Drink Masters: the Netflix show that’s like a boozy Bake Off – for dreadful people

This mixology competition’s contestants are all arrogant hipster bores who spend the show at each other’s throats. Locking them up in a TV studio is almost a public serviceI’ve never been to a Netflix commissioning meeting, but at this stage I’m largely convi…

I’ve never been to a Netflix commissioning meeting, but at this stage I’m largely convinced that it just takes the form of a massive tombola filled with every conceivable profession on Earth. The drum gets spun, a profession is drawn out, then Netflix goes and makes a televised competition show about it. In recent years the platform has given us programmes about fashion design, metalwork, glass-blowing, flower arranging and (many, many times over) cookery. If we play our cards right, who knows what might be next? Scaffolding? Goat herding? Chartered accounting?

For now, though, we will have to make do with the latest entry: a mixologist competition show entitled Drink Masters. This, you have to admit, represents something of an open goal. After so many endless programmes about food, it is slightly baffling to realise that nobody ever thought to make a show about drinks. What could possibly have been stopping them?

Well, on the basis of Drink Masters, quite a few things. The show apes The Great British Bake Off, in that it gathers a number of contestants in a studio and slowly whittles them down with a number of theme-based challenges. But The Great British Bake Off isn’t popular because it’s about food. No, it’s popular because it’s lovely. The people are lovely, the food is lovely, and there’s an all-encompassing air of camaraderie that permeates every second on-screen.

However, Drink Masters is a show about mixologists, a profession that doesn’t usually scream “lovely”. In fact, judging by the people they have picked, what it screams is “wild, untrammelled egomania”. Almost without exception, the contestants here have a cartoonishly high opinion of themselves. Lots of beards. Lots of hats. So many semi-ironic statement glasses. One of them speaks only in the third person. It is as if Urban Outfitters developed a personality-manipulating brain implant, and these people happened to be its test subjects. In this sense, Drink Masters acts as a form of public service. After all, if these people are on television, it means they aren’t boring the pants off someone who has accidentally made eye contact with them at a house party.

Minimal camaraderie, too. Within minutes of the show starting, a pair of hipster edgelords are at each other’s throats about who gets to use a certain ingredient. It’s a weird throwback to a far worse time, like the greatest reality show that 2007 never produced. You keep expecting Donald Trump to waltz in and foul things up, not least because of the gratuitous gold leaf that gets slung about the place willy-nilly.

Which isn’t to say that Drink Masters is entirely without worth. Yes, the format is stale. Yes, the contestants are annoying. But at least the production design is decent. Lots of these Netflix reality shows look as if they were filmed on the cheap in a basement – in terms of presentation, Is It Cake? was essentially a hostage video – but Drink Masters is set in a veritable cathedral. It is an enormous bar, with every spirit imaginable reaching all the way up to the ceiling. If nothing else, it is quite nice to look at.

And it turns out there is an unexpected element of danger to making cocktails. One poor guy in episode one is so insanely hapless that he drops a gigantic chunk of dry ice into his cocktail before serving it to the judges. The genuine fury on their faces, as they explain that this is less a drink and more a documented case of attempted murder, is weirdly pleasing to watch.

I can’t work out why Drink Masters didn’t land with me as well as I would have liked. Perhaps it isn’t my cup of tea. Or perhaps the timing is exceptionally bad; I don’t know if anyone is eager to watch a show about wildly expensive drinks at a time when people can’t afford to heat their own homes.

Either way, it’s worth checking out at least an episode. If you can stomach any more than that without tuning out owing to the format’s sheer punishing repetition, you’re a better person than me. Perhaps the scaffolding series will be better.


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