On Youtube, there is an excellent series by the name of Drink Inc. It features two Los Angeles bartenders, Steve Livigni and Daniel Nelson, who first eat a delicious meal, and then each make a drink inspired by the food that they ate. I fully endorse this method of finding inspiration, in fact, it’s a method that I sometimes use myself, and which has increased its space in my consciousness after watching their show. I don’t always love the drinks they make, but they will definitely get you thinking, and for that reason I think the show is a valuable asset.
As of today, they have published six episodes, and I am going to review all of them in this post. (All photographs shamelessly liberated from their videos.)
And, sure, does Daniel look like a ridiculous peacock, wearing a three piece suit in the Los Angeles heat? Clearly. But their product is great. I know that I risk sounding overly critical of them in this post, but I want to make it clear that I have a lot of respect for what they are doing, and I think they are excellent drink-makers. It’s very easy to sling criticism on the internet and much harder to get up and make a successful career out of mixing drinks.
Some of their drinks are too complicated, much like that day cravat, but they have a lot of great ideas, it’s just that they try to cram too many of them into a single drink, and the result is sometimes a drink with too many subtleties, not all of which are perceptible. Much like another genre of internet video, you will probably want to skip the first half of each episode, as it takes a while before the action gets going.
The format of the show is, first they go visit a restaurant, make some awkward conversation with the proprietors, and then they make drinks based on what they ate.
The first episode I watched was “Dynamite Thai Cocktails”, in which they visit a thai restaurant, and then Steve makes a drink based on Tom Kha Kai soup, and Daniel makes a spicy drink that does not seem to be based on any particular dish. I am a huge fan of Tom Kha Kai soup, which is made by simmering galangal, (Thai ginger) lemongrass, and kaffir lime leaves in coconut milk.
The soup itself is quite savory, but they made a version of the soup more amenable to a mixed drink, and mixed it with gin and lime juice. I have not tried this one, but it looks delicious. My only complaint is, I hate the way he garnishes it with grated lime zest. Every time I have done this, I have ended up with little pieces of lime grit in my drink. One big peel is a vastly superior garnishing method.
Daniel’s drink, the Sesame Song, is pictured above, and contains Chile-infused vodka, lime juice, orange juice, and cayenne pepper. It sounds like a reasonable drink, but I was not very impressed with the concept, perhaps because of the reliance on vodka. Also, when I have used powdered spices in drinks in the past, they never dissolve to my satisfaction. Moreover, the sesame seeds and thai chile strands in the garnish, though beautiful, will disperse as the drink is drunk, and spoil the texture.
In episode 2, “Smoky Mexican Cocktails”, they visit an Oaxacan restaurant, and drink mezcal, and eat fried grasshoppers. Delicious. Steve makes a drink called the Oaxacan Flower, using a similar formula to his Thai drink from the previous episode. We love mezcal here at Measure & Stir, and so we were inspired to make this drink in our most recent jam session.
Daniel makes a chocolate tequila sour inspired by the concept of Molé, and garnished with a grasshopper. Again, I don’t think his drink is remarkable, though tequila and chocolate is a solid pairing, but his name has what is quite possibly the best name for a mixed drink I have ever heard, the “Dead Man Oaxacan”.
In episode three they visit a butcher, and then do a beer cocktail and a fat-washed cocktail. I’ve experimented with bacon-infused bourbon, myself, and I came to the conclusion that a fat-washed cocktail is pretty much a fat-washed cocktail, no matter what you do to it. Steve makes the “Fat Manhattan”, an aromatic drink with amaro, sweet vermouth, bacon-infused bourbon, and nocello. I adore nocello, and I think this is a better recipe than Jamie Boudreau’s Chocolate Cochon, but it’s still not topping my list.
Daniel makes a beer cocktail with apricot puree, lemon juice, orange marmalade, and heifeweissen, and incorporates pork by garnishing it with salami. I’m a fan of the idea, but honestly I would rather you bring me this drink, and then serve it with a plate of charcuterie. Still, it’s cute.
In episode four (note: my episode orders are not really significant), they visit a police station, and the officer who is their contact takes them to some local hole in the wall places where he likes to eat when he is on duty. It’s mostly just filler before they get to the good stuff, which is two smoked cocktails, both of which look excellent.
Daniel makes the “Tazerac”, a Sazerac which he smokes with hickory chips and garam masala. These kinds of smoke guns are kind of impractical for the home mixologist, though that has never stopped me in the past. For now, it’s not high on my list. What’s notable about this one is the way he traps the smoke in the glass and then covers it, so that when the drinker removes the cover, the smoke wafts out of the drink. 10/10 for style.
Steve’s drink, “Halal and Order”, is named after an episode in which the police officer busted a shawarma joint for health code violations. He mixes the super-trendy Pierre Ferrand 1840 with sweet vermouth and smoky Scotch, and then he pours it into a glass filled with smoke from burned rosemary. The really clever thing here is that his smoking method consists of lighting a rosemary sprig with a torch, and then turning the glass over it. This is a method that is in reach for any home enthusiast, and requires no special equipment. This is very similar to what they did at Angel’s Share with cinnamon, in their drink, “Daahound”.
In episode five, they visit a fish market and eat a feast of fried fish. It looks positively scrummy. The only thing they really take away from it is a spice blend that the local fishmongers sell, and then they both make drinks around the spice blend. I thought this episode was totally underwhelming, the least interesting of the bunch. Steve makes a punch out of watermelon juice, sea salt, tequila, and Michelada spices (pictured). Salted watermelon is awesome, and it’s a fine punch, but it doesn’t really fit the theme very well.
Daniel makes the “Bloody Mariner”, a rum-based Bloody Mary with heirloom tomato juice, fennel juice and absinthe. As bloody Maries go, it looks pretty good. Fennel juice and absinthe does sound intriguing, if you love licorice. Personally, I have never been a huge fan of this flavor in mixed drinks, though I do like licorice candy.
Finally, they go and eat Southern style comfort food in the garden of what might be a famous LA restaurant? I’ve never heard of it, but I’m really not that hip.
Steve makes the Southern Sour, which I think is very clever in the way it incorporates so many breakfast elements. He uses lemon juice, orange juice, white corn whiskey, egg white, honey syrup, soda, and maple bitters. I do not care for unaged whiskey; at best it’s a grain eau de vie, but wait, that’s another name for vodka. How about using an ingredient that pairs well with all of the other ingredients in the drink, is still made from corn, and is the bedrock of southern drinking, bourbon whiskey? I know white whiskey is hip, but so are skrillex haircuts, and both of them suck.
Daniel makes Govind’s Garden, and it’s a cheat. Gin, pineapple, lime, and Lillet, floated with Amaretto and strawberry juice (puree?). It almost doesn’t matter what you put in the drink when you float this on top of it. Look at it, so thick and syrupy. The drink underneath sounded lovely, but just to make sure you like it, we’re going to top it with candy. Strawberry juice mixed with amaretto is clever. but there’s just so much going on in this drink. It makes sense if you think of it as a new wave tiki drink, but that does not make it less overwrought.
I certainly found a lot of inspiration in watching this show, and I am sure that you will, too.