If you’ve been following “Drink Masters” on Netflix, or have spent time in D.C.’s mixology world, you’ll recognize Lauren Paylor O’Brien. Also known as “LP,” she’s been a fixture of the D.C. cocktail scene for years. Originally moving to the District for nursing school, LP frequented The Passenger bar and became friends with the owners. What started as conversations about cocktails with her favorite bartending staff in D.C., led to a more serious interest. She began to learn from the bartenders at Passenger before making the leap into the food and beverage world.
From there, the rest is history — through hard work and a mindset of learning, she’s worked her way up to high positions in Michelin-starred restaurants, headed up research and development at restaurants, directed beverage programs, served as a judge for contests, and graced the bar at luxe D.C. drink spots like Silver Lyan in the Riggs Hotel. LP’s complete list of honors, awards and accolades could fill a whole article.
So how does she work her magic in mixology?
Developing a cocktail is like writing a story, with the overall makeup of the drink forming the plot and ingredients as the cast of characters. When LP starts developing a blueprint, she’s looking for fun and workable ways to put a fresh spin on old standbys.
“I don’t want to recreate the wheel, but I do rely on classic cocktails and build on them,” LP says, “and I’ll parse out the ingredients and substitute where it makes sense.”
Learning these analogs comes from a sound understanding of how to both make the cocktail and knowing ways to deviate.
“If you take the time to learn foundational mixology, you can start to explore and see what works.”
If LP is going out of her way to use a new technique, or deviate from a classic cocktail style, it has to make sense conceptually and chemically.
“I’m not going to do a clarified milk punch with something funky if the flavor doesn’t match up. So it’s about having an understanding not just of how, but why, am I doing this, and am I doing the spirit justice?”
For example, one of LP’s favorite ingredients is sherry, and there are plenty of ways to fold that into cocktails. Sherry is versatile, with variants that are dry, mineral or sweet, nutty, or date-forward. She’s used it successfully in cocktails like a daiquiri or old fashioned, subbing in the appropriate sherry in place of another spirit.
Outside of this kind of innovation, LP’s also been involved in the latest movement of mixology — zero-proof and low-ABV cocktails.
“It’s been cool to see the ‘no and low’ scene boom,” she says. “And I believe there’s lots of opportunity here.”
She’s been working with local bartenders to help advance this angle of mixology, which will help bars and restaurants be more inclusive: developing cocktails without alcohol that are made with the same level of care and creativity as those with alcohol. Not everyone can, or wishes, to drink alcohol. LP’s efforts allow “dry” customers to explore and gain an appreciation for spirits.
If you’re looking to roll up on a Friday night and be the beneficiary of one of LP’s high, low, or no-ABV beverages, for the moment you’re out of luck. She’s taking a hiatus from customer-facing mixology to focus on a community-driven project called Focus on Health, an initiative that provides a conduit for connecting those employed in the food and beverage industry to health professionals outside of the field. This includes yoga classes, workshops on emotional intelligence, zero-proof solutions and other resources to make bartenders aware of what they can control for healthy mindsets. Like her cocktail game, Focus on Health is always changing and innovating to match the speed and pace of the industry today.
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