Cocktails & Spirits

"Medical Mixologist" Ryan Pafford Creates Cocktails That Will Make Your Head Spin

When you tend bar at a restaurant where the kitchen is helmed by Top Chef winner Hung Huynh, it can be difficult to stand out, but Catch Miami mixologist Ryan Pafford uses his experience as a health professional to create mind-blowing cocktails sure to attract attention.

Pafford has a graduate degree in neuroscience, so it makes sense that three of his signature cocktails are the cerebra ($16), the synapse ($15), and the diffusion ($15). Though he's a clinical research coordinator during the day, he's no stranger to the biz. His brother is a renowned chef in Hawaii, and Pafford worked as a line cook and sous-chef before becoming a bartender just last year.

You might be wondering why someone with a master's degree in neuroscience would choose to tend bar. "While I had always been intrigued by mixology, I spent ten years cooking different cuisines in restaurants from Indiana to Lake Tahoe and even Maui," Pafford explains. "After completing graduate school in New England and moving to Miami, I was seeking an exciting new way to repay my large student loans. A bartending position seemed like a natural transition that would allow me to challenge myself while making ends meet."

Follow the jump for the Virginia native's synapse cocktail recipe and tips on catching a bartender's attention.

Short Order: Are there any similarities between your work in the medical field and your work behind the bar?

Ryan Pafford: Time is of the essence both behind the bar and in the field of stroke research. My day job requires immediate attention to all acute stroke cases at two adjacent hospitals. My night job demands an array of different signature cocktails while maintaining quality and consistency in a fast-paced environment.

What inspires your recipes?

I try to use ingredients authentic to Miami. We are exposed to so many exotic fruits that it only makes sense. My syrup recipes are usually intended to enhance the flavor in the cocktail without making it too sweet.

What are the best and worst tips you've ever received from customers?

Well, being located in South Beach with tourists, the worst tip is no tip or having to pay on a walkout. The best monetary tip I ever received was $100.

What reaction do you hope to get when someone takes their first sip of one of your cocktail recipes?

I appreciate the usual expressions of satisfaction and when someone tells a friend: "You have to try this cocktail -- it's delicious!"

Tell us a little about your drinks the cerebro, synapse, and diffusion. What were you going for with each one? What inspired the names?

Working in my particular field, these terms are often used in my daily routine at the hospital. When I hear these terms, I often think that this would be a great name for one of my new cocktails and so forth. Since there are not many parallels between clinical research and mixology, these names are my effort to merge the two.

What's the best way to get a bartender's attention? What's the worst?

When finishing up with a customer, I often look to those who are giving me eye contact rather than those who shout or slap the bar. In my experience, rude behavior is often indicative of a poor tip.

What's your favorite night at Catch and why?

I enjoy working Friday and Saturday nights in South Beach because people are excited to be out and enjoying their weekend away from reality.

Did your chef brother inspire you in any way?

My older brother was definitely a major influence on my personal and professional development. He brought me into the kitchen when I was 13 and taught me important attributes that I still carry today. While anyone can cook, it's those individuals who put passion into their work who will excel far above the rest.

What do you drink at home?

For the most part, I'm a lover of craft beers. I drink liquor onlywhen I'm working on a new signature cocktail for the bar. I play with various infusions and different syrups at my home to see what flavors will combine to reveal a new drink concept.


  • 2 oz lemongrass-infused Beefeater Gin
  • 1 oz ginger syrup
  • 1/2 oz Canton ginger liqueur
  • 1/2 oz lemon juice

Ginger Syrup

  • 3 lbs peeled and minced fresh ginger
  • 1/2 cup peppercorn
  • 12 cups water
  • 6 cups sugar

Mix and pour into a martini glass. Garnish with fresh lemongrass.

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Ily Goyanes
Contact: Ily Goyanes