“I only drink when I’m working,” Jack Maxwell, the host of Travel Channel’s popular series Booze Traveler, joked when offered a beer at New York’s Old Town Bar one recent afternoon. Settling for a cranberry juice, we grabbed a booth and had a wide-ranging conversation about the philosophy behind the show, how he manages to choke down some truly disgusting concoctions, the production process, and the universal truths found in a well-made drink.
If you’ve seen the show, in which Maxwell travels the world and celebrates the culture of the different places he visits through the lens of drink, you probably know a little about his background: He grew up shining shoes in the barrooms of South Boston, listening to stories of adventure (some more true than others), and while he pursued a career as an actor, he remained an avid traveler. After auditioning for the hosting gig and winning the role, he threw himself into it at full speed and hasn’t looked back.
“So many places have been fascinating for so many reasons,” he says of his travels with the show. “Mongolia, the Gobi, Japan is the city of the future, Spain is absolutely beautiful. I feel so honored to take what they have to offer me. It’s like a gift.”
But what about when what his hosts have to offer is cow’s blood, beer made with spit, or a frog that’s been run through a blender (all things he’s had to drink over the course of the series)? “When I’m somewhere, it’s a complete sensorial experience,” he answered. “When I’m there and thirsting for experience, it’s hard to say no to anything. I pause sometimes, but it’s their culture. Who am I to judge?”
When asked how he always manages to stay on his feet despite drinking what appears to be a fair amount of alcohol, he repeated a common refrain: “We don’t celebrate excess on the show, we celebrate culture and drink,” he said. “The goal isn’t ‘Jack gets drunk around the world,’ but I can’t say it never happened.” When asked if a high tolerance for alcohol has ever come in handy while filming, he joked, “I am Irish from Southie, so I can take it when necessary.”
Each episode can take one to three weeks to film, and while most guests are planned in advance, some aren’t, like the strangers he regularly strikes up conversations with at bars. And while some guests might be a little camera shy at first, Maxwell always finds a way to get them out of their shell. “Everyone just wants to have fun, and I always make sure that they’re never the butt of any jokes,” he said.
“You might think you know a place because you read about it or studied it, but I promise you that you don’t know a thing until you get there,” he added. “It’s all about the people you meet. If you don’t travel, it’s like reading one page of a book and never reading the rest of it. We’re all so much more alike than we are different, and I didn’t realize this before, but we all drink for the same reasons, generally speaking: to celebrate, to socialize, to mourn, to take the edge off. We all love our family and friends, and we all like to feel good.”
Booze Traveler’s second season runs until January 12, and airs on Tuesdays at 10pm.