Skip to main content

How VinePair’s 2023 Bartender of the Year Makes a Mad Scientist-Worthy Paloma

While the classic Paloma consists of just a few key ingredients — tequila, grapefruit, soda, and lime — they add up to a delicate balance. Patty Dennison, head bartender at Brooklyn’s women-led Grand Army Bar, warns that a common mistake when making a Paloma is an imbalance of flavors. Adding too much sugar or too much grapefruit, she says, can overshadow the natural flavors of the tequila in the drink. 

“It’s almost like you’re hiding whatever tequila you’re using,” Dennison says. “In this case, I wanted to bring out the flavor, because Tequila Ocho already has so much.”

Patty Dennison


Despite the variety of flavors at play in her Paloma recipe, Dennison’s main focus was to highlight Ocho’s blanco tequila. “At the bar I work at right now, all of our tequilas are additive-free. Tequila Ocho is one that’s super cool because it’s also single-estate,” she says. “I think it’s nice to have a tequila that tastes like tequila. There are all of these notes like vanilla and cinnamon and things like that that a lot of people are associating with tequila, but that isn’t actually what it tastes like.”

The distorted flavor Dennison is referring to is often the result of adding flavorings and artificial ingredients. Even tequilas that are labeled “100 percent agave” are still permitted to include up to 1 percent of additives. Tequila Ocho remains true to the label. The single-estate tequila is made of nothing but Blue Weber Agave, which has its own flavor profile that adds complexity to cocktails like Pat’s Paloma. 

“Honestly, this was kind of a tricky process,” Dennison says of the challenge of creating an expert-level Paloma recipe. “It led to an internal struggle of what can you and can’t you have to still call something an actual Paloma?” 

Still, with her years of culinary training and her title of VinePair’s Next Wave Awards 2023 Bartender of the Year, Dennison rose to the challenge. “I wanted to keep the components that make it a classic — grapefruit and soda — but to make a really cool homemade soda and to use other lovely ingredients to bring out some of those flavors that are already present,” she says. “I wanted to add some science into it because that’s something I enjoy about bartending.”

Dennison got to work experimenting to perfect the two key elements of her Pat’s Paloma potion: grapefruit sherbet and grapefruit soda. The sherbet involved a simmered and strained combination of sugar, grapefruit juice, and grapefruit zest. The grapefruit soda-making process was a bit more complex. 

“I wanted to take the concept of making a grapefruit soda, but to actually make a homemade one using a grapefruit syrup, using the zest and also the juice so that we don’t have any waste there,” Dennison says. She then adjusted the soda’s acidity levels with citric and malic acid and clarified the soda to get it “crystal clear.”  “With carbonation, you want something that doesn’t have any particles in it so the CO₂ can stay in the liquid,” she explains.

Dennison’s complex processes produced deceptively simple results. She decided to add some nuance via Manzanilla sherry, a dry, light, white Spanish sherry. “I used to make sherry Palomas for someone that I work with,” she says. “Manzanilla sherry is something that pairs so well in a Paloma. Adding a little bit of sherry can add some solidity.”

The recipe also includes unexpected additions like Campari, the Oaxacan Pasilla Mixe chili spirit Empirical Ayuuk, and Scrappy’s Bitters Firewater Tincture. “Spicy Palomas are my favorite, so that was something I wanted to add,” Dennison says. “I feel like a nice tequila has a little bit of spice, so it’s really just enhancing the flavors of the tequila and the ingredients that are already in the Paloma and making it a little more refined.” She used the peppery but not red-hot Empirical Ayuuk chili distillate to bring out spice notes in the tequila, and just a dash of Firewater Tincture to bring out the bitterness of the grapefruit. 

Simplicity is what ultimately cracked the code on Dennison’s mission to create an expert-level Paloma. “It’s kind of ironic that the expert level that I was given led to taking a more simplistic approach and just using the things that were already there, hopefully to the best of my abilities,” she says. “Especially in a Paloma, you can make it so the tequila really shines. Tequila Ocho inherently is going to give you a more complex cocktail because you’re using a more complex spirit. It’s funny, the spirit is more complex when you add less to it.”

Despite the complexity of the spirit and the expert-level science and wizardry behind Dennison’s recipe, the power of the Paloma remains the same: It creates that summer feeling. “We’re getting to the point where the weather in New York is finally a little bit better. Put me on a rooftop — let’s do some outdoor dining and drink this Paloma on a sunny day. But I think you can be pretty much anywhere and drink a Paloma,” she says.

Patty’s Pat’s Paloma Recipe


1 ½ ounce Tequila Ocho Plata
1 dash Scrappy’s Bitters Firewater Tincture
1 teaspoon Campari
¼ ounce Empirical Ayuuk
½ ounce Manzanilla sherry
Homemade grapefruit soda*


Take a highball glass and brush half the rim with the agar jelly saved from the soda clarification process, then press the brushed rim in salt.
Combine all ingredients in salted highball glass.
Carefully place ice spears (cubes work, too) in the glass.
Top with the homemade grapefruit soda.
 Lift the ice carefully with a bar spoon to incorporate everything together. Enjoy!

*Homemade Grapefruit Soda Recipe


200g homemade grapefruit sherbet*
500g water
3g citric acid
3g malic acid
1½g agar-agar
Empty 1-liter bottle
Sparkling water maker or CO₂ tank with regulator


Combine all ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat until the liquid is simmering and everything is dissolved.
Remove from heat and chill liquid until it’s completely cooled.
Once cooled, the agar will start to set and you will notice the mixture looks like a very loose gelatin dessert.
Line a fine mesh strainer with a coffee filter or cheesecloth and pour mixture through; the strained mixture will be clear. Pro tip: It may take a while to strain, so you can let it sit overnight.
Save the remaining agar jelly for use when building the cocktail.
Using a CO₂ tank with a regulator or sparkling water maker, fill an empty 1-liter bottle three-fourths of the way full.
 Take all of the remaining air out of the bottle and secure carbonation cap.
Set your regulator to 40 PSI and give it three charges, shaking for 10 seconds each time. After each charge, allow the soda to settle, remove the cap, and release the remaining air in the bottle.
Once charged three times, the soda is ready to go.

*Homemade Grapefruit Sherbet Recipe


400g sugar
10g grapefruit zest
200g grapefruit juice


Combine sugar and zest in a small saucepan and thoroughly mix. Mixture should look like wet sand.
Let the sugar and zest combination sit for 30 minutes so grapefruit oils can be fully released.
Add grapefruit juice and cook on medium heat until simmering and sugar is dissolved.
Strain through a fine mesh strainer to remove grapefruit zest.
Cool, bottle, label, and date. Store in refrigerator.

This article is sponsored by Tequila Ocho. 

Drink with a Responsible Hand. Tequila Ocho 40% Alc./Vol., Imported by Ocho Asociados, Bardstown, KY.

The article How VinePair’s 2023 Bartender of the Year Makes a Mad Scientist-Worthy Paloma appeared first on VinePair.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.