Spoilers for Netflix’s "Drink Masters" ahead. Continue at your own discretion.

I can count on one hand the number of shows I’ve binge-watched over the years, and Netflix’s new Drink Masters is one of them. The 10-episode competition show, which aired in October of 2022 to rave reviews, follows 12 innovative mixologists as they mix their way through a series of high-stakes cocktail challenges to win $100k and the title of The Ultimate Drink Master.

The inaugural winner of this coveted title? Lauren “LP” Paylor O’Brien, a 31-year-old Afro Latina mixologist, co-founder of Focus on Health, a health and wellness training website, and owner of LP Drinks in the Washington DC-Baltimore Area.

O’Brien, who has been making drinks professionally since 2015, gets her inspiration from BIPOC mixologists paving the way and creating inclusive, collaborative, and safe spaces in cocktail culture for people from all walks of life. This inspiration is clear throughout the show, as the mixologist consistently plays off her roots with storytelling spins on classic cocktails, such as her “Alley Cat” cocktail in episode two that paid homage to LP’s childhood in the Bronx.

Spoon University caught up with LP to talk about all things mixology, her Drink Master’s win, and what’s up next.

Interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Spoon University: First things first, LP, I have to ask: What inspired you to become a mixologist?

LP O’Brien: I got my first taste for bartending and mixology while I was serving at Farmers Fishers Bakers on the waterfront in DC. I was inspired by the way my bartender peers told stories through their cocktails, and I began picking up skills from them where I could. They officially bumped me up to my first gig behind the bar where I fell in love with the mixology environment and learned how to share my own stories through my cocktails. My peers at Farmers Fishers Bakers encouraged me to sign up for bartending competitions and it took off from there.

SU: Can you walk me through the steps from an idea or inspiration for a drink to a finished product?

LPO: Every cocktail I make starts with a story. I pull inspiration from there, and then ensure the story aligns with my overall ethos. Usually I start with the base of a classic cocktail and deviate off of a classic with different ingredients and methods.

SU: Tell me about Drink Masters! How did you get selected to compete?

LPO: There were some flyers circulating around on social media. I saw an ad or post promoting it as a new bartending show that would air on a major platform. In the initial stages, I was so busy at work that it wasn’t even a thought that could cross my mind. But then I received a personal email, which basically was, “Hey, LP, you came recommended. There’s an opportunity to be a part of this drink series that focuses on molecular gastronomy. It’s on a major network that people know. Would you be interested?” I basically was like, “Oh, yeah, what are the next steps?”

Image by Seth Harington

Going through the process, they interview you, they do a vibe check. And then we were prompted with the different challenges to showcase our skill set. Then they selected their final 12, and we proceeded to start filming.

SU: Can you describe a day of competition at Drink Masters?

LPO: Everything you’re seeing on the screen definitely is translating to what’s happening behind the scenes. We were given pretty minimal time to prepare for each challenge. We really had to rely on all of the studying that we did off-camera and just the preparation that we’ve respectively prepared for ourselves. It was certainly a little bit of a stressful experience. And I’m pretty proud of the end result.

SU: Has Drink Masters changed anything about the way you approach cocktails?

LPO: I learned a lot about myself and my ability to stay aligned with my mission and values. I learned that I was able to push my boundaries and put my knowledge of the craft to the test, while staying true to myself.

SU: What was your favorite part about being on the show?

LPO: There are two moments that resonate. The bodega drink in episode two is my favorite. I really did not understand or realize the impact that it would make. So many people have reached out with such great, wonderful things to say about that episode and cocktail. The tropical fruit drink is such a lived experience at a bodega in the Bronx, so it was really special to see how it resonated with everyone else too.

My second favorite moment was the finale. I really tried my best to ensure that I set myself up to display what I was able to do in the show in a progressive way and really left the best for last.

SU: Describe the *exact* moment (or maybe the first!) you knew you were a successful mixologist.

LPO: The first thing that got me excited was a tropical drink at Farmers Fishers Bakers. That was the first time I had seen fresh juices being made — it might have been the zombie that we used to do there — and it was just exciting to watch the bartenders because there were so many bottles that they had to pick up, and they did it so fast. But also, it came out with these elaborate garnishes; it was just so pretty, and then if you taste it, it was like, ‘Whoa, this is strong. It’s tasty.’ That was the first drink that really got me into what this craft could be.

SU: What pressures do you experience as a black female mixologist, if any?

LPO: Rather than pressure, I see my experience and role as a black female mixologist as a platform to inspire others. Whatever I do, and whatever I make, I always make sure it’s something I’m proud of putting out into the world. Winning Drink Masters as a BIPOC woman is an honor because I understand its impact and positive influence on people who look like me. It's a lot less about me and more about how powerful and impactful it is to work hard and have a direct impact on the BIPOC community.

SU: Our audience is primarily Gen Z, many of whom are major foodies interested in combining their love for food with their hobbies. After this experience, do you have any advice for them?

LPO: The key is being patient, prepared, and focused. I always want to ensure whatever I do, however I act, is in a way that makes everyone who knows me very proud.

SU: What does the rest of your year look like? Any specific projects or ideas for the future? (including non-mixology things!)

LPO: I will be doing a bunch of events and pop-ups throughout the year! I’m currently touring and helped co-create the Cocktails + Comedy Tour which sets out to shine light on BIPOC talent in the cocktail and comedy industries. 

I’ll also be creating some online classes that people can take advantage of if they’re looking for some cocktail 101 and 102-level courses to take. I am always trying to find ways to connect with both the beverage community and customers and consumers.

SU: I have to ask -- What is your go-to drink order when you’re not the one behind the bar?

LPO: I am always going to be sipping gin no matter what. Gin is my spirit of choice, so I like to take gin shots or I’ll do a gin and tonic. When it comes to a drink, it changes all the time. I could be into a gimlet one day and a martini the next day or a rickey the other.

SU: And, last but not least: What is your favorite drink to make?

LPO: Well, that would be an Old Fashioned, preferably with rum, rich simple syrup, and some chocolate bitters.

You can find LP on her website, www.lpdrinks.org, and Instagram at @lpdrinksdc, and be sure to check out Season 1 of “Drink Masters” on Netflix.