Liquid Thinking

Make Mine a Machine

Can at-home drinks gadgets go too far?

19th July 2023

I know it. You know it. With AI declaring its intent to steal all our jobs, the world is going to be entirely taken over by machines in the not too distant future. But some machines are good, especially when it comes to drinks. Affordable technology has us creating barista-quality brews each morning, vitamin-enriched smoothies in the afternoon and if we’re feeling jaunty, homemade Soda Stream fizzy drinks in the evening. But, does a new at-home cocktail maker take things too far?

The pandemic may have turned us into a nation of Tiger King-obsessed hermits, who hoarded loo roll and pasta and begrudgingly attended approximately ten thousand Zoom-based pub quizzes…ah, those were the days. But it also made us into better cooks and better drinks makers. With not much else to do, we found fun in the kitchen, investing in a few hundred shipping containers worth of gadgets and gizmos, and stocking up our drinks cabinets with those under sung cocktail essentials, from sugar syrup, to Crème de cassis.

We became a nation of cocktail-enthusiasts. Online drinks retailer, Master of Malt reported that after the first lockdown was introduced in March 2020, its site saw an influx of new customers noting that “people are getting increasingly creative with their online drinking”.

And we enthusiastically bought shakers, jiggers, ice-makers and more, to service our need for high-quality cocktails at home in a period when all bars were shuttered. Glassware sales were something the company also noted an upswing in, as consumers who took the trouble to mix their own drinks, then wanted to serve them properly.

And there’s evidence to say that even though bars are now open, this trend has continued. In its 2021 annual cocktails report Bacardi claimed that “twenty percent of consumers are now keen to explore drinks that weren’t on their radar pre-lockdown, including premium versions of their favourite spirits”. In its 2023 report, it found that 38% of Americans plan to drink more cocktails than wine in the year ahead, a cocktail boom it traces back to the at-home mixology fervour of the pandemic.

Making life easier?

So it’s not surprising that someone would want to jump on this trend, and launch a device to make at-home mixology easier. Step forward Bartesian. It makes quality cocktails, so you don’t have to.

This pod-powered cocktail machine claims to be able to make 50 types of freshly crafted cocktails, from Old Fashioneds to Margaritas and Long Island Iced Teas. Just pop in a pod, add some booze to the tanks on the side, and press the button. You can even choose from mocktail, light, regular, or strong settings. The capsules themselves contain real juices, bitters and ‘extracts’.

But it’s not without its teething troubles. While cocktails are ready in a mere 30 seconds, which is incredibly convenient, you’re going to have to fill your house with packets of pods if you want to have any variety in what you drink. They’re available in single varietal packs only. Nor does it chill your drinks, so you’ll need to have your ice in a shaker on standby anyway.

But it’s not really these slightly unpractical hindrances that are really what we’re questioning here. And, maybe we’re being overly sensitive about this… and baristas have every right to tell us to do one… but is this and other gadgets like it just taking the fun out of at-home mixology? Or could it be argued conversely that it’s opening-up quality at-home drinks to more people? By people, we of course mean those with the money but not the skill, time or inclination to mix at home.

Ease vs premium

For brands, devices such as these could be a good thing. Bartesian encourages users to top its tanks with the premium spirits you already love, to create “the premium pours you’d expect from a cocktail lounge. No mess. No fuss.” The speed and ease of the pours means that volume seems guaranteed; consumers are likely to repeat purchase the spirits needed for their favourite pours more often, and are also likely to explore new pours, needing new spirits that they’ve perhaps not tried before. For brands then, it could be a win.

The ease of using a machine such as this might also prove educational for some consumers too. Though they may not gain any awareness of the full ingredients list of their favourite serves, they will get adept at naming the spirits used in each one. Which as we know, currently isn’t common.

But there seems to be some obvious downsides too. Does having a cocktail in a pod cheapen the whole experience? Cocktails only work – i.e.. consumers are only prepared to pay a premium for them – because of the premium experience, the premium image, the skilled and ritualistic practice of making one. It could be argued that seeing it reduced to a plastic capsule and a press of a button, kind of craps all over that.

In essence, capsules take the art of crafting a cocktail, something which years and years of promoting bartenders as rock stars, as the chefs of the drinks world, have carefully built up in the minds of consumers. Also, cocktails are about slowing down, about taking a moment to relax and appreciate. Expediated drinking, with cocktail creation at the push of a button, seems to go completely against this. Cocktails are about a human touch, they’re not meant to be the McDonalds of the drinks world.

Are we losing something?

Is there a double standard here? Sure. Coffee has undergone the same surge to accessibility, with premium coffees now available by the pod, eradicating the need to visit your local speciality coffee shop or trained barista.

However, coffee in many instances is a one ingredient product. The art of creating a great coffee too, is as much about the capabilities of the brewing equipment used, as the person putting it together. And while mixology is definitely also about ingredients, they are usually measured, mixed, shaken and poured by hand, and balanced by years of tasting practice.

Are we losing something with the proliferation of cocktail pods, or as a drinks industry, are we gaining something? For brands, there’s partnership opportunities, to push their spirits as the ones to use for specific pours or else, to package their products up with the machines or pods as gift packs. The question is, will premium spirits brands decide this fits with their premium image or not? That will be an interesting barometer, a vote of confidence or not, in at-home devices. Is convenience and accessibility the most important thing? Or is the art of cocktail making something to be protected? We shall see.

Interested in finding out more about what this might mean for you and your business?

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