If you’re a fan of cocktails you’ve probably heard of Tipsy Bartender. In seven short years Skyy John, the expert behind the online brand, has turned his love for drinks and entertainment into a full-blown digital media company. On Facebook alone, Tipsy Bartender maintains an astonishing 20.8 million page likes. His presence on YouTube and Instagram is similarly impressive, with 3.3 million subscribers and followers on each platform.
When Skyy isn’t brainstorming new cocktail ideas or collaborating with friends, he’s inspiring drink enthusiasts and beginners everywhere. Learn more about his journey as a social media influencer and what the future holds for Tipsy Bartender in our exclusive interview:
1. How did you get into mixology and what motivated you to bring your passion to an online blog and YouTube channel?
I started as a bartender. I was bartending and acting, and then I wanted to do my own thing because being from the Bahamas, I sound different. I live in LA, firstly. In auditions casting directors would always be like, “Where are you from?” and once I heard “Where are you from?” I knew that my voice was a problem because I did not sound like an authentic American.
I just woke up one day and I was like, “You know what, I can do my own thing and talk the way I want to talk.” That led me to YouTube and then I decided to get into bartending, too. So I just kind of infused everything into what you see today.
2. How has your brand changed as you’ve expanded to other platforms such as Facebook and Instagram? How do you use each platform differently?
On Facebook, the real focus is on the drinks. They care about the drink. On YouTube, it’s more about the personality as opposed to just being about the drink. Like I said, I started on YouTube and then I got big on Facebook, and then Facebook kind of took over and became my focus.
On YouTube, we still post videos that focus on the drink, but here and there we bring back a lot of the personality that kind of got lost over time as we began focusing more on the drink.
We’ve evolved into a media company that’s focused on cocktails more than anything else now. Our focus right now is really about the cocktail and bringing people all these different drinks. The way we began is just making fun videos about drinks, but now it’s really about the drink.
3. What is your process for creating new drink formulas?
In the beginning, I was just making whatever. If you go to our early YouTube videos you’ll see that there’s bad lighting and we make whatever. Over time we became more focused and put more focus into the drinks to where we are now.
Right now we’re the premium cocktail makers, probably in the world, because no one makes drinks the way we do where it’s pretty and colorful. You have a lot of video guys out there doing food. We’re the video guys that do cocktails.
We just wanted to be the best. We always search for the best recipes and put our little twist on them, really making it classy and pretty and fun. Right now we have the best creative people when it comes to cocktails, and now we even bring in mixologists. We have legit mixologists on our show making drinks. And then we do the more fun stuff for the guys at home.
Our process is one where we just go out and find whatever we feel is entertaining and fun and that you want to try, and we bring it back into the office and make it.
We shoot drinks constantly, multiple times a week. Each week I would say we shoot at least about 50 drink videos. 50 cocktails added to our database. We’re constantly searching for cocktails.
4. Your videos feature dynamic visual and sound editing in addition to well-timed commentary. What are some of your favorite effects and tips for creating engaging videos that draw viewers in?
If you go to Tipsy Bartender on YouTube you can really see our evolution. If you go to our very first Tipsy Bartender video the lighting is very poor because we’re using garage lights, like the lights you see mechanics put under the car. There are a lot of shadows and the sound is bad.
It’s just about starting with what you have and trying to duplicate some of the better qualities of other peoples’ videos. So what kind of camera is he using, what kind of editing software is he using, what lighting system is he using? As you do that, your videos will become better over time.
You need to start with what you have. Don’t expect to make a video today and be Steven Spielberg, or George Lucas, or something like that. You need to start with what you have and then get better, or constantly push yourself to produce better content. Hopefully, you can get to the point where you start making some money and then bring in people that can make your stuff look even better.
5. As an influencer, how do you determine which brands to partner with?
Boy, that’s a tough one because we get a lot of calls from a lot of different brands and to be honest, I tell a lot of people no. I want liquor products or products that are tangential to our brand, something related to what we do.
I do not like going outside of that and doing stuff that’s unrelated to what we do. I mean there are times that I’ve done it. I’ve done stuff with Audible.com, I’ve done stuff with different video games or different movies.
But you have to relate it every time to alcohol, to really make that connection. If you’re a brand that’s sensitive about booze then don’t call me because it needs to fit in with my videos. I look for partners that are a match with what we do, regardless of money.
6. What makes for an excellent bartender?
To be an excellent bartender you need a lot of different traits. First off, you need to be knowledgeable about a variety of different drinks, and to have this database of drinks in your head that you can pull from. Nobody ever knows what they want, so you need to be able to ask “What do you like?” and be able to build something around that. That’s number one.
Number two is you need personality because a bartender is all about the personality. You know you don’t want to go to a bar where the bartender is miserable or had a bad day, because you don’t want to be there. You know what I mean? If I have a bad day, I don’t want to come and you be having a bad day too, that’s bad day times two, that’s a bad vibe. I need you to cheer me up and make me forget that I had a bad day.
The bartender needs to be friendly and engaging and someone that you’re looking forward to seeing. When the customer walks in the door and they see you, that should be like, already better before they have a drink in their hand. That’s number two.
And thirdly, you need to be fast. Good bartenders are very fast because if you’re a bar owner you can’t have a dude taking 15 minutes to make a drink. He needs to be able to get that up quickly because the more people you serve, the more money you make, and the more tips you get.
So you need to be fast, you need to have a great personality, and you need to be knowledgeable about booze. I think that combination right there is the best bartender in the world.
7. What does a drink order say about someone?
Man, you can tell a lot, because if a girl walks in a bar and then she’s like, “Hey give me a shot of whiskey,” you know that’s a certain type of girl. A girl walks in a lot of times and you might be like okay, I know she wants some sweet fruity drink, but when she’s like, “Hey, give me whiskey,” especially if she identifies a type of whiskey, it tells a bit about her.
In terms of guys, if he comes in and he orders a beer, but it’s a very specific kind of beer, you know, “I want this kind of IPA” or something, you can learn a lot because it shows you how knowledgeable this person is about their drinks. Depending on what they mix it with or the kind of drink they get it tells you a lot.
You get a real good idea of who you’re dealing with, because if you go in there and you’re extremely knowledgeable as a customer, now you put the bartender in a spot where he’s like, “Okay, this guy knows what he’s doing, I need to be on my best game.” It really tells you hey, either this person drinks a lot or they know a lot or both.
8. What are some tips you have for aspiring influencers?
The market space is packed with influencers. Everybody wants to be an influencer. I’ve heard of a survey, I don’t know how true it is, that someone went into schools and asked people what they wanted to do. And everyone wanted to be a YouTube star, more so than being the next Leonardo DiCaprio.
There’s a lot of competition out there. I would say, just understand what it takes. You have to have a lot of dedication. It can take a lot of time, and you have to be able to separate yourself from the pack. Separating yourself from the pack doesn’t mean you have to necessarily go out and do crazy stuff and risk your life to get views. It just means that you have to understand what makes you different from everyone else.
Like I said, I came to Hollywood to get into acting and I was a successful actor, not necessarily in movies. I mean I had small parts in different TV shows and stuff like that, but I was making money off of commercials regularly because in commercials you don’t talk or you say one or two lines. So that was paying my bills. But like I said, my voice was a problem.
But then coming online I realized that my voice separated me from everybody else. So I just talk the way I naturally talk, and get people to accept me for who I am.
And now when I go out sometimes and I’m in the line at Starbucks or in the line at some movie theater talking to my friend beside me, the person in front of me will turn around and go, “Wait a minute! I know your voice. Are you the dude from Tipsy Bartender?”
You see, so what casting directors held against me, was actually one of my more marketable features. You gotta understand that. You have figure out what your strength is. Any casting director I went to would tell me, “Hey, you should take some speech classes,” which I did. I was trying to be more like everybody else when in truth I should have just been me.
9. What direction do you hope to take Tipsy Bartender to, and is there anything your fans should get geared up for?
We have a website that’s under construction right now. It’s a monster website that’s gonna have thousands of videos. Thousands and thousands of videos and thousands and thousands of recipes.
It’s being built, it’s taking a long time because it’s such a complicated site, and we expect it to be ready in early January. That’s the amount of work that’s being put into this. Even as we speak there are dudes writing code right now for this site because of how complex and how intense it is.
We’re gonna be the largest database for drinks anywhere in the world. You’re going to be able to come in here and find all kinds of stuff. I tell you right now we shoot about 50 videos a week and once this website’s done that number will increase. Any drink you want, you’ll be able to come to us and not just for the recipe, like if you go online. You’ll actually be able to see us make it and have a nice clear recipe below, and be able to duplicate it at home. That’s what we’re working on now.
This website we’re building will be really, really specific and once you type in what it is that you’re looking for it’ll be smart enough to take you to a video and give you a ton of similar videos where you have variety in terms of what you want to make. You might be like, “Hey, I want to make a Long Island iced tea,” but we also have a ton of other iced teas on the side of that, that you might say, “Hey scratch the Long Island, let me make the Tokyo ice tea,” or some similar drink. We can give you a lot of options and that’s what it’ll be like. This website is all that we talk about and all that we work on every day.
10. Lightning round
Favorite drinking holiday?
Cinco de Mayo, St. Patrick’s Day, I can’t name one! Thanksgiving! I mean I’m always drinking, I can’t narrow it down to one. But you know, Cinco de Mayo, St. Patrick’s Day, they’re days where I tend to go hard.
Best way to get over a hangover?
The best way to get over a hangover? Probably not to get one.
Drink a lot, a lot of water because a hangover, a lot of that is your body being dehydrated because alcohol dries you out. Which is why when you drink, make sure for every drink you take, especially if you’re going hard, like on Thanksgiving, St. Patrick’s Day, Cinco de Mayo, you need to drink a shitload of water.
So don’t just drink. Add water into the mix so you don’t pay for it the next day. I always try to remind myself that, before I pass out or go to sleep. Get a shitload of water in you so you don’t pay the price the next day.
Quick story. I went to Iceland and my girlfriend and I, we met up with this girl who was a fan of the show and she took us to this bar where the bartenders knew our show and that night was intense. I spent about $1,000 on booze that night. I left with $1,000 in this bar and that is the most alcohol I’ve ever drunk and was sick all the next day. So even though I know what I should do, even I don’t do it. So just, please add water to your drinking.
Vodka or tequila?
It depends on my mood because I drink everything!
Vodka goes with more stuff but tequila is fun and I like a little margarita sometimes. Everybody’s scared of tequila like, “Oh my god, it’s tequila, it’s gonna kill me.” No! No, it’s not. It really depends on the day, but if I had to choose between the two, I’d probably go vodka.
Rum or whiskey?
Rum. I’m from the Islands so rum is where it’s at for us.
The most difficult recipe you’ve been able to perfect?
I think most people struggle with rainbow shots, that’s our most viewed video on YouTube. If you go to YouTube right now and type in our most popular video it would be rainbow shots. That one’s temperamental and it takes a little bit of time to get it right.
But I think we have the best looking rainbow shots anywhere online on Tipsy Bartender right now. That video has about seven, eight million hits. And rightly so because the shit’s dope looking. It’s not super hard to make, but you kind of have to play with it, you have to waste a lot of liquor to get it right. And we got it down.
11. Anything else you’d like to add?
Like I said, we began on YouTube and we became a dominant presence on Facebook. We’re a digital media company at this point right now. We moved from being YouTubers to being Facebookers and then to being this digital media company that’s just taken over the cocktail world. That’s who we are.
And I am not the Tipsy Bartender. Tipsy Bartender is the show. Can’t look at it and be like, “You’re Tipsy Bartender.” No, I’m the host of Tipsy Bartender. It moved beyond me many years ago.
This interview has been edited for clarity.