Next up on Connect the Gram, we travel to the US of A to meet a man who you should all know if you're serious about drinkstagramming. One of the nicest, most generous guys we know, Mike of @mmydrinks is also the man behind the campaigns known as the #WeHavetheLast Word, and #AmaroWeek, which incidentally is starting this week (21 - 27 August 2017), both of which encourage cocktail enthusiasts around the globe to post a cocktail to Instagram that fits the theme. A cocktail enthusiast and home bartender, Mike was motivated by nothing more than trying to bring people together through the power of the cocktail in coming up with these campaigns (read about the Last Word campaign here). Earlier this year, Mike also started #friendshipfridays where he features an Instagram account each week that you should be following, in order to help them grow (see what we mean by nice guy???). But MIke isn't all fluff and no substance - his account constantly features concoctions he's made himself that are creative not just in their composition, but in the captions.
With all of that, we felt it's about time we turned the spotlight on the man himself and give you all a few more reasons why you should be following this guy, if you aren't already. We promise you will be entertained.
What's your IG handle and tell us a little bit about yourself
My name is Mike Yoshioka and my IG account is @mmydrinks. (that's not a typo, it's actually my initials!) I was born and raised in Los Angeles but my parents are both from Hiroshima, Japan. I met my wife while visiting friends in San Francisco and we both live in LA now. Aside from cocktails, my other interest is sports; I love watching and attending sporting events. I could almost watch any type of sport on TV.
Do you remember how your interest in cocktails started?
My interest in cocktails began when my friend from San Francisco would always text me pictures of the cocktails she was having at different bars. This was when the craft cocktail scene was starting to take off. Curious about all the fuss, my wife and I went to a local bar in LA specializing in craft cocktails to see what is was all about. We were instantly hooked. The recipe, the ingredients, the presentation - we loved everything about it. I wanted to learn more about cocktail and what inspired the bartenders to create their recipes. I started hanging out at my local bar more often. Going there right when it opened for the evening so I could chat with the bartenders. I've learn so much about spirits, technique and recipes by doing this. For anyone wanting to learn more about cocktails I think this is a great way to do so. Get to your local bar early before the crowds show up. Chat with the bartenders. They're more than willing to talk about their craft. Once I learned more about cocktails, my wife encouraged me to to try to make cocktails at home. I knew my technique improved when my wife didn't make a sour face when I handed her a drink!
When did you start your Instagram account and what was the motivation for it?
I started my account in 2014. I really did it to keep track of the cocktails I had while out. When I started to make my own cocktails at home my wife encouraged me to post some of my own cocktails. I didn't really think anyone would be interested in seeing my own cocktails. But soon I got a like. Then a comment. That gave me more confidence to post my own cocktails. Now it has evolved to the point where i mostly post my own cocktails. Through Instagram I have been able to make friends throughout the world. We've been able to participate in many fun campaigns together. Some of them I consider my really good friends even though I've never met most of them.
How often do you post and do you have a process for deciding what to make/feature on each post? Take us through your thought process when it comes to coming up with a cocktail for your posts – we’d love to know what goes on in that crazy brain of yours!
I've been doing this for 3 years now and I definitely can say I don't post as often as I used to. In the beginning, I and many others are very eager to post every day. But soon, you'll realize it's very difficult to post every day. I say for newbies to pace yourself. You don't need to post every day. My postings varies these days. Sometimes once or twice a week. Other times it'll be 2-3 times a week. For my inspiration I really like going to the market and seeing what fresh fruits and vegetables are in season. I could spend hours there just looking at everything! Other times I will see a food dish and think that would make an interesting cocktail. I then would try to see if I can translate that dish into a cocktail. Sometimes it works and other times it's an epic failure. Some are just meant to be a food dish.
What has been the weirdest/strangest cocktail you’ve made or drank, where you thought on paper, all the ingredients wouldn’t mix together well, or it used a particularly insane ingredient?
I've done a few crazy ingredient cocktails in the past. I had a cocktail made with avocado at a restaurant once. I was able to find the recipe and make it at home. Another cocktail was based on prosciutto and melon. I like eating prosciutto and melon so I decided to make a cocktail based on that dish. I fat washed some gin with prosciutto and created a cantaloupe syrup, then added egg white to give it some creaminess and finally I topped it with some aged balsamic drops. The garnish was a prosciutto wrapped melon ball. For Cinco De Mayo, I made a cocktail I called "Salsa". It had jalapeno infused mezcal, garlic and red onion infused tequila and clarified tomato water among other things. Surprisingly all of these cocktails worked out. There was also one that had kale and kombu and one based on miso soup. I even did a tobacco infused cocktail. These are just a few of the strangest cocktails I've made.
Introduce us to the greatest cocktail ingredient you think there is and tell us why you think everyone should be using it
Well, I've really been into amari lately. I think it is a fabulous spirit to work with. Everyone should get a nice of collection of amari. I also think everyone should get into shrubs. It's a fantastic ingredient to add to cocktails but also for mocktails. There are endless flavours you can create with shrubs.
Is that why you decided to start Amaro Week?
Yes, in a way. After the We Have the Last Word campaign ended, I was asked by numerous people when the next event would be. About this time, Negroni Week was just round the corner so I thought why doesn't anyone have an Amaro Week? (Ed note: Two of the key ingredients in the Negroni, i.e. Campari and vermouth can both be classed as an amaro in the broad sense) Amari really is the hottest thing right now - there are tons of new amari no one even knows about and I even know a few talented individuals making their own amaro! That's when I decided to host an Amaro Week, which I decided to make as a week to keep the content fresh and ensure that no one gets burned out, especially me! (The Last Word campaign ran for a month!)
Name 3 bars you'd recommend for anyone visiting your hometown
When you're in LA, you definitely need to go to the Walker Inn. It's probably the best bar in LA right now. The next bar is the Varnish, which is an iconic bar that ushered in the craft cocktail scene here in LA. The third bar AR Cucina is actually a restaurant but has an outstanding bar program. However, the reason I chose this bar is because of the bar manager, Clare Ward. Firstly, she is the sweetest person. Secondly, if you don't see anything you like she is the master of creating cocktails based on your drinking style. You just tell her how you like it and what spirit and she'll create something just for you.
We’re throwing a cocktail party at home! Throw us some of your cheat sheet tips for making cocktails for the masses (and still have a good time!)
I saw a friend do this once and thought it was a brilliant idea - a DIY Gin and Tonic bar. She had different types of gin, different tonics, tons of fresh fruits and herbs. Each guest was able to create their own gin and tonic based on what they wanted. They could try different combos and see what they like. The guests get to be involved and play bartender, which was a great way for them to be exposed to cocktail creation and maybe spark an interest for them to try it at home. Also it allows you to be free and mingle with your guests.
Thank you Mike for taking time out to answer our questions!
Amaro Week runs from 21 to 27 August 2017 and all are welcomed to participate. All you have to do is come up with a post on Instagram that showcases your favourite amari and recipe, whether it is a cocktail you have had in a bar somewhere that you feel the world should know about, or something you've invented. Just tag @amaroweek and @mmydrinks in your post and use the hashtag #amaroweek. There's even some sweet giveaways, so get posting people!