‘It really needs to have a little pop of colour.’ Get Kayla Saito’s Paloma riff

Kayla’s take is inspired by her hometown of Honolulu.

‘It really needs to have a little pop of colour.’ Get Kayla Saito’s Paloma riff

If it’s true that we drink with our eyes first, then Kayla Saito’s take on the classic Paloma for this year’s Patrón Perfectionist cocktail competition has set off on the right foot.

Below, lightly edited and condensed for clarity, Kayla talks about the place that provided the inspiration for her drink, the unique flavours of Hawaii, and more.


Sam Bygrave: Let’s talk about Patrón Perfectionists. Why did you enter the competition?

Kayla Saito: I’ve never entered Patrón before. I’ve heard really great things about Patrón Perfectionist. I love Patrón so much. And for me, it was just kind of the perfect combination of ingredients for me to put my head down and try. And I love competitions. It helps me explore new things creatively and I get to connect with people. That’s what drew me in.

What’s the big idea behind your drink?

So my entry into Patrón Perfectionist this year was I’iwi Paloma. It’s this time of year that I’m feeling a little bit nostalgia for one of the places I grew up, in Hawaii. So the drink is based off of Honolulu in particular, like an ode to the sixties, tiki vibe Waikiki beach.

I love that.

I couldn’t help myself. For me, Patrón kind of embodies a handmade, artisanal, low and slow flavour building. And I wanted to echo that in the process of making a drink. So I looked at Hawaii as inspiration, in particular, the city of Honolulu. They’re famous for their honey. So I used a local delicious honey here that is the same type of honey that I used to have — my bees used to make, not me, but my bees used to make in Hawaii.

You don’t want to claim the credit there do you?

Yeah, no, I have no credit. I stole it from them.

So I use that particular honey from here and it kind of connected me back to Hawaii. I made a mead with that.

I always use fermentation in my drinks. So I fermented that into a mead, made it into a cordial.

Gotta use grapefruit in a Paloma — I concentrated the flavour down by freezing it, and taking the water away. Made that into a cordial. The colour is nice and bright and red. Hence the name I’iwi, which is a Hawaiian bird. It’s this beautiful little — it’s actually called a honey crescent — and it has a long little beak and it is used to actually extract the nectar of the honey from flowers. So I thought that went really well together.

And of course, gotta use Patrón Reposado. What else? Carbonation is just from the soda water and I carbonated at a high PSI to add a little bit of fizz. I really wanted it to be a simple serve, but with a long kind of flavour building process in the back. And then for the garnish, another little ode and nod to Hawaii, Hawaii’s favorite snack flavour, Li Hing Mui.

It’s so good. So you go to any shop, you walk into a 7-Eleven, any cafe anywhere, you go to a donut shop, ice cream shop, there’s always going to be Li Hing Mui flavour or the powder. Imagine Chinese salted plum powder mixed with salty and sweet. It’s addictive.

How important is the colour to a drink to you? Because it sounds like you put a lot of effort into how it’s going to appear in the glass as well as taste.

Yeah, you eat and drink with your eyes. So for me, it’s also a concept. The Paloma, you think that kind of ruby grapefruit hue, and I think that it really needs to have a little pop of colour. And also, that kind of red, juicy hue kind of just makes your mouth water when you look at it.

Why do you do what you do?

For me, what gets me kind of excited about making drinks, and bartending is a connection with people. So for me, it’s chatting with guests, chatting about ingredients, meeting people, as well as other bartenders and people that do these competitions and make these things and, and learning from them creatively.

Young people coming in as well, chatting with them, getting to feed off of their energy for me is what drives me.


  • 40ml Patrón Reposado
  • 35ml grapefruit mead cordial
  • 100ml soda water

For the compressed honey grapefruit:

Compress sliced grapefruit in a vacuum chamber for 20 seconds in equal parts honey. Sprinkle with Li Hing Mui Powder.

For the Li Hing Mui powder:

  • 1 parts fried plum powder
  • 1 parts dried pineapple sage flower
  • 2% homemade salt
  • 1% Aiea Hawaiian Red Salt
  • 20% sugar
  • 1% citric acid

I have dried my own pineapple sage flower and made my own salt from the Melbourne ocean.

For the cordial:

  • 2 parts grapefruit juice
  • 2 parts Christmas Malley Meade
  • 1 parts grapefruit honey

For the ruby grapefruit juice Concentrate:

  • x12 ruby grapefruit

First zest the grapefruit for the honey infusion and set aside. Freeze the juice in a blast chiller or freezer until ice forms on the surface. Remove the first layer of ice and freeze remaining liquid. Repeat until 25% of the liquid remains.

For the Christmas Malley mead:

  • 4 parts Christmas Malley Honey
  • 1 parts soft water
  • 10% rice koji

Combine ingredients into a sterilised ceramic vessel and cover with a cloth to allow wild fermentation. Stir daily. Put an airlock after 36 hours and cement for 14 days. Strain through an oil filter and refrigerate.

For the grapefruit honey:

  • 1 parts Christmas Malley Honey
  • 2% grapefruit zest

Infuse for 24 hours at room temp and strain.