Q&A With Mixologist LP O’Brien

LP O'Brien
LP O'Brien

Behind every cocktail is a bartender who had an idea and poured it into a glass. Some mixologists are so passionate about what they do that they don’t even think about their job as a way to just make money. They think of it as a way to change the way people think about drinks. 

And that’s exactly the kind of mixologist that LP O’Brien is. As the first winner of the Netflix series “Ultimate Drink Masters,” LP has captured the hearts and palates of audiences worldwide, demonstrating her creativity and expertise in the art of cocktail making. 

She’s also the CEO and founder of LP Drinks, a beverage agency that specializes in curating beverage experiences. From designing signature cocktails to providing bartending services, they cover all the bases of cocktail making. 

Beyond her television success, LP is the driving force behind Siponey and has helped curate four new alcohol-free cocktails for the brand. She has been instrumental in the ever-expanding world of mocktails and mixology, and Beverage Wholesaler got the chance to sit down and chat with her about all things cocktails and mocktails.

Siponey’s line of alcohol-free cocktails and LP.

Beverage Wholesaler: What ultimately made you want to get into mixology?

LP O’Brien: I left the Bronx in 2010 and moved to D.C. to pursue nursing. One of my really good friends was working part-time at a bar called The Passenger. I used to frequent them, mostly just to get out of my dorm, but the folks in the space took really good care of me and I soon took an interest in what they were doing — whether it was service, running the floor or bartending.

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It was so cool to see the bartenders pitch a new cocktail or provide some knowledge about a spirit. They would create personalized experiences despite the fact that they may have sold the same cocktail to multiple people. I was enchanted by that, so I asked the owner if I could have a job. He said I could have an interview, and then asked if I wanted a job or if I wanted to change the way people think about drinks. 

So I got hired, and then worked for a company called Drink Company for about four years and worked my way up from there. I established my foundation in the wine, cocktails and beer space and really found a passion and love for research inside of cocktail making. 

BW: In what ways are you challenging yourself in mixology?

LP: I’m really big on creating beverages with a story in mind. I say quite often that as creatives, we have an opportunity to take a piece of ourselves and our stories and leave a lasting impression on our guests that they get to have for the rest of their lives. So when I do consulting now, I make sure bartenders are educated and have an understanding of classic cocktails along with their history. 

I’m also a huge advocate for the low and no ABV market. I’m a sober bartender and I think that any bartender who can make a delicious non-alcoholic beverage that isn’t lemonade provides an elevated service. It’s not about the cocktail — it’s about the experience. There are people who don’t drink and we need to respect that and make them feel just as included. 

BW: In what ways did you prepare yourself before going on “Ultimate Drink Masters?”

LP: I did so much preparation. When I made the decision to leave nursing, I told myself that I had to work really hard and give it my all. So when I entered, it was important for me to work with individuals who could help broaden my knowledge. I worked with an organization called The Lion Group and their team in London, working closely with their research and development production chef. One of the things I was taught early on is to work with chefs because they have certain knowledge that we don’t, so I worked with a lot of chefs in London to fill in those gaps and practice. 

BW: You were pretty instrumental in helping Siponey launch four new alcohol-free cocktails. What was the process like with trying new flavors?

LP: It was really cool going through that process because it was the first time I had hands-on experience with creating signature serves. We used wildflower honey and all natural ingredients to start with. When you’re creating RTD cocktails, it’s different and takes some trials to get it right, but our team is very good. 

BW: You really have done so much over the years between winning “Ultimate Drink Masters,” co-owning a company and even curating cocktails and mocktails for celebrities, just to name a few. How would you say you’ve grown as a mixologist over the years?

LP: I’ve grown so much mostly because I think I’ve learned to bet on myself. There was a point where I was so caught up in the noise around me that I lost focus on what was most important, and to me, that’s ensuring that I’m in a position where I acknowledge I have an opportunity to change the way people think about drinks. 

I have a pop-up that’s an extension of “Ultimate Drink Masters.” I’m an Afro-Puerto-Rican, so on episode two of the show, I made a topical beverage that represented the Bronx and Bodegas. And now, I created this fun, lively and interactive pop-up where I can see people’s smiles and their enjoyment when they drink and eat. There’s something so magical about seeing other people enjoy what you’ve created. 

Those are the one-off events I get to do, but the everyday experience with people in communities — that’s who I am. Being able to work with bartenders and help them be authentic to their brand — that’s what it’s all about for me. 

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