Meet the Mixologist: Dan Magro
In this new series, Meet the Mixologist, I'm interviewing some of my favorite mixologists of Instagram to find out where they find inspiration, how they got their start, and what advice they'd offer to someone just developing an interest in craft cocktails.
Today I'm sitting down with Dan Magro, author of Suck it Up: Extraordinary Cocktails for Everyday People, a book I own and love! Dan is a perpetual source of inspiration to me, as he mixes up deliciously unexpected cocktails with ingredients like oyster mushrooms and chili and burnt marshmallow infused Campari. I am constantly in awe of his brilliant flavor combinations and out of the box infusions. One of the things I love the most about Dan is his ability to create exceptional cocktails that are also accessible. No matter your skill level or familiarity with spirits, he has something for you, with well-crafted, balanced recipes that are easy to understand and recreate. Before this mixology thing became my passion, I often felt intimidated and overwhelmed by the idea of mixing classic cocktails, and I wish I'd had Dan's book when I started my journey.
This little number is "Rose Dew", one of my favorite recipes from Dan's book!
GIVEAWAY! Want to win a copy of Suck it Up: Extraordinary Cocktails for Everyday People! Head over to Instagram for all the details. Giveaway ends 08/12/18 at 11:59pm PST.
Dan, how did you become the incredible mixologist that you are today?
Well, thanks for the compliment. I don't know if I'd consider myself incredible, LOL? I think we all have a story (and I speak to mine at greater length in my book) about how we came to know booze. The condensed version: I've always had a flair for the dramatic, and really enjoyed playing with different flavors. Fast forward a few years in gorgeous Southern California, learning about farm-to-table movements, fresh ingredients, seasonal flavors, and I thought, why can't we put this same care into our cocktails? I'd never tended bar professionally, and thanks to books like Death & Co I got the confidence to know I *could* and got the basics and balance down. I have a background in film (I've made a few movies, like real ones and done a lot of TV stuff) so once Instagram came out I felt like I had an avenue to merge my side hobby (creative cocktailing) with a visual medium. I mean my work is NO WHERE near the standards of accounts like yours where literally every photo is a breathtaking masterpiece. But I was so grateful to find this community of professionals, amateurs and everything in between, and meet people like you that are constantly keeping me on my toes and making sure I'm creating unique, cutting edge content. It's been a dream.
You're so modest. Your recipes are legendary! What inspires you?
Honestly, and this is gonna sound so cheesy, but energy. Vibes, feels, sensations. They all contribute to life's moments in some way. We have emotions, they connect to holidays, or celebrations, and what do we do during these things? We drink. I love pairing the perfect moment, temping the room, to discover that perfect cocktail. It's such a win for me when the drink fits so naturally into the scene, there's no question as to why it's there – it's MEANT to be there. So to do that, find those moments, I listen to music, I'll people watch, I'll stroll the seasonal sections of my farmer's market. Maybe I see someone wearing a color and think - WOW that hue needs to be in liquid form, how do I do this? I try to avoid chemicals, artificiality, and "flavored" things in my drinks that just scream fake! Sometimes the challenge for me is how to execute something reminiscent of a processed junk food, or artificial flavor in it's natural, "healthier" form.
I love it, I feel the same way about energy and recreating feelings via drinks. A great cocktail is an experience. What’s your favorite spirit?
Tequila tequila tequila. I was a basic vodka drinker for the longest time, before I actually sat down and learned about spirits. Don't get me wrong I still love me some Tito's but it all changed for me when I went to Tequila, Jalisco in Mexico last year. I toured a distillery and went into the agave fields. I spoke with jimadors and learned how they maintain and then harvest the agave piñas (even got to chop one up myself). These are people who's families have been tending to these fields for generations, it was truly remarkable. How they meticulously trim the edges so that the plant naturally pumps all it's resources, growing into the heart. Trimming as they go, and then ultimately harvesting for roasting, etc. It also doesn't hurt to be so close to Mexico and live in a city with such a large Mexican cultural imprint.
That sounds like an incredible experience! I've yet to travel to Mexico but I am a huge tequila fan as well. Do you have any advice for someone just developing an interest in craft cocktails?
"Take chances, make mistakes, get messy." Missy Frizzle (she says it best). Don't be afraid to fail. Have fun and don't take yourself too seriously.
Superb advice! What’s your current cocktail of the moment?
I've been trying so many fun things, but I've been experimenting with nostalgic flavor pairings via infusions. I know this contradicts a little what I said above about artificial flavors, but I've been infusing cereals into base spirits. Coco pebbles into bourbon, fruity pebbles into mezcal, frosted flakes into vodka, crazy things. They're working out surprisingly well and I'm learning that a simple pour on the rocks, with a dash of a bitter to embellish the flavor notes, and you have the simplest, most delicious sipper. I know that's not a complicated cocktail (some might argue it isn't even a cocktail) but it's fun and I'm into it at the moment. I'm also telling myself since I strain the cereal out post infusion it's less bad for you, but that's probably a load of BS haha!
Those all sound delicious, I am all for wild infusions. And I'd say that's definitely a cocktail. Coco Pebbles Old Fashioned? Yes please. What was your first drink?
Ever? Probably my grandfather passing off a glass of neat vodka as "water" to my 4-year-old self, which didn't end well LOL. When I turned 21 I went through an extra dirty, extra olive martini phase. So basically olive juice...eyeroll. The cocktail that was a game changer for me was one I had at Laurel Hardware in LA. It had a buzz button plant (Acmella oleracea) garnish. It's from Brazil and when you bite it, part of your mouth goes numb, and your lips tingle - seriously LOL. I think they use them medicinally in some parts – and I know they have to be foraged, like you would get oysters – so really over the top care into what went into every aspect of their cocktails. When you drank the drink pre-nibble it was great. When you drank it post nibble it was even better, almost a whole new cocktail. It made me curious and I started exploring.
Ditto on the olive juice martini phase! I haven't had a buzz button cocktail yet, but I was looking into ordering some. I love the idea of a cocktail that changes over time. What’s next for you?
Oh god, do I even know? Writing the book took a lot out of me. It's exceeded my expectations performance wise, and the feedback has been so very positive, so I guess I'll have to start book two? I'm thinking about something more of a hybrid with humorous short stories, and then also cocktail recipes that align? My brand is raw, funny, sassy, yet approachable, and I want to try and maintain that balance. Additionally, I'm still very much at work in media, and am still professionally making videos for the internet, so keep your eyes peeled for some fun content coming you way soon!
Thanks so much Dan, can't wait to see what you come up with next!
Don't forget to follow Dan on Instagram for daily cocktail inspo! You can learn more about him at danmagro.com and his book Suck it Up: Extraordinary Cocktails for Everyday People is available via Amazon.