Jack Maxwell is a professional actor, television personality, adventurer, and host of Travel Channel’s new hit series, Booze Traveler. Before his television days, Maxwell called the “Brick Jungle” home. Growing up in Southie (South Boston, MA), Maxwell learned a lot from the barrooms and neighborhood hangouts. “At a young age, Maxwell made himself an entrepreneur by shining shoes in neighborhood pubs and gin mills, where he would listen to the boozy tales that echoed from above him. This early experience awakened his awareness of alcohol’s magical socializing effect.”
In Travel Channel’s Booze Traveler, Jack Maxwell travels the world in search of the most exotic cultures, and the curious cocktails that come with their customs. “Maxwell ventures out to not only get a taste of a country’s alcohol, but to quench his curiosity about what people drink, why they drink it, and the stories they tell when they do.” During each visit, he connects with locals and immerses himself in their lifestyle, welcoming traditions and activities that the people hold dear. He learns about the country’s unique relationship with liquor and sometimes even participates in the alcohol-making process.
Maxwell explains the basis of Booze Traveler beautifully by saying, “You can tell a lot about a people, a culture, by what they choose to drink and how they use alcohol in the ceremonies that are important to them. It’s not about celebrating excess, it’s about the importance alcohol has played in society from the beginning of time.”
Jack Maxwell is no rookie in front of the camera. He has appeared on many hit television shows, including 24, Lost, Without A Trace, and Beverly Hills 90210. Maxwell won Best Actor in a Lead Role at the 2012 Pan Pacific Film Festival and was presented with both the Emerald Star award and Golden Halo award from the Southern California Motion Picture Council. Additionally, he has shared stage time with Al Pacino and Jessica Chastain in Oscar Wilde’s Salome. His experience with acting and television and his lighthearted, story-telling nature, gives him the ability to get along with anyone, especially while sharing a libation.
With each episode, we can expect to be more and more captivated by the featured culture and its customs, and how Maxwell interacts with them is truly remarkable. Bar fights and boozy nights are few and far between with Maxwell, as he shows us that Booze Traveler is about getting to know the story behind the people. There’s no better way to break the ice than by pouring a little booze on it!
In between filming episodes, we caught Maxwell on a little down time, where he provided us with more stories and amazing insight into a day in the life while filming.
Check out this exclusive interview to learn more about Booze Traveler and its host, and see why the entire world, “from Southie to Siberia,” drinks for the same reasons. Whether crashing hot air balloons, diving with sharks, or drinking cow’s blood, Maxwell never has a dull moment to share!
FT: We hear you’re from Boston. Respecting the drinking age of course, when did you first have an interest in culturally-influenced cocktails. Have you always been adventurous with your choice of libations?
JM: It all started when I began shining shoes in the pubs and bar rooms of Southie. Hearing these wonderful tales of adventure and travel – some true some not, I’m sure – revealed to me the magical socializing powers of alcohol.
FT: You’ve been able to travel the world, in search of the coolest and craziest alcoholic concoctions around. Places like Peru and Nepal, even. What was your favorite destination? If you could go back for one specific drink, what would it be, and why?
JM: That’s a really hard question. There are so many wonderful places and cultures that I would return to in a second given the opportunity. I would love to go back to Nepal and let those wonderful people know what an influence they had on me, spiritually and otherwise. Hanging with the babas, or holy men, and sharing their special drink was a beyond-spiritual experience.
FT: Is there particular liquor that you’re not a fan of? Why?
JM: Not one particular liquor, per se. But there have been some cocktails that were just a horrible mishmash of carelessly chosen ingredients, a veritable Frankenstein of parts, and I thought to myself, “why?”
FT: On the opposite end of the spectrum, what is your favorite liquor? Why?
JM: I’ve been partial to rum. I think it reminds me of the islands: Cocktail in hand, soft breezes, beautiful blue water and crystal white sand. I haven’t found a rum that I don’t like.
FT: Say that it’s been a long day and you just want to kick back and relax. What is your “go-to” beverage?
JM: Depends on who I’m with and what I’m doing. If I’m by myself, it will mostly depend on the day I’ve had and what it is I’m trying to accomplish. I don’t drink just for the sake of it, there has to be a reason. Sometimes that reason is just wanting to have a cocktail. My friends often ask me to make my infamous pomegranate martinis. A bit different, but so good, if I do say so myself. I started making them when I would be home alone watching old classic movies on television. It was a good match.
FT: Growing up in “Southie,” you have explained that shining shoes led you to listening to intense conversations while the patrons enjoyed a drink or two. Can you give us a few examples of these stories and how you came to notice the socialization effect that alcohol has?
JM: I loved hearing stories as a little kid, when my imagination was at its peak. I would picture faraway places, exotic people and animals, castles and kings, fair maidens and feasts. Even if the guy whose shoes I was shining only traveled to the other side of Massachusetts. If it was a place I hadn’t been to, I would picture the most outlandish and exciting things. As I was buffing out one old guy’s wingtips, he was telling whoever would listen that he just got back from a place with dirt roads and plenty of trees and a backyard that went off into the woods. As an imaginative 10 or 11-year-old, who grew up in, but never traveled far from, the brick jungle known as the projects, I pictured a Hansel and Gretel house in those woods. Maybe even a mean old kid-eating witch, and perhaps a fire breathing dragon and a knight in armor who would save everybody. Oh and throw in a few werewolves for good measure. Now that’s a story! I must have been talking out loud because he looked down at me and said, “No, Jackie, I just went out to western Mass to see my sister. Nothing like that out there at all.”
FT: Some would argue that your show, Booze Traveler, is simply about drinking. What argument would you make to someone who may question the ability to measure substantiality of a culture’s values and customs through its alcoholic beverages of choice?
JM: Every civilization from the beginning of time has found a way to make alcohol out of something. No matter where it was on earth, they would find a way. That certainly says something about the human race, doesn’t it? You can tell a lot about a people, a culture, by what they choose to drink and how they use alcohol in the ceremonies that are important to them. It’s not about celebrating excess, it’s about the importance alcohol has played in society from the beginning of time.
FT: What has been the most interesting place regarding cultural influence that you’ve been to thus far? What did you learn from that place?
JM: Spending four days on the land of the Mongolian nomads was quite the experience. These people, with all of their family members and a few friends, just pack up everything they have and walk many miles, sometimes hundreds of miles, to find the next place they’ll set up camp and stay until the conditions (the lack of livability) chases them away. It really enforced my lifelong belief that friends and family are so much more important than material goods or gains. If you have that, nothing else matters. It sounds cliché, but it is so true.
FT: How did the idea for Booze Traveler come about?
JM: The concept for this particular show was conceived by White Reindeer Productions. They took it to Travel Channel, who liked the pilot we shot. The rest, as they say..
FT: What does a day of filming Booze Traveler consist of? What are some of the values and benefits of the show? What does it teach viewers?
JM: It starts off with the director and I discussing the events we have planned for the day. After arriving on location, I go over what we’re going to be doing with the film crew. Then it’s a short meet and greet with the guest, letting the person know that I am there to have fun but not to make fun. We let them know that nothing they say is wrong and that we are here to respectfully learn about the people and the culture through their drinks. One thing we can bring you on Booze Traveler is no matter how well you think you know a place, it’s never what you expect until you get your feet on the ground and talk to the people. We will bring you that in a way you’ve never seen before.
FT: Have you ever gotten sick or too intoxicated during the show?
JM: Thankfully, nothing has made me sick, which is a bit surprising, actually. Whenever you travel, even the most common foods and drinks might surprise your system, never mind some of the, let’s say, “out of the ordinary” beverages we’ve had on the show.
FT: What are some similarities you’ve noticed within all of the cultures you’ve studied during this program? Do we all drink for the same reasons?
JM: Hosting Booze Traveler has really shown me that people have so much more in common than we do differences. If more people could travel and live amongst other types of people, I think we would have fewer problems in the world. When you come right down to it, we all drink pretty much for the same reasons – to celebrate, to socialize, sometimes to mourn, often times to take the edge off at the end of a long day; from Southie to Siberia, and everywhere in between.
FT: Is there a place you have yet to travel to that is on your “booze bucket list?” Where and what do you hope to get out of it?
JM: I always thought Cuba would be interesting. It is just 90 miles off the coast, and yet a world away. All of the historical and political tension that’s existed between our nations has made it a very intriguing place to me. Also, Ireland, just to hear beautifully woven stories from those perfectly poetic people – over a couple of pints down at the pub, of course.
FT: During each episode, you travel to a different part of the world to take part in unique customs. Has there ever been a time in which you ran into trouble?
JM: When you shoot a show like this anything can happen. It is somewhat planned but very fluid and very real. Being surrounded by Nepali military with guns drawn as their captain questioned me and started walking me away before changing his mind, would be one instance. Crashing in a hot air balloon would be another. In Finland, we ended up at a rowdy bar where a sloppy drunk was trying to take my head off. Realizing his condition, I just held him until the bouncer dragged him away. Eh, s#a! happens.
FT: The places you travel to are foreign to you and sometimes there is even a language barrier. Do you feel that alcohol “breaks the ice” in these situations? Recall a time during the show in which you were able to communicate universally with another culture through participation of their customs and traditions.
JM: In Cambodia, we broke through the obvious language barrier by eating tarantulas and drinking venom-laced tarantula wine with the locals. They then understood I respected their culture and customs and wasn’t there just to make spectacle of it all. After a couple of THOSE cocktails, what language barrier?
FT: What can we expect from the new season? Any spoilers?
JM: Sure. I’ll let you in on something I haven’t told anyone. While diving for mussels in Sydney, Australia at the appropriately-named Shark Beach, and on the wrong side of the safety nets, we were told there were seven or eight bull sharks pretty close to us. If you know anything about bull sharks, that wasn’t good news.
FT: Would you say that the traditional American customs that involve alcohol are similar to the rest of the world? What are the main differences?
JM: They are as different as the people around the world. For every culture there is a unique and wonderful custom. In some places, those rituals have been around for thousands of years. That’s why it’s so thrilling to participate. To be a part of something so richly steeped in history is an honor. Our planet is a wonderful mosaic patchwork of drinking traditions and ceremonies. Some similarities, some differences to our culture, but it all goes back to drinking for pretty much the same reasons.
FT: Where would you consider the most culturally diverse place in America to be, regarding alcoholic establishments and seasonal events? Any place in America that tops it all for you?
JM: Great cultures of drinking exist in almost every part of America. From the moonshine-heavy south to the blue-collar pubs of the east coast to the Mexican-influenced cocktail culture of the Southwest. Haven’t been to every place in America just yet. Booze Traveler is mostly an international show. Ask me again next year and I might have a good answer for you. If I don’t, it won’t be from lack of trying.
FT: Name off some of the more exotic cocktails/customary beverages you’ve tasted.
JM: In the Ngorongoro crater of Tanzania I drank cow’s blood mixed with honey wine with the Maasai warriors. If they ask you to partake of this special drink, they consider you an honored and welcomed guest. In India, a certain group of people drink cow urine as a hangover cure, which I tried. In Mongolia, you must drink three bowls of fermented horse milk when you are welcomed on the land. If not, it is seen as an insult.
FT: Out of everything you’ve accomplished so far, with respect to your “thirst” for diversity and unique locales and traditions, what is the most important thing you’ve learned? What will you take away from it all?
JM: People around the world love introducing you to their friends and family, and love breaking bread with a guest. Most of them are very welcoming and gracious. Just about everyone loves to sit down and share stories over a couple of drinks. Regardless of the country or culture, most of us have that in common. It’s a comforting thought.