that they have an ice program. Those places can absolutely make you one, because it’s just one of those simple equal parts formulas. For those of you following along at home that maybe haven’t had that drink, it’s equal parts mezcal, lime juice, Aperol, and yellow chartreuse. It’s incredibly delicious, just that three-quarter, three-quarter, three- quarter, three-quarter that we all know and love.

T: Incredible formula.

J: One thing that I haven’t mentioned yet is, I’m a big proponent of salt in the drink, not salt on the drink. I get people who like salt rims, but I would much rather add a pinch of salt. If you want to be a little bit more precise and consistent with the level of salt that you’re adding, I like to make a 20 percent saline solution. So, 20 grams of salt, 80 grams of water, dissolve together in an eye dropper, and five drops of saline is the salt level that I’m looking for in most cocktails.

T: That really speaks to your experience working in some of the bars here that you worked in, like Booker and Dax had a very culinary-forward approach to cocktails, and it makes so much sense to me. You’re going to try and find balance in acidity, sweetness, and bitterness. And you’re not going to think about salt. Why would you leave that out?

J: You’re seasoning the drink the same way you’d seasoned food. If you have unsalted food, it’s basically inedible. So why not bump up the flavor profile of a cocktail? There’s plenty of drinks that don’t necessarily need salt, like Manhattans and Old Fashioned. Those dark-spirited drinks, where the rich vanilla, woody caramel, the nutty coconut, and all those flavors, are just going to blow it out. It just doesn’t necessarily make sense. But anything with a light spirit or anything with fruit, I am salting.

T: We don’t want to see the whole Salt Bae situation going on. We’ve spoken about it on the show before, people pulling out the pepper mill and cracking it on before you’ve tasted the dish. Taste it first, but don’t not consider it. Please consider it.

J: There’s a lot of hate for the modern techniques in some of the Instagram cocktail accounts. It’s like, just try the drink salted and unsalted. Sure, you see it as pretentious to say “saline” on a menu. But just try it. And then, if you think that it’s better without, don’t use it. It’s that simple.

T: It’s so crazy. To go back to that idea of a split base, in your ultimate situation here, are you going purely with blanco? Are you going blanco with some mezcal?

J: Sure. Personally, for my ultimate Paloma, I would go straight blanco tequila. That said, there’s a time and a place. If I’m in Oaxaca, I’ll drink it with mezcal 100 percent of the time. But I’ve had plenty of, and made plenty of, split-base Palomas that are excellent. I think that a good ratio for most blanco tequilas and most cocktail-priced mezcals is 1-and-a-half blanco to half mezcal. I think that’s a nice ratio for a lot of cocktails. Specifically, the Paloma, because it’s so easy to have the mezcal ride over the top of the other flavors.

T: It can so easily hijack the drink, right? When people make a Mezcal Margarita, and they’re using only mezcal, I’m not really there for it.

J: You know, it depends on the mezcal. If you have a very specific example of a mezcal that is more on the highland tequila side of things… I went to Oaxaca with Dale McKay a few years ago, and you go up into the mountains to the super-high elevation like Santo Domingo Alvaradas. It’s those specific examples, drinking that mezcal off the still, where it’s like, “Oh, this is so ethereal and light.” I would absolutely make a shaken citrusy cocktail with just that. But something like a Chichicapa, that’s super lowland and all the way down in the valley and that’s so rich in fat, it can dominate.

T: Yeah, fantastic. Moving on from the base spirit, where would you like to go next? Let’s break down the grapefruit, because that’s the other defining aspect of this drink.

J: Grapefruit, in this case, should be fresh. If you can’t get ruby red grapefruit, if you can’t get pink grapefruit, it’s fine if it’s a white grapefruit. I think that the ruby reds from California are more delicious than the white grapefruits from Florida. It’s a shame that we can’t really grow citrus in the Northeast. And I’d say, the best juices are going to come from more than one piece of fruit, because you just get so much more consistency. If one specific grapefruit is more sour or more sweet, you can normalize that by juicing a full quart of juice. That’s why I really respect a lot of the bars that do juice to order. But I think that juice has a sweet spot where, if you make enough juice for a full service, it peaks two hours after you juiced it. Something settles about it, and it’s ideal in those circumstances. So that’s my personal feelings on fresh citrus juices. Try to make just as much as you need, but make it all at once, and marry it altogether rather than juice fresh to order.

T: That’s a really good tip. One thing I’m wondering from the perspective of pure enthusiasts and home bartenders, is, when I approach that grapefruit and I’m juicing it, do I have to use one of those hand presses? I have a decent one. I’ll typically cut it into halves and then into quarters. But I just feel like there’s some wastage there. Is there a better way? What should I be doing there?

J: If you’re willing to invest in the big silver, stainless steel hand juicer, those are the best.

T: The ones that you pull down.

J: It’s the big lever arm. They look like they’re made out of either cast iron or stainless steel. The French brand, Ra Chand, is my personal favorite. They’re the ones that have a more crank style where you rotate the lever arm a full 360 degrees. You pull it from vertical to horizontal, basically it’s a 90-degree movement. Those are my favorite. Oh man, I just got super fast with them.

T: They’re so good. When I lived in Buenos Aires, as a brief aside, they would use those a lot. You would have guys going around the street with shopping carts with one of those juicers attached to them. And the shopping carts would just be full of very ripe, delicious oranges. And you buy it for a buck. I mean, it wasn’t cold, but it was the most refreshing thing ever. They would just crank those out for you.

J: It doesn’t need to be cold.

T: Wonderful. Well, I’m adding that to my shopping list.

J: Yeah, definitely. It’s a little bit annoying to clean, but not that much more annoying. You just need to wipe the thing down and then clean the components, which come apart really easily. And if you’re going to make a lot of juice at home on more than three occasions, then it’s worth it.

T: So tequila, grapefruit. Where are we going next with this cocktail?

J: Lime is the same as grapefruit. Juice everything that you need for the evening, you can obviously use a hand juicer. I do agree with you on grapefruit, that if you don’t have one of the large juicers, cut the whole thing in half and then cut the halves into quarters as the best route. You are going to lose some spraying at the side. Just juice in a larger container than you think you need so that it captures some of that side spray. Strain your juices with all those pithy bitter bits, at least most of them. You still want some of that pithiness.

T: Some of that pulp as well.

J: I like to take everything through a fine strainer to remove 99 percent of the pulp. I don’t necessarily want to chew a cocktail.

T: I hear you there. This being a highball, if you are drinking it with a straw and you get some pulp stuck in there, then the whole thing becomes very messy quickly.

J: That said, I’m not a huge fan of double straining a finished cocktail. I think that a Hawthorne strainer does the job well enough for me. But I’m also, when it’s available to me, shaking every cocktail on one 2-inch cube. Just shaking the hell out of it, as hard as I possibly can, because the aeration is so much better. Sometimes, the cube will explode in the tin and you’ll end up with some fine shards of ice in the drink. But for the most part, the cube will maintain its structural integrity, and you’ll end up with a super-well-aerated drink that doesn’t have a ton of fine shards of ice and has this beautiful, frothy foamy head. And you don’t need to kill that head by double straining. You can just use a Hawthorne strainer.

T: Amazing. So we’re balancing this drink with sweetness and possibly saline after. You mentioned before that it could be simple, it could be agave. What’s your preference?

J: The way that I choose between simple and agave is, if I want the sweetness to just hit and then dissipate immediately, I’ll use agave. If I want the sweetness to linger on the palate, I’ll use simple. With lime, because it’s an acid-forward piece of fruit, the acidity lingers longer. And grapefruit is low acid compared to lime; it’s 2 percent. There are a lot of flavors that are lingering for a long time in the drink. The tequila is going to stick around. If you’re using mezcal, that’s absolutely going to stick around for a while. I’m fine with the sweetness lingering. In this circumstance, I am very happy either way. Just try both and decide what you like.

T: When it comes to agave, if you’re using other natural sweeteners like honey or maple syrup, folks might be tempted to cut that with some water. Almost to make it easier to work with. But when you do buy most agave syrups, they tend to be slightly easier to pour or whatnot. Are you diluting it at all, or are you just going straight up?

J: I’m always diluting every syrup that I work with. I try to have it be 50 Brix. A lot of people really love it. When I say Brix, what I’m talking about is the amount of sugar by weight dissolved in a solution. So 100 Brix is pure sugar, zero Brix is pure water, and 50 Brix — which is my favorite syrup strength for balancing — is equal parts, by weight, sugar and water. That’s also known as simple syrup. So I’m adjusting everything to 50. And there are some equations to do that. Or you can just adjust with the refractometer. That’s a machine that exists to measure Brix. If you’re going to buy one for home, make sure that you’re getting one that measures between 15 and 85. There are some wine Brix refractometers that only go up to 20 Brix, because they’re for measuring the Brix of grape juice in the field. There are some that are honey refractometers that only measure between like 60 and 80. It might be helpful for you in some cases, but for the most part, you want that broad spectrum so you can really tell what the Brix is. Something I have to say every time I talk about Brix, once you’re adding alcohol or a bunch of acid powders or whatever else, you can’t measure the Brix of a full complete cocktail because alcohol refracts light. Also, sugar refracts light. That’s why it can tell you, on a refractometer, what the sweetness level is and how much sugars dissolved in it. But if there’s a bunch of other stuff in there, like alcohol or acid, that’s going to throw off your reading.

T: So you’re purely using this for your sweetening agent.

J: Exactly.

T: Sweetness, simple syrup, agave, whatever is, sugar has this impact of affecting the texture of the overall drink and the weight of it. This approach that we’re taking here today, is this going to have an equal weight to the kind of tequila and grapefruit soda approach? Where do we come in there, and how much are you thinking about that?

J: I’m always thinking about body when it comes to cocktails. Obviously, tequila and grapefruit soda is going to be a much lighter cocktail than something with juice and syrup added to it. You’re going to mitigate some of that richness with the club soda that you’re going to finish the drink with. But I like the fullness of what sugar lends to the drink, within reason. In terms of balance that I’m thinking about here, I would say a half-ounce of syrup at 50 Brix, either agave or simple and three-quarters of an ounce of lime juice. So it’s already skewing more acid-forward, but then bringing that back into an acid-sweet balance with a full ounce of grapefruit juice. And then 2 ounces of spirit, either split one-and-a-half, half of tequila and mezcal, or just straight 2 ounces of tequila. With five drops of a 20 percent saline solution.

T: Final component of the drink, we’re going to top this up with sparkling water. We’re going to go even deeper on this in a little while. In terms of this preparation, what are you thinking about there? We’ve spoken about saline. This might also crop up, but are you opting for bona fide sparkling mineral waters that have dissolved solids that have sodium content and other minerals in there? Are you looking at that or are you focusing more on bubbles? What are you prioritizing?

J: Absolutely prioritizing bubbles in this circumstance; a small bottle of club soda. Or back in the Existing Conditions days, we had viciously carbonated water out of a gun, so you could use that. It’s maximum carbonation, because you’ve already lost so much of the opportunity for carbonation with all of these ingredients that aren’t carbonated. The real star of the show in the one-one style of tequila-grapefruit-soda Paloma is the bubbles; they’re very prominent. That’s the thing that’s lacking the most in the classic cocktail bar-style Paloma. Honestly, it’s only going to end up being an ounce or so of club soda that you’re able to fit in the glass, because it’s already a large build. It’s a 4-ounce build on this drink. If you’re going to shake something that’s already 4 ounces, you’re looking at 6 ounces all day in the tin before you strain over ice in a glass. So this is a big, juicy drink. You’ve got a 10- or 12-ounce Collins full of ice. And if you’re going to add a grapefruit slice as a garnish, you’re really only looking at an ounce of bubbles that you can add to it. So it should be as ripping carbonated as possible.

T: To achieve that, you’re saying that you’re buying smaller bottles because they’re going to use them faster. Is there any other way, for example, if I have a SodaStream. I do have a SodaStream, but can I pump more gas into that than normal?

J: SodaStreams are going to get as carbonated as they can get. Just refresh the carbonation before each top off. If you want to build a carbonation rig at home, you can Google my name and carbonation. I have written a fairly comprehensive article about how to go about doing that. Water as close to freezing, without being ice, as possible, carbonated three times at 60 psi, is going to be the ideal drinking water. The real best-case scenario for just straight-up water that you that I’ve ever had, was that same level of intensity of carbonation, but it was split between 85 percent CO2 and 15 percent nitrous. If you taste pure nitrous water, pure NO2, dissolved in water, it almost tastes sweet. It tastes like Stevia. It breaks your brain a little bit. And the bubbles are microscopic. It’s not that big, ripping carbonated.

T: Carbonated water lands acidic-leaning, right? Or no?

J: Yes, it does.

T: The combination of carbon dioxide dissolved in water, I think it is. Interesting. You’ve talked us through the process there and also the ratios and the build. One other thing that I wanted to explore, we’ve spoken about glassware, you’re going for a Collins glass.

J: This is going in a highball, for sure.

All About Ice and Garnishes

T: A cold Collins glass. Ice? Because we spoke there about the importance of carbonation. That’s one thing that a lot of folks don’t realize.

J: That ice is killing the bubbles.

T: Exactly. Walk us through that.

J: Sure. This is actually something that we got into huge arguments about opening Existing Conditions. Back in the Booker and Dax days, we had a whole carbonated program on the menu. And they were all served, some could say, to the detriment of the rest of the drink. But from a pure carbonation standpoint, we served in the ideal vessel, which is a Champagne flute. It’s the best vessel to preserve the carbonation, because there’s the lowest surface area on the top of the drink, where CO2 can escape. We wanted to be a little bit friendlier to the general drinking public, which is a crazy concept for Dave to wrap his head around. But Don Lee, who is such a genius, was like, “No, Dave, we have to serve these carbonated drinks in a Collins glass with ice because it’s what people expect.” And ultimately, Dave acquiesced, and we ended up going that route.

T: Dave Arnold and Don Lee being the co-founders there of Existing Conditions?

J: It was just Dave at Booker and Dax, and then Don was the partner at Existing Conditions.

T: Amazing. So tell us why that’s happening. Why is ice killing carbonation?

J: You know you put Mentos in Diet Coke and it explodes?

T: I’ve seen the videos.

J: It’s the same idea. What’s causing that is microscopic little pits on the surface of the Mento, which are called nucleation sites. What a nucleation site is, is a place where a molecule of CO2 can attach and then break itself free from the solution. Ice is covered in pits and pockmarks, nicks, and dings. And they’re all places where CO2 can escape. If you have an Erlenmeyer flask that’s been chemically cleaned, there’s no dust, no surface pitting, it’s a brand new, scientifically cleaned flask, you pour carbonated water into it, and you will have no idea that it’s carbonated. They won’t move at all.

T: It’s crazy, right? That’s why you think about it when you pick up one of these bottles from the supermarket. For the most part, you’re not seeing the bubbles in there.

J: No, absolutely not.

T: Because they’re in the solution.

J: The thing that you can do to add ice to a drink, but mitigate the amount of nucleation sites and amount of carbonation loss, is minimize the amount of available surface area. The best way to do that is to use one big cube. So, a spear in a Collins glass is the best case scenario.

T: Obviously, clear ice looks more attractive in this respect. Are there any other advantages of that?

J: It looks beautiful.

T: There’s some form of wastage there when it does come to making it. Here in New York City, there’s some wonderful purveyors of clear ice that will make it to order.

J: If you’ve got some extra cash lying around, Okamoto makes a big ice order. It’s so much fun to have those big cubes around.

T: We had Eric Alperin on from the West Coast doing the fine work on the ice front also. So, standard garnish. You mentioned maybe some kind of fresh grapefruit. Do you prefer fresh? What’s your feeling there?

J: I’m really not a huge garnish guy. Having worked primarily at Booker and Dax and Existing Conditions, we’re basically almost entirely garnish free, for the most part. So I can go either way. I’m happy with half of a grapefruit wheel, artfully slid into the glass. I’m happy with a dried piece of grapefruit. I’m happy with a lime wedge. Any piece of fruit is fine. I think grapefruit and lime are the places to go. For a long time, I was vehemently anti-wheel, because it serves no function in the drink. You can’t squeeze juice out of that; it’s useless! I’ve since lightened up quite a bit. There’s no one more dogmatic than the new bartender who just learned these rules and they need to be executed to a tee. I was that person for a long time, and I have since softened with age. If it looks pretty, put it in the drink. It’s fine.

T: People want to take photos as well. Let’s be honest, people want a ‘gram their drinks.

J: It’s good for your bar program if people are taking pictures of things that are pretty.

T: Great point. One final thing we didn’t touch on would be salted rim. Is there any place for it in this drink or not?

J: Sure. I spoke about it a little bit, that I prefer to salt the drink rather than the glassware. And that’s true for me for all drinks. But I love a salted rim on a Margarita or Paloma from time to time, if I want that big lick of salt. It’s just a personal preference thing. If a guest at my bar or in my home asks me for a Margarita or Paloma, I would always ask. Do you want a salted rim? Do you want me to salt the drink? You can have a conversation with a guest if it’s not busy. If it is busy just say, “Salted rim?” And find out quickly and then execute quickly.

Jack Schramm’s Saratoga Paloma

T: Well, I think that’s a wonderful overview of the Paloma there. All the things that you can do to actually match or build upon a formula that’s so simple. I was wondering, though, can you take us to the next step? Because I know that at Existing Conditions, one of your most popular cocktails that you had was the Saratoga Paloma.

J: Yes, our best-selling drink was a Paloma.

T: Amazing. Tell us about that, because that takes it to the next level.

J: What our version of the Paloma did at Existing Conditions was take the good things about the fresh-juice Paloma and the good things about the one-and-one Paloma, and marry them together. So it was clarified grapefruit juice and tequila and dilution. All of that was married together, super chilled almost to the point of freezing, carbonated three times, and then poured into an ice-filled highball, and topped with clarified lime juice. We were making big batches and freezing it. The clarified grapefruit keeps really well, but the clarified lime juice has a much shorter shelf life. So we would add that to-order just to mitigate the amount of times we would have to batch. The other thing that was crazy about this drink was what we were using for dilution. It was called the Saratoga Paloma because of Dave Arnold. For people who have interacted with him, you understand he is an expert in a surprising array of fields. If he wants to know anything about a subject, he wants to know everything about the subject. So he went super-in-depth into mineral waters. We took this trip up to Saratoga Springs, N.Y., which is a state park in New York State that is three-and-a-half hours north of the city, that has 19 different naturally occurring mineral springs. There’s one that literally is a geyser out of the ground, and some of them have been drilled and plumbed. There’s one specific spring, Hathorn No. 3, that is so insanely salty and mineral-driven. It’s undrinkable without being diluted.

T: Do you know the TDS count on that for water geeks out there?

J: I do not know. I should look that up.

T: It’s saltier than anything you’ll get in a store. The most would be like Vichy Catalan.

J: Vichy Catalan tastes like Evian compared to it. It’s like Dasani. There’s nothing happening in Vichy Catalan compared to most of the water coming out of the ground in Saratoga.

T: Wow.

J: That said, if you see those blue bottles of Saratoga Springs water, it’s bullsh*t. Sure, it’s a fine water and sparkling water, but that’s water from the water table. It’s just well water. It’s not the special water coming from the mineral springs. What we would do at the bar is, we took a whole carload of 10 kegs and brought a portable CO2 rig so that we could bottle the water directly from the spring and then keep it carbonated in the keg. Because if you let it sit uncarbonated, if you don’t purge all the oxygen, the minerals will fall out of solution. So it had to stay carbonated the whole time.

T: So you were carbonating that? Because I’d read somewhere before that it was coming out naturally carbonated.

J: It’s coming out naturally carbonated, but very mildly. If you don’t charge it with additional CO2, it’s going to lose the minerals. They are going to fall out, and you end up with the bottom of a Corny keg that’s covered in red-brown sediment. Which is crazy, because it was clear water.

T: That’s amazing. So that’s the water component there. If I’m going to play the role of someone who sat in you bar back in the day ordering this drink, one of the first questions I’m going to ask is, why are we clarifying the grapefruit and the lime?

J: Sure. Again, this goes back to carbonation. The same way that there’s nucleation sites that are killing carbonation on the ice cubes, every little bit of solid matter in any of your juices — the pithiness, the stuff that floats in the juice that makes it cloudy — is all nucleation sites. So that’s going to kill your carbonation immediately. If you try to carbonate, either in a SodaStream or in a CO2 rig like we used at the bar, it’s going to foam like crazy, and you’re going to ruin your kitchen. It’s just going to spray everywhere. It’s a complete nightmare. Anything with a lot of nucleation sites is a terrible candidate for carbonation. We did centrifuge clarification, because before Dave created the Spinzall, we used the big, 2-liters-at-a-time, swinging-bucket medical monstrosities that are so scary.

T: If folks listening didn’t get the picture right now, Dave is an inventor. The most recent thing that I’ve seen him doing, he’s trying to get this flamethrower project off the ground.

J: It’s amazing. It’s essentially a conical attachment for the end of a blowtorch that turns that narrow point of flame into a broiler that you can hold in your hand. So you can sear sous-vide meats. You can toast cheese on top of things on the fly. It’s an incredible tailgating cooking attachment, and just a really wonderful kitchen tool.

T: It sounds like you were, especially in the early part of your career, one of those folks that would start focusing on something like a challenge and then being like, “OK, what’s everything we can do to overcome this challenge?”

J: Yes.

T: And in this drink, it sounds like it was carbonation. My follow-up here, myself sat at this bar ordering this Paloma is, why is carbonation so important?

J: If you ask Dave that, he would look at you with a puzzled look and be like, “Why is water wet?” Carbonation is just one of those things that, if you care about it, it matters. And if you don’t, it doesn’t. We believe that it matters, and that having the most carbonation in a drink is the best way to enjoy carbonated drinks. Why would you ever not want to do the best job? If you had the techniques and the technology available to you, wouldn’t you want to make the most delicious and refreshing version of any drink?

T: That’s such a great point there. People could ask those very same questions that I’m asking. Actually, they probably wouldn’t ask them. They’d be like, “Oh, look at these guys. Maybe they’re clarifying grapefruit. What’s the point?” Well, there is a point when you’re doing it with a purpose and with intention.

J: All of our technique-driven things were done intentionally. We never did anything for the sake of doing it. We did things because we believed in the techniques and believed in the results in the drinks. I truly believe that the drinks at Existing Conditions spoke for themselves. We had an incredible team of really brilliant bartenders who made excellent cocktails, and they happened to utilize these techniques. What I would always come back to when I talked to Dave about it is, we didn’t think that our drinks were better than everybody else’s drinks, or that our techniques were the right way to do everything. We did drinks this way because we thought they were delicious, and we also thought that every other high-quality cocktail bar in the city was making delicious drinks. But they were all doing drinks in that same style of fresh juices, syrups that were handmade, everything made in-house. But they were very traditional styles of cocktails. And we wanted to be the place that you could go when you wanted something different. These other bars were doing such a good job with that style of drink. We didn’t want to step on anybody’s toes. We’re going to do the modern-style cocktails that we cared about.

T: Amazing. Something occurred to me, as well, when I was hearing you talking about carbonation specifically, relates to the idea of, when you do go down that rabbit hole of mineral water and you start assessing the different levels of minerals in water and start tasting them, it’s a thing, it’s real. Once you go down that route, that’s not something you can unsee or untaste. It’s with you for the rest of your life.

J: I completely understand, it’s the same with these modern drinks. Once you have these purely carbonated examples of these cocktails, why would you want to have a drink where every component wasn’t carbonated?

T: If it’s a carbonated drink.

J: Exactly. Add the spirit to the other components and then carbonate the whole thing. Then there’s bubbles in the tequila, too. If you want it to be carbonated, make it carbonated.

T: It sounds like a lot of the equipment is out of reach for myself at home, but I’d love doing those kinds of experiments where you focus on one thing and you just try and do everything you can to really maximize it. It’s amazing. Well, Jack, that’s been a wonderful run-through of the Paloma. I hope a ton of listeners got to try the Saratoga Paloma. If not, I think they’ll be able to appreciate what an incredible drink it was from hearing the backstory there. Any final thoughts on the Paloma for you, though?

J: Drink them. It’s a great drink. Order it as often as you would a Margarita. Have it in your roster of cocktails to enjoy at bars or at home. And don’t forget about it.

Getting to Know Jack Schramm

T: Wonderful. So now we are going to skip into our final section of the show, which allows us to get to know our guests a little bit more with our five recurring questions. How are you feeling?

J: I’m feeling great. Let’s do it.

T: Wonderful. So question No. 1, and this can always be slightly hypothetical, whether it’s in your ideal bar or bars that you’ve worked at before: What is the style or category of spirit that typically enjoys the most real estate for you?

J: Sure. It’s a cop out, because it’s such a broad category, but I like to go to bars where the spirits exhibit terroir really well. In my personal home bar, the spirits that I am the most excited about and take up the most real estate are rhum agricole and mezcal. Those are the two. Every bar that I’ve ever worked at has now closed permanently. I’ve only ever worked at three bars: Booker and Dax, Existing Conditions, and The Nomad in New York, and they’re all gone forever. May they rest in peace, but I don’t have a professional back bar to look at right now. So the one back bar in the city that I have so much respect for and love to go and taste through is at Night Moves, which is attached to the Four Horsemen in Williamsburg. It’s a wine bar with this dance club concept. But Orlando, who does the cocktail program there and also does the spirits buying, has put together the most incredible, eclectic list of rum and agave spirits and Armagnac — all this stuff that’s so delicious that I care about the most, and it’s so well curated and he’s so low key about it. It’s my favorite place to drink right now.

T: Amazing. I think there’s a conversation in and drinks media, the side that I’m on. There’s often this conversation of, do consumers actually care? But broad scale, do they care about terroir? You could argue about that. But when it comes to bartenders, especially at the top of their game, absolutely. We hear that time and time again on the show.

J: I think that it hasn’t broken into the mainstream yet, but for people who really care about what they drink, it has to be at least a part of the conversation.

T: Question No. 2: Which ingredient or tool is the most undervalued in a bartender’s arsenal?

J: A ridiculous, super-high-concept science answer is liquid nitrogen. It’s such a cool tool for bars. I’m not telling you to find liquid nitrogen and make drinks at home with it. Don’t do that. You could kill yourself or your guests or your friends or your loved ones. There’s so many steps to safety, from instantly taking a glass from room temp to perfectly chilled in seconds or freezing herbs to then muddle into a powder and then build the drink, dumping off the excess nitrogen. You’re never serving a guest liquid nitrogen, ever. I’m legally obliged to say those things out loud. If there’s nitrogen floating on top of the drink, don’t run it to a guest. Dump it in a sink. That said, you can use it to freeze herbs completely solid. They shatter like glass under a muddler into a super-fine powder. You can add the spirit to that. It’s going to extract all the color and flavor, build the rest of the drink on top of it, and shake it. You definitely want to double strain that to remove the fine bits of herbs, and you will have the most clear and precise herb-driven cocktail that you’ve ever tasted. It’s such an incredible tool. Geez, what was the question even? I just got so excited about nitrogen.

T: Undervalued tool or ingredient. But I’ll say this, I do love how that ties back to what we were talking about when it comes to Existing Conditions. You’re not using it for show or theater. This is with intention.

J: It happened to be showy and theatrical, which is a happy aside. But even if we looked like idiots doing it, we would have still used the technique because it made the most delicious, herb-driven cocktails. I think that the other underutilized ingredient, we’ve talked about it a lot today, is salt in drinks. Just try it.

T: And that 20 percent, one part salt, four parts water.

J: Exactly. And five drops in a drink. It just opens the whole thing up. Give it a try. Don’t knock it ’til you try it, because I know a lot of you are.

T: Question No. 3: What’s the most important piece of advice you’ve received in this industry?

J: The most important thing that I learned both from my first managers at Booker and Dax, who is this wonderful bartender Maura McGuigan and from Dave as well, is that no matter how much math and science you’ve done and how you’ve calculated this cocktail, if you taste it and it’s wrong, fix it. The most important tool isn’t the refractometer or a scale to make 50-Brix syrups. The most important tool is your tongue, and if it tastes strong, adjust it. A lot of people like to say that bartending is more like baking than cooking, where the precise measurements are so important, and I completely agree with that. But you need to be able to tell if your lime juice is off for the day, and use a little more because it’s a little under-acidic. Just taste, taste, taste, taste, taste. Taste every component of every drink at least once throughout the night. Try and taste, have a system where you can rotate the stainless steel drinking straw so you’re not throwing out thousands of plastic straws. When I started bartending, I tasted every single drink I made for the first a year, at least. It was: straw taste, that’s right, send it. I think that’s so important and gets lost on a lot of people, especially when they start bartending. The way to get good at tasting and become a good taster is to just keep on tasting. So, taste everything. A very niche piece of advice that I think is also important, I learned from John deBary, who’s also a wonderful bartender and human being. If you’re going to appear on camera with close-up shots of you making drinks, you can do it yourself. But either professionally or at home, get a manicure. Make your make the nails look good. It’s so important.

T: Because oftentimes, your head might be getting cut out of that or whatever. That’s going to be the close up.

J: Exactly. The close ups are going to be on your fingers, not necessarily your face. It doesn’t matter how beautiful your face is in the cocktail video when they see your grubby fingernails.

T: Wonderful piece of advice, definitely the first time we’ve had that one. Thank you, and thank you, John deBary. Question No. 4 here. If you could only visit one last bar in your life, it can be past or present, what would it be?

J: Oh, if it can be past, then I’d go back in time and go to Booker and Dax again. I would collect heaps of memorabilia; I don’t have any menus or anything. I would definitely take some menus from there and I would spend way too long drinking through the whole menu and eating a bunch of country ham.

T: Some folks do come on here and they almost feel a little bit embarrassed to talk about bars in the frame of that question, bars that they’ve worked at or bars that they own and run. But if that’s the one for you, that’s amazing. That’s special. I’m not saying you should be, by the way.

J: No, I understand. It’s a little bit like smelling your own farts, but I wouldn’t be going to drink the drinks that I came up with. I’d be going to drink the rest. There was a drink on the menu at Booker and Dax called the Hatchback that was clarified grapefruit, clarified lime, Campari, tequila, carbonated. Very much Paloma territory, but also with that bitterness from Campari, and it was just so delicious. It was just such a good drink and such a smart drink and one that I could drink like an infinite quantity of. Or the Chartruth. It was focused on clarified stuff and carbonated stuff. But that was just green chartreuse and dilution, carbonated, with a little bit of salt and some clarified lime.

T: Oh my God.

J: It was so good. We did bring that back at Existing Conditions and we did it with the VP yellow chartreuse, and that might be the best cocktail I’ve ever tasted in my entire life. Carbonated VP yellow with some clarified lime to balance, it is insane.

T: Wonderful. Final question for you today: If you knew that the next cocktail you drank was going to be your last, what would you order or make?

J: I would make myself a two-to-one Tanqueray 10 and Dolin dry vermouth Martini with two dashes of Regan’s orange bitters, up with a lemon twist. It’s cold and pristine. I don’t want to say it’s my desert island cocktail, because if I was literally on a desert island, it wouldn’t be a Martini. It would be something different. But that is my deathbed cocktail. It’s just a pristine Martini.

T: Amazing. I’m right there with you, and many of our guests have been, too.

J: It’s just a perfect drink. It is so good.

T: Well, Jack, thank you so much for your time today. I had so much fun exploring the Paloma. We’ll see if our producer can get us some “Butterfly” now to play out as we leave.

J: Come my lady. Come, come my lady.

T: Amazing.

If you enjoy listening to the show anywhere near as much as we enjoy making it, go ahead and hit subscribe, and please leave a rating or review wherever you get your podcasts — whether that’s Apple, Spotify, or Stitcher. And please tell your friends.

Now, for the credits. “Cocktail College” is recorded and produced in New York City by myself and Keith Beavers, VinePair’s tastings director and all-around podcast group. Of course, I want to give a huge shout-out to everyone on the VinePair team. Too many awesome people to mention. They know who they are. I want to give some credit here to Danielle Grinberg, art director at VinePair, for designing the awesome show logo. And listen to that music. That’s a Darbi Cicci original. Finally, thank you, listener, for making it this far and for giving this whole thing a purpose. Until next time.

Ed. note: This episode has been edited for length and clarity.

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