Food & Drink | February 14, 2023 6:00 am

Karl Steuck’s Instagram Account Is LA Cocktail Heaven

Come for the photography, stay for the non-stop recipes and recs

Karl Steuck
Karl Steuck
Robbie Ziegler

Karl Steuck first fell in love with bartending at a Bennigan’s in Houston. Now renowned for his bespoke, upscale cocktail recipe content, photography and videography, with over 40K Instagram followers and two decades working in the world of fine cocktails and spirits, he’s traveled quite a ways from those beginnings — but that early gig is a reminder that inspiration can strike anywhere. “I always knew I wanted to bartend. I thought it looked like the greatest job ever,” Steuck tells InsideHook. “I started working in the hospitality business when I was 23 or 24. I worked at a chain restaurant called Bennigan’s, and it was like nothing I’d experienced before. It was where I wanted to be. Real quickly, the bartenders there took a liking to me and said ‘This dude’s perfect for behind the bar.’”

Neither Houston nor the gig at Bennigan’s lasted for him, but Steuck’s desire to work with spirits did, and he quickly moved into the hospitality world back in Michigan, where he’s from. Working both on the floor, behind the bar and finally as a GM calling the shots, eventually the next logical step was to move to LA and keep exploring the cocktail world. “I moved to LA around 2004-2005, and I landed a job at Raffles L’Ermitage, a boutique hotel in Beverly Hills,” he says. “And that’s where I was introduced to the craft cocktail movement. Like, ‘Oh, we’re actually going to measure things and use jiggers.’ Honestly, if I made a Negroni in my first couple years it probably wasn’t measured right, but luckily that’s changed.”

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The next stop for Steuck was working at the fine-dining restaurant Hatfield’s, which really expanded his palette as far as using fresh ingredients and a chef-driven style. From restaurants, Steuck moved further into the spirits world, and it was while working at a startup distillery called Loft & Bear that his relationship with cocktail photography began in earnest. “As the first employee of a startup liquor brand, I was the brand ambassador,  the salesperson, I even did cocktail development and events,” he says. “At one point I picked up a camera because we needed help with our social media, and I realized I really, really loved taking photos. I love creating cocktails, but one of my favorite things in the world is to capture other people’s creations, because I know all the hard work and hours it takes to make a cocktail right.”

Something about the photography side stuck more than the rest, and it wasn’t too long before Steuck went out on his own in 2018. What started as short-term creative projects with small brands here and there has evolved into a full-fledged content agency dubbed Spirit & Spoon. As an LA “drinkfluencer,” Steuck not only tries out new spirits, creates recipes and helps consult and produce content for brands, but he also takes joy in the simple pleasure of photographing a beautiful drink. As the algorithms call for more video content and fewer still images, Steuck’s work has evolved — still leaving plenty of room for cocktail glamor shots. “Am I shooting more reels and having fun with it? Yes, but I’m still going to shoot photos because I like to do it,” he says. “I view it as art, and I like things that aren’t forced. I’m not a six-foot model, so I’m not going to act like one. Being original to yourself will always pay off.”

Now several years into life as a content creator, Steuck has a playful, irreverent style that has set him apart from others in the space and led to collaborations with entities as massive as Coca-Cola and as obscure as Blinking Owl Aquavit. He isn’t afraid to call out nonsensical trends in the space, or get dressed up (or down) to help illustrate the appeal of a certain drink. But, in the end, the main reason Steuck is worth a follow — or hiring for a project if you’re the owner of a burgeoning liquor brand — is because he’s only doing this for one reason, and that’s for the love of the game. “I never envisioned making a living doing this,” he says. “It was just a passion. I feel like I’m so fortunate, and it’s not contrived. The balancing act is really fun for me, between recipe development, and art direction, and videos and stills. It’s that balance that really keeps me on my toes, but I absolutely love it. There’s no false motive, it was just something I loved to do.”

Check out Karl’s work at Spirit & Spoon or follow him on Instagram.