You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.


  • ePAPER

You have read of premium articles.

Get unlimited access to all of our breaking news, in-depth coverage and bonus content- exclusively for subscribers. Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks


Welcome to

This subscriber-only site gives you exclusive access to breaking news, in-depth coverage, exclusive interactives and bonus content.

You can read free articles of your choice a month that are only available on

Paula’s Texas Grapefruit could make paloma your drink of summer

At the risk of offending my fellow Texans, I’m going to confess that I prefer palomas over margaritas.

The paloma — made with tequila, grapefruit soda and a little bit of lime — is sublime in its simplicity, with the straight-from-the-earth harmony of the agave and the grapefruit ringing such a pure, perfect note. But in its own way, so is the margarita, with its mix of tequila, Cointreau and lime juice.

One local spirits producer, Texacello, recognizes the allure of both. Since 2005, the company has been making Paula’s Texas Orange to satisfy margarita fans who prefer a Texas-made orange liqueur, rather than Cointreau or another sweet alternative. After a decade’s success with Paula’s Texas Orange and Paula’s Texas Lemon, the company has a new fruity liqueur now on liquor store shelves: Paula’s Texas Grapefruit. And, yes, it is divine with tequila.

“I think I read that in Mexico, they drink more palomas than anything else,” Dee Kelleher, president of Texacello, said. “And what a great drink. It’s lovely in all the ways — with grapefruit soda, fresh grapefruit. And Paula’s Texas Grapefruit, of course. The grapefruit is just amazing, especially in Texas.”

Kelleher and her husband, Gary, didn’t always own Texacello. They purchased majority shares of the business in 2013 from the original owner, Paula Angerstein, who now has a minor advisory role but prefers to spend her time traveling.

That’s actually how Angerstein became the first woman and second person, behind Tito Beveridge of the now omnipresent Tito’s Vodka, to legally distill and sell spirits in this state — by living abroad and vacationing in Italy, where she developed a deep love for the country’s limoncello, a sweet liqueur made from the zest of Italian lemons.

She brought that love back to Texas but produced an arancello, an orange liqueur, first at the advice of an industry veteran who recognized that “Texas is margarita country,” Kelleher said.

And now, with any luck, it’ll become a place for palomas, too.

The Kellehers, Gary especially, have spot-on instincts when it comes to knowing what people want to drink next. He and his brothers produced Dripping Springs Vodka in 2006 with their San Luis Spirits, Texas’ third legal distillery, and released a gin in 2014, the same year they opened a tasting bar on the premises.

With Texacello, the Kellehers took an unprecedented step. They joined forces last year with two other booze companies, Pepe Zevada Z Tequila and Republic Tequila, to form Texas’ first liquor house, Empresario Brands. The conglomerate gives each company the might and money to grow.

It’s also turned the Kellehers’ business into a family affair. While Gary remains involved in San Luis Spirits and acts as Empresario’s COO, Dee is the head of marketing at Empresario — with their daughter, Carolyn, working as a marketing specialist under her.

“Carolyn had a film degree, and come to find out, marketing is pretty visual, and it’s about telling stories,” Dee said. “That was a good education.”

One of the stories Carolyn is avid to tell is how Paula’s Texas Grapefruit came about. Although the first bottles of the slightly pink liqueur released only last month, the Kellehers had wanted to release the new flavor last year, armed with plenty of fresh Ruby Red grapefruits from the Rio Grande Valley and a brand-new, larger facility that would give Texacello’s production manager, Chris Roberts, more room to hand-produce each batch.

A delay in the permitting process for the new space spoiled the grapefruit but not their resolve. They’ve noticed “huge interest in grapefruit as a flavor,” Dee said. “You’re seeing it everywhere.”

“But there really wasn’t a Texas grapefruit liqueur before ours, and there aren’t many grapefruit liqueurs in general,” Carolyn added. “I don’t know of any that are made with fresh peel, like ours, rather than dried. Or I’d see a lot of palomas made with tequila and then a grapefruit vodka because there was just a void there. There wasn’t Paula’s.”

Deep Eddy Vodka’s Ruby Red is probably the most known spirit made with grapefruit — the flavored vodka, in fact, that sent the local distillery’s growth skyrocketing and helped to propel the citrus into the spotlight behind the bar.

But Paula’s Texas Grapefruit, as a liqueur and not a full-blown liquor, is rather different. Roberts produces it exactly as he does Paula’s Texas Lemon: hand-selecting each fruit for freshness, flavor and the oil content of the peel before zesting each one and infusing the zest in spirit barrels for two weeks, according to Texacello. It’s a process similar to the one Italian families and restaurants follow when making their own limoncello.

“Every day the barrels are rolled by hand to evenly distribute the natural oils from the zest throughout the spirits,” a Texacello information sheet reads. “We then filter the spirits and add cane sugar and Texas rainwater to finish our liqueurs. We make Paula’s Texas Orange the same way, with a seven-day infusion time to reach peak flavor.”

Already, Carolyn said, Paula’s Texas Grapefruit has gotten a lot of attention, in part because of the pink color that attracts people from across the room at events. “They’ll ask, ‘Oh, what is that?’ and want to try it,” she said.

Chances are, they’ll like what they taste. The liqueur showcases the Rio Grande Valley’s Ruby Reds sweetly, without being cloying, but enjoying it in a cocktail like the paloma is ideal. I spent a recent sunny afternoon outside with my dogs, relishing in the nice weather and in a mixture of Tequila 512 Blanco, Paula’s Texas Grapefruit, lime juice and club soda that I had whipped up.

It’s going to be my drink of summer, I can already tell.

Paula’s Texas Grapefruit is also, the Kellehers promised, good with vodka, gin, whiskey, sparkling wine, even beer. And don’t leave out rum, either.

“We looked back at some classic cocktails to pair it with,” Dee Kelleher said. “The Hemingway daiquiri has a little grapefruit juice in it, so we came up with this variation — we love our puns — called the Rum Also Rises.”

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Austin360 Eats

One Night in Austin: Americana adventures in the summer heat
One Night in Austin: Americana adventures in the summer heat

We wrapped up our yearlong “One Night” series back in March, after checking out dozens of local acts on monthly smorgasbord tours of Austin music hot spots large and small.
Grilling? Don’t hold the mayo!
Grilling? Don’t hold the mayo!

This is the season of outdoor parties and cookouts, as those of us self-professed grill masters and weekend warriors deftly show off our live-fire cooking skills in front of family and friends. That is, until the grill flares up and those beautiful steaks are reduced to charcoal and we’re peeling them off the grill through a cloud of smoke. It&rsquo...
Enjoy summer with Trailer Food Tuesday, Jaws on the Water and more
Enjoy summer with Trailer Food Tuesday, Jaws on the Water and more

1. “La La Land” In Concert 8 p.m. June 30. $39-$79. The Long Center, 701 W. Riverside Drive. 512-474-5664, If you loved the award-winning score for “La La Land” from composer Justin Hurwitz, soon you can hear it like never before: performed live by the Austin Symphony Orchestra as the movie plays. The winner...
‘Baby Driver’ director Edgar Wright talks music, stunts and Jon Hamm
‘Baby Driver’ director Edgar Wright talks music, stunts and Jon Hamm

Director Edgar Wright’s “Baby Driver” hits theaters this week after having its world premiere at South by Southwest in March. The heist thriller features Ansel Elgort, Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, Kevin Spacey, Lily James and a whole mess of great songs. Wright, perhaps best known for the Cornetto film trilogy of “Shaun of the Dead...
‘American Portrait’ photo exhibit extended
‘American Portrait’ photo exhibit extended

Art “This Land: An American Portrait.” Stephen L. Clark Gallery celebrates the release of Jack Spencer’s new book from the University of Texas Press. The exhibit was to wrap this month but has been extended through Aug. 5. 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and by appointment. 1101 W. Sixth St. 512-477-0828,
More Stories