“Drink Masters” brings cocktails but holds the excitement
"Drink Masters" brings cocktails but no fun
With home mixology surging in pandemic years, you’d think Drink Masters would’ve stirred up more enthusiasm when released on Netflix last fall. But something about the cocktail-making show leaves a bitter taste in your mouth — like reluctantly sipping a Negroni.
Drink Masters challenges 12 professional and home mixologists (cocktail scientists, essentially) to imagine and create cocktails that reflect their identity and transport the judges as they sip — like contestant Suzu’s bonsai garden margarita, stirred by moments spent with his grandmother in Japan. Industry titans Julie Reiner and Frankie Solarik then determine the “top shelf” beverage by scrutinizing its flavor, presentation, sensory experience and compatibility of the cocktail’s edible bites, which mixologists prepare to complement each beverage.
The show features an enjoyable assortment of themed challenges and guest judges, like chocolatier Gonzo Jimenez, who helps contestants create pastry-inspired cocktails. In another early episode, mixologists conquer Prohibition-era cocktails in a Gatsby-esque party where the guests are the judges, but (painfully) nobody wears glitzy beaded dresses.
Don’t expect Drink Masters to quench your thirst for a reality competition with the collegial spirit of The Great British Baking Show. The mixologists seem friendly in early episodes — until they are paired up for competitions and the camaraderie fizzles. “I don’t have to like you to work with you,” was reiterated multiple times within episode three, with no past drama to justify bitter attitudes. The competitors are too self-involved to be likable, and the miniscule favors they do for one another feel more scripted than genuine.
With a similar tone and competitiveness to Netflix’s glass-blowing competition Blown Away, the show starts off with a relaxed feel — suave even. The show is overwhelmed by extreme close-ups, drink-pouring slo-mos, and dramatically-lit food and drink staging (much like the horror-comedy The Menu). You can tell the show’s creators envisioned these camera shots, which quickly become the most laughable feature, to be equally masterful as the cocktails it features. The sweet, citrusy notes of the show emerge in its cringiness. There’s humor in its outrageous intensity — but this could just be an acquired taste.
Drink Masters also doubles as ASMR, if you enjoy that sort of thing.
Beyond the personality-infused drinks that they create, the show also fails to acquaint viewers with its competitors. Beyond the fact that Kate hails from New Mexico, you finally feel like you are getting to know her backstory when she makes a snow day-themed drink inspired by her daughter in episode eight. The same can be said for other contestants — though, many don’t make it far enough in the competition to get their just debut.
There’s just enough fruity sweetness to keep you watching, but overall, Drink Masters is a bitter sip with a begrudging taste that surely traces back to the personalities behind the bar. If renewed for season two, Drink Masters needs to infuse some camaraderie into the menu.