Q&A: Lauren "LP" Paylor O'Brien of Netflix's Drink Masters - Imbibe Magazine Subscribe + Save

Q&A: Lauren “LP” Paylor O’Brien of Netflix’s Drink Masters

Spoiler alert: If you haven’t yet watched the new Netflix series, “Drink Masters,” turn away. The 10-episode cocktail competition reality show pits 12 highly skilled bartenders against each other in seemingly impossible challenges for a chance to win $100,000. There’s molecular mixology, spectacular drink presentations, and mouth-watering cocktail cinematography. And unlike most reality shows, the contestants don’t fight or sabotage each another. Rather, it’s all fist bumps, hugs, and camaraderie. The lineup of competitors is stellar, and Julie Reiner (Clover Club, Leyenda, and Milady’s) and Frankie Solarik (Bar Chef) bring many years of collective cocktail experience to the judging panel. Those who’ve already binge-watched the show, which filmed a year ago but debuted in October, know that Lauren “LP” Paylor O’Brien has been crowned the “Ultimate Drink Master.” We recently caught up with her to find out what it was like competing at this level and what winning means for her future plans and businesses, Focus on Health and LP Drinks Co. This interview has been edited and condensed.

How does one even get on a Netflix show?

There were some flyers circulating around on social media. And I had seen something to the effect of there’s a bartending show that’s coming out, it’s going to be on a major platform, sign up today. And 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?”

And so, 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. 

How stressful was it being on the show? You always seemed so cool and in control. 

“I think I was freaking out internally, but not externally. I never freak out externally.”

I think I was freaking out internally, but not externally. I never freak out externally. Truth be told, I am a firm believer in setting yourself up in a way where you can be successful: by prepping, understanding the prompt, really going into it as prepared as possible, and acknowledging in those moments where stress certainly can take over that I can only do what I can do. 

What in your life do you think prepared you for this competition?

I think the versatility with the different roles I’ve had in bars certainly helped. I’ve worked as an R&D production chef with the Silver Lyan, and I ran the beverage program at Dos Mamis in DC. I was a food and beverage manager at Urbana, which was at Kimpton Hotel, for a few years. And I ran a coffee and beverage program over at a bar called Doubles. 

That background in being a planner by nature, loving numbers, being able to crunch numbers to increase the amount of cocktail I need to make works in my favor as well. We do this for a living. This isn’t any different than anything we do in our bars with the programs that we run. There are a lot of times that people come into our spaces and our places and ask for our riff on something. And that creative ability is what really allows us to be able to adapt to these types of situations. It is by no means easy. But I think with years of experience doing this, it allows us to be innovative on the spot. 

Lauren Paylor in competition mode on Netflix’s Drink Masters. | Photo by Seth Harrington

How did you prepare for the show?

Before coming on the show, I worked with my pastry chef to make sure I understood how to make cake, ice cream, and foams and airs. Because my role at Silver Lyan was in the kitchen, I led the development of all the ingredients that went in our cocktails with the help of the Mr. Lyan team and then the bar team. Since my role was so predominantly focused on the kitchen, I realized that was where my strength was to be successful on the show. 

What was your favorite competition challenge? 

I really liked Episode 2: my bodega cocktail [made with vanilla-infused aged rum, guava milk, and spiced syrup served with a side of fried plantain]. The challenge where I got guava. For me, it was so meaningful. It was my favorite end product because it’s such an iconic experience to go into a bodega in New York and to get that drink. To get a fried plantain, to get an empanada. That, for me, was paying homage to where I grew up, where I’m from and innovating that experience in a way that aligns with modern mixology. 

I wondered if maybe you did it to get in good with New Yorker Julie Reiner. 

Oh my gosh, it resonated with her so much, and I didn’t even do it for that reason. 

Which challenge was the most difficult or intimidating?

“I was moving and there was motion occurring, but I wasn’t really thinking, truthfully. I was just convinced I was gonna go home.”

The challenge with the black and white cocktail. For about the first 30 minutes of being in the elimination round, I was so fixated on having been eliminated that it was really difficult to figure out what I was doing. So I was moving and there was motion occurring, but I wasn’t really thinking, truthfully. I was just convinced I was gonna go home. And so I thought of my husband and was like, “Oh my gosh, he would be so sad if I just gave up right now.” And he would say, “What do you want to do?” 

My response would have been, “I wanna throw everything away and start over.” So, I threw everything away and started over. And I remembered the prompt, which was that you need to make a black and white cocktail. And that can be interpreted however you want. So, I did a more figuratively interpreted cocktail, which was blackcurrant purée being the most predominant part of the base, but black is in the name; Ramazotti spices, which are black; and then that whipped cream on top, which is white. My black and white cocktail looks red and purple, but it was indeed black and white. 

What ran through your mind when they announced you as the ultimate drink master? 

I immediately thought of the Silver Lyan team, allowing me to be able to do this. Me being away for so long to film [for three months] meant that they had to pick up my slack. I was so grateful for that. And I also thought of my husband. He’s been my rock, and he’s always been such a good supporter. I’m so grateful and just very appreciative of him for that. The bigger message here is that this was the first time as a beverage community, we’ve had an opportunity on a global level to really change the way that people see drinks. And I’m really proud that I got to be a part of that. 

Lauren Paylor’s show-stopping Spoonful of Sugar cocktail with Baked Alaska. | Photo by Seth Harrington

What do you plan to do with your winnings? 

I’m expanding my two businesses, Focus on Health and LP Drinks Co. Focus on Health is a health and wellness advocacy program. And the work we do really focuses on ways we can have the hard conversation and focus on educating those bartenders who may not necessarily get the opportunities to have access to them. And then LP Drinks Co is an event production and bar consulting company.

So I’m putting a little bit of money into both of those businesses and finding ways to invest more time with the DC community. There are so many talented individuals here. I just got to be a part of the DMV Black Restaurant Week this past week as the lead mentor. And, you know, we sponsored a prize for the first-place winner to come to Tales of the Cocktail and to co-lead a no- and low-ABV pop-up, which was the whole concept of that competition. So it’s been able to allow us to do stuff like that, which I think is really important. 

I mean some of it’s gonna go into savings as well. But I acknowledge that this is an amazing opportunity, and I want to do everything I possibly can to give back to this community that gave me so much. 

I will be doing a bunch of events throughout the year and pop-ups. But sign up for my newsletter, visit my website, and follow my social media to continue to get some more updates. 

What advice would you give to future contestants of the show? 

“The way we define a bartender has certainly changed, but the missions and messages that everyone’s respectively doing are so impactful.”

I would say go into this as an opportunity that’s not just about making beverages. There’s a much bigger meaning. The impact that you’ll potentially make, not only on the people viewing who aren’t in the bartending community, but for those bartenders in food and beverage who aren’t really sure what path they want to take. The way we define a bartender has certainly changed, but the missions and messages that everyone’s respectively doing are so impactful.

[Contestant] Kapri [Robinson], who lives in DC owns a really amazing organization called Chocolate City’s Best. It’s a nonprofit that focuses on education for Black and brown bartenders. We’re doing great work. And in the future just consider the ways this opportunity aligns with you and the bigger message that’s involved. 

What do you think your secret was to winning? 

I think it was being patient, prepared, and focused. It was going in with the mentality that I have nothing to lose. And honestly, it wasn’t even about gain, it was about impact. It was like, how could I go on to this platform and showcase what I know that I’m capable of doing but more importantly the message of me, representing Black females? I always wanted to ensure whatever I did, however I acted, it was in a way that made everyone who knows me very proud. And I think I just did a really good job with that. 

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