Mixologists Compete for Big Money in Netflix's New Series, 'Drink Masters'

The format is familiar: A group of contestants face specific challenges in front of a jury until one remains at the end. In the Netflix series "Drink Masters," there are twelve bartenders mixing for a $100,000 prize. Will Sommeliers be next? Commentary by Stefan Adrian of our sister publication Mixology.

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„Drink Masters“ (Photo: Netflix)
„Drink Masters“ (Photo: Netflix)

"Your time starts ... " Host Tone Bell pauses meaningfully "... now!!" Julie Reiner and Frankie Solarik jump to his side in unison and raise the index fingers of both hands like implied pistols, whereupon the contestants rush to their bar stations.

This image is repeated again before each challenge. The contestants listen to the description of the task to be accomplished, standing tense before the three-person jury. First twelve candidates, then eleven, then ten. At the end of the ten episodes, one will remain and go home with $100,000 in prize money.

12 mixologists and one aim

This prize money, this "life-changing opportunity," will be mentioned again and again by host, popular US comedian Tone Bell. Drink Masters," the first series on Netflix devoted to mixologists, is already half way through the first series.

Twelve mixologists have been cast, all of them working in the USA or Canada. It is obvious that Netflix has cast as heterogeneous a group as possible, meeting all the requirements of diversity in terms of gender, ethnicity, body positivity and sexual orientation. At least at this point, a modern bar scene cross-section is well represented.

I’m here to win!

As is familiar for a format of this type, viewers get to know the contestants better as the series progresses thanks to  one-on-one interviews; there's the 42-year-old bar operator from Albuquerque who embodies the 'I'm here to win!', but whose voice breaks when she dreams of a new bar that she'll involve her staff in, naturally, since her team would mean everything to her; there's the 36-year-old well-traveled bartender-cowboy who's brimming with confidence and thinks cocktails are 'very creative and unique,' or the 28-year-old female bartender who wants her work to commemorate black bartenders, who played a bigger role in the genesis of cocktail culture than most people realize.

You're supposed to relate to the individual contestants, or not; you're supposed to wish that some will progress and others not so much. Just the way the human spectator brain ticks: Thumbs up, thumbs down.

What’s in the glass?

In the end, there's nothing left to do but judge the sympathy and appearance of the individuals, because you can't taste the drinks - the actual criterion. In terms of craftsmanship and aroma, at least, everything seems up to date. The drinks are rapid-infused, re-distilled or made into milk punch, there are drinks as jellies and hardly an ingredient that is not adapted and pimped. In one task, for example, each contestant is assigned a dessert whose flavor must be recreated as a cocktail, such as banana eclair, pain au chocolat, fruit tart, or macaron - the ultimate proof that mixology today takes place behind the hot plate, where the contestants spend 90% of the show time anyway.

For the most part, however, the jury wants these "world's best mixologists" assembled here to naturally move "outside the comfort zone" and make "mind blowing" drinks. They do so, above all, at a mind-blowing pace that owes much to the show's dramaturgy: the contestants have 90 minutes to complete a task, stirring and mashing and chatting and squealing until, by the end, there are works of cocktail art on the counter that Instagram bartenders would kill for.

Binge or cringe?

That leaves the contestants and what they reveal about themselves. If hostilities arose during the taping (which began in early November 2021 and lasted over a month), they are shown sparingly. However, since acrimony and intrigue are definitely an engine of these show formats, it can be assumed that there were possibly no major feuds.

At least the farewell scenes, when a contestant who has been eliminated has to leave the series, would fit in with this. Then the group lies in each other's arms with a tearful "I love you! You'd think you were watching a bunch of drama queens at work, which is very much about their own egos.

Frankie Solarik (BarChef, Toronto) and Julie Reiner (among others Clover Club & Leyenda, New York) form the core of the jury (Photo: Netflix)
Frankie Solarik (BarChef, Toronto) and Julie Reiner (among others Clover Club & Leyenda, New York) form the core of the jury (Photo: Netflix)

A Lance for the profession?

The question remains, what does an artificial setting of this kind say about bar work itself? Does it take up a lance for the job? Does this chef-like presentation of the flavor artist in a consistent quest for perfection ignite a passion for mixing drinks? Does it create an image boost that outweighs the hard hours?

For many Meininger's,readers, the crucial question is: Will the next series be about sommeliers? - "Searching for the Super Somm?" to potentially inspire Generation Z to enjoy wine.... 





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