Let’s do something different this week – a review of a TV show. But since this is a drinks column after all, it’s of course going to be a review of a show about, you guessed it, drinks.
All 10 episodes of Drink Masters premiered on Netflix last week, and if you’re a cocktail lover, chances are, you’ll love watching this.
The show pits 12 mixologists against each other in a battle for the prize money of US$100,000 (RM475,000) and the title of Ultimate Drink Master. In each episode, they have to compete in one main challenge, after which the bottom three or two have to face off against each other in an additional challenge to see who gets knocked out.
The show is hosted by American stand-up comedian and actor Tone Bell, with two guest judges – Julie Reiner, one of New York’s most influential bartenders and owner of the renowned bar The Clover Club, and Frankie Solarik, known as a pioneer of the modernist and contemporary style of bartending. There were also three other guest judges, one of whom was Dale DeGroff, known as the Godfather of modern bartending.
All the 12 bartenders come from different backgrounds, from established bar owners to travelling bar consultants, and even a home bartending influencer.
While the format of the show doesn’t really stray much from the regular food competition shows, the show appealed to me the most because, well, it’s all about the drinks.
The challenges range from making a simple twist on the Margarita, to constructing a flight of drinks using three different spirits. There were some that revolved around specific ingredients, such as botanicals or fruits, while another one had the contestants create a cocktail that would pair with a specific dish.
The fruit challenge, in particular, was especially interesting, especially since one of the fruits was a durian! While the bartender who chose that particular fruit for his challenge failed pretty miserably, it did get me wondering whether any of our own Malaysian bartenders would have done better with it.
One thing I noticed about the challenges, however, was that the emphasis was placed mainly on the final product itself, with drinks judged on its appearance, taste and creativity. It’s very unlike many bartending competitions in the, well, real world, where contestants have to also present while making their drinks.
In that respect, this really was more of a mixologist competition rather than a bartender competition. After all, there is more to being a bartender than just making a good drink – he or she must also be able to communicate with the guests as well as handle the pressure of making a high volume of drinks.
That for me would be my main gripe about this show – that the drinks may be great, but we really didn’t get to see them actually being BARTENDERS. A lot of the show was spent in the kitchen, prepping ingredients, playing around with all sorts of fancy techniques, but not so much of it was spent having the bartenders actually, well, tending a bar!
Even the shaking or stirring of the drinks were added in almost like an afterthought, as if what they did in the kitchen was more important than what they did behind the bar.
It’s almost as if the producers were more interested in making a cooking show, but with drinks, rather than a show that is focused on the actual making of the drinks.
As for the contestants themselves, most of them were very North American-based, which lent a very one-dimensional feel to the proceedings. Having personally met and experienced the hospitality of bartenders from all over the world, I couldn’t help but wonder if those bartenders could have done a much better job than the contestants. After all, it would probably take a Malaysian to make a proper cocktail out of durian! And pandan? Easy-peasy!
Still, as far as food reality shows go, Drink Masters IS compelling enough to keep you watching, and maybe binging all 10 episodes in one go, especially if you’re a fan of cocktails.
The format is easy to follow, the bartending action is frantic, and the drinks look fabulous (I was hankering for a New York Sour right after watching the episode that got them to make one!).
I just wish there was a bit more time spent explaining the things that happen behind a bar rather than just showing the prepping of the ingredients. Sure, some of the techniques and ideas were worth showing, but this is a drinks competition – we want to see them shaking, stirring, throwing, and tasting, not just cooking garnishes and in one case, boiling eggs!
Here’s hoping that if there is a Season 2, the producers will also expand their reach and diversity of their contestants to include more bartenders around the world, maybe from Britain, Japan, or even South-East Asia. Now the winner of that show would truly deserve the title of Ultimate Drink Master.
Michael Cheang wonders if any of our Malaysian bartenders would like to take up the challenge of making a durian cocktail. Follow him on Facebook (fb.com/mytipsyturvy) or Instagram (@mytipsyturvy).