Cocktails and video games – just like peanut butter and jelly, right? Sam Brooks interviews Jack Stone-Slater, the man behind the locally-made webseries Experience Bar which combines the dual pleasures of gaming and cocktails.
Gaming and cocktails are two things that probably shouldn’t go together. Other than both needing a semblance of precision and timing, there’s not much linking them.
Enter one YouTube webseries: Experience Bar. The concept is simple: The host Jack Stone-Slater talks about a game, then makes a cocktail based on it. Sometimes the cocktails come directly from the game, sometimes they’re inspired by it.
My personal favourite? Ryncol. In Mass Effect, it’s a krogan cocktail that makes the famously hardened protagonist of the game pass out immediately after drinking it. In Stone-Slater’s hands, it’s a lovely mixture of vodka, triple sec and pastis.
I talked to Jack about the series, what his background is and where the passion behind making drinks from video games come from.
What’s your background as a cocktail maker? Is it your job or a hobby for you?
My background is non-existent really; I’ve never worked as a bartender, a barback, or even in hospitality in general.
I’ve been in a lot of bars, sure, but never worked in one. However, I’ve always been a bit of an alcohol enthusiast: I was the wine and beer section manager at the Farro Fresh in Mt Wellington for a while, I’ve made my own wine, beer and cider (with mixed results) and I’m the proud owner of a small copper still named George too. You gotta name the things you love, right?
Making cocktails with all the crap I cobble together from fermenting Countdown sugar packets with baker’s yeast was really the only logical conclusion to all of that.
You have to make the moonshine taste good somehow. It really developed from there. I don’t distil much any more, but the love for cocktails stayed.
When you’re making a recipe, what order do you make it in?
I’ve got two distinct processes. With recreated cocktails, I find a drink, potion or other consumable from a video game that I find interesting.
I do a bunch of research into it, take a look at the art, and play the crap out of the game until I feel like I can recreate the beverage in question, trying to stick as close as possible to the in-game recipe.
Sometimes that’s really hard, especially when the in-game recipe is made up of fantastical, non-existent ingredients. Sometimes it’s very easy, and the game will literally spell it all out for me. However, these in-game recipes are usually trash in real life, like the Bare-Knuckle Boxer from Hitman, so I still have to tweak them.
With inspired cocktails, it’s a little bit more creative. I’ll find – or get suggested – a game, a character, an item, or something else, and I’ll try to make a drink that “feels” like that thing or that game. Sometimes that means making a drink that looks the part, or tastes the part, or better yet, both.
So I might make a drink called The Necromorph from Dead Space that has bloody chunks of muddled raspberries in it, which sounds gross but tastes good, or I’ll make a drink called the Estus from Dark Souls, which is bright and warming and spicy.
Where did the idea to turn this into a web series come from?
It started off with me watching Binging With Babish which recreates food from popular movies, tv shows and games. I thought ‘Hah, what a weird idea, but sounds like fun’. At the same time, I was playing through The Witcher 3 and wondered what those gross-sounding Witcher potions would actually taste like in real life. They have an alcohol base, right? So clearly cocktails are the answer.
I wrote up an article detailing some extremely gnarly drinks which, looking back now, weren’t super great, but the Witcher community liked them and the idea, so I decided to keep going. I bought a decent camera, started a dedicated site and filled up my tiny apartment with a worrying amount of alcohol.
About a year later, my friend Duncan Pacey was talking about forming a creative syndicate around weird, quirky gaming content, and wanted Experience Bar to become one of the first shows on YouTube. He became the director, cameraman and editor, I became the scriptwriter and host. And now we’re here, talking to you guys.
Who do you think the audience is for this? When I think of the stereotypical image of gamers, you don’t often think cocktails.
For sure, you’re not wrong: there’s this stereotypical image of a “gamer” being an unsociable cretin that never leaves their mother’s basement except to grab some more Gamer Fuel™ and maybe go to the bathroom.
But in reality, people who enjoy video games aren’t like that at all. In reality, the community is made up of an enormous number of different kinds of people with different ideas and different experiences. There are the casual players who just like to dip into Apex Legends now and then, there are the intense min-max punishment seekers who have to play everything on the hardest difficulty just for the challenge, there are the RPG players who just want to slip into somebody else’s skin and stomp on some skeletons for a bit, and on and on and on.
There’s a huge number of different ways to enjoy this hobby, and ultimately I just want to create something that lets everybody in the community enjoy their own way even more. Whether that’s mixing up a batch of fun themed drinks for a D&D session, or indulging in a well-earned celebratory toast after winning a tournament, or sipping a drink at the bar with some friends, reminiscing about when you all used to head to the arcade with a roll of coins and a burning need to beat a high score.
Someone will enjoy Experience Bar for all the reasons that people enjoy regular old cocktails, really. And frankly, sometimes the only way to make a good game better is to have a decent drink to sip while you play it.
Has there been a drink/recipe that you’ve been working on or trying to crack for ages?
God yes: Milk Punch. It’s a real bugger of a beverage, but super interesting. Essentially, you make a drink that has all your standard old-school punch ingredients in it: fruit juices, spirits, tea and the like. Tasty, right? But then you go and ruin it by adding a bunch of full-fat milk into it as well. The acidic fruit juices (lemon, usually) instantly curdle it and unless you like straining chunks of dairy product through your teeth, you have to filter it out through some cheesecloth.
You keep doing that over and over and over again until you end up with a crystal clear liquid that smells something like a milkshake but tastes like a fruit punch.
The curdled milk binds with the tannins in the tea, and when you strain them out, it leaves the milk sugars behind, giving the drink this thickness and fullness but without that heavy cloying dairy texture. It’s super weird, really tasty, but it’s hard to make (takes ages) and I’m still struggling to find a decent recipe that works every time.
My efforts usually just end up down the drain. But I shall persevere.