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Roger le goéland

Cocktail machine

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So long as the machine uses modern programmable variable controls and has a user interface that can customize a drink to a client, I'd not be averse to a bar using one of these machines to make drinks. Think about it a bit-- the essential function of the machine will be to accurately measure the additions to the drink.

Some cocktail folks get their knickers in a twist over the unpardonable sin of free-pouring and find a cocktail whose ingredients didn't touch a jigger to be an abomination... but the underlying concern is, I think, about accuracy of measurement. Accuracy of measurement is what a machine is all about. Doing it right, a machine could be even better than a jigger measurement, for example doing it by weight, which would take into account the differing sugar levels in different brands of the same ingredient, resulting in a more constant sweetness level in drinks made.

Adding the paint-shaker apparatus to agitate would certainly permit labor intensive drinks like a Ramos Fizz to be offered more regularly and to more customers.

Very important concerns re the machine that I can think of-

1. Cleanliness of the interior workings. You don't want tubes and valves becoming encrusted with sugary residue (or any residue for that matter), thus necessitating a mechanism to flush the system with water after EVERY drink is made. Better yet would be an automatic algorithm which would run a cleaning solution through the thing on a set interval-- never underestimate the prevalence and power of neglect. IF staff has to remember to run the clean/flush procedure, most of the time it won't happen.

2. Ice and proper dilution- It sounds as if the ingenious trade-secret cooling system may not add the bit of dilution that proper ice does in a cocktail... that would be a problem.

If a bar can't keep good bartenders around I think they'd keep some customers if there was a machine that had "their" recipe for a particular set of cocktails programmed into it... A good programmable machine would allow for a customized, reproducible experience, independent of the staff on duty at any time.


Edited by cdh (log)

Christopher D. Holst aka "cdh"

Learn to brew beer with my eGCI course

Chris Holst, Attorney-at-Lunch

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Proper dilution can be achieved by the addition of water. I assume chilling would be accomplished by running the liquids through some kind of heat exchanger.

Keeping it clean will certainly be a challenge. Residue is one of the things that makes the unfortunately ubiquitous "soda gun" so disgusting.

I don't disagree that theoretically a cocktail machine could be interesting. I do disagree, however, that it could be economical. It seems like you have two choices here:

(1) You have a place that doesn't have a particularly cocktailian clientele or staff. You don't want to spend very much money on the machine, which means that it's going to be fairly limited as to the number and kind of drinks it can make. The limited repertoire of drinks is okay, because you're not selling to cocktail sophisticated. The main questions would be: (i) whether your clientele is likely to want any of the more cocktailian offerings the machine makes; and (ii) whether it wouldn't be easier and more economical for the barman to make whatever drinks are ordered (especially in consideration of the fact that the drinks most likely to be ordered are either easily batched like an LIT or Cosmo, or simple highballs).

or

(2) You have a cocktailian place. In this scenario, you would potentially be interested in spending significant money on a machine with the flexibility to make a wide variety of drinks. The question of economics still comes into play, because in this case it is going to be more economical and still more flexible to simply hire and train staff.

Roger is clearly going after the first scenario, and success of his scheme would seem to depend entirely on the clientele of a non-cocktailian bar deciding that they want a Daiquiri or Gin Sour served out of a machine. The problem I have with his proposed model is that five bottles (let's say 4 spirits and 1 liqueur) plus two juices and two syrups #1 doesn't make for a very interesting or wide variety of cocktails, and #2 doesn't offer the ability to make any cocktails beyond those that are fairly easy for even a minimally talented bartender to make. If it's a beer-centric venue four deep at the bar, it's not clear that the ability to serve the occasional White Lady out of a machine is going to add to their bottom line. Certainly over here, their money would be better spend on a frozen drink machine.


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Slkinsey is correct to point out that water dilution is needed if this here contraption is just pouring straight, chilled spirits. That may then require some kind of water line hook-up if not then, an additional bottle or tank or what have you. Also, I agree that bottled, premix cocktails are perhaps a more efficient, cost effective solution to busy bars with a limited cocktail menu. You can line up bottles of a margarita mix, Long Island Ice Tea mix, etc in the speed rack rather than taking the extra steps to walk back and forth to the machine.

In the States, I can kind of see such a thing working at a college bar where novelty can go a long way. The cocktail machine would find company alongside the Jager shot dispenser, margarita slushie, various poker arcade games etc. Those things are popular among that demographic.

Here's an idea. If the cocktail machine could be stationed or wheeled to a table or area for service. Groups or parties could then insert a credit card and choose five or six cocktails of their choosing. They wouldn't have to wait at the bar or wait on a server. Sort of like a cocktail version of ordering pitchers of beer.


"Wives and such are constantly filling up any refrigerator they have a

claim on, even its ice compartment, with irrelevant rubbish like

food."" - Kingsley Amis

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Yea, it could work as a novelty item in certain frat-boy-heavy contexts. Still, though, why go to all the trouble of coming up with a machine that mixes the drinks to order? Why not just have five internal tanks of premixed cocktails inside? Or, better yet, why not have a cart with iced premix in bottles wheeled around by a surgically enhanced blonde in a halter top? I guarantee she'll be able to generate more revenues for the business than any credit-card operated cocktail machine.


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Sounds like you are planning a slimmed down version of the Kis Cocktail machine (www.kiscocktailbar.com) !

Its 2 (or perhaps even 3) years since this was launched at the International Wine and Spirits Fair, where it attracted lots of attention- its certainly entertaining , at least for a short while.

Its interesting though that they have still (according to their website) built only 2 of them , and that they are using these both themselves as hire machines - looks like no one else has actually bought one.

Perhaps its the price - they were certainly looking at around or upwards the £2,000 mark - but you can easily spend more than that on an espresso machine , and plenty of bars buy those.

I suspect that the real reason is that the gimmick wears off quickly and that people might well hire one in for a party or trade show but are unconvinced that they will pull in the punters night after night.

The kis machine offers a wider range (it will deal with up to 24 liquid ingredients) and looks pretty glitzy(in a cheap and showy sort of way) , so it may be more suited to this market - but if you can make your machine look eye catching and sell/hireit cheap , you might find a niche market - I can imagine Students Union bars might give it a whirl for instance . (We'd probably be willing to give your prototype a trial run in one of our bars here at LSE, if the practicalities can be sorted ! (EG will it get past an Environmental Health Officer ? Does it require drainage ? will it run off a 13 amp socket, is the footprint small enough for it to sit on the back bar (or if its robust enough,stable enough and sufficiently tamper proof, on the front bar). I can imagine the stocktaker would want it to deal in reasonably sensible fractions of standard measures , and it would need to be comply with weights and measures legislation.

I really can't see it catching on with any serious cocktail drinker though. It really needs to be aimed at the youth market so you are probably looking at tequila, white rum and vodka slush puppies of various sorts .

I suspect most e-gulleteers dont drink a lot of those kind of things.

Gethin

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Engineering can replicate anything! Thought I'd add that considering the previous replies. You can chill a liquid and dilute it to any degree you want, play around with pressure, aerate it, carbonate it... it's all relatively cheap depending on development costs. E.g. I can chill your Japanese cocktail to below freezing in seconds with liquid nitrogen (as is routinely done in more experimental restaurants). Give me a few months and money, I'll put a touchscreen, extremely accurate pumps and you can have a cocktail chilled at the temperature you want, with the quantities you want.

Don't worry, I am fully aware of what happens during shaking (we'll do an MTM analysis of the shaking process, we ran experiments to determine amounts of water melted during stirring/shaking/different ice cube sizes and temperatures, currently working on the level of turbulence required...)

It was tempting to create a very good cocktail maker (as described above). Mainly because we would then have a University-funded cocktail maker, would look great in my kitchen. But unfortunately half the marks go into the business plan, and as pointed out before, such a machine would be easily replaceable by a skilled bartender. Also, I would want my drink to be man-made.

So we're going for the average pub. I think the kiscocktail fails because it's a beast, takes up a few square meters, and is hired with staff. The price is ridiculous - despite the high markups and the money you can make on cocktails, it's just not worth it. Thus, "for corporate parties" sounds like their market. An espresso machine doesn't take the space of a pool table! Also, the image projects a lack of quality, I can almost taste the chemicals and preservatives of the concentrated juice...

But if I'm selling a pub a machine the size of a two-nozzle espresso machine, for £150-300, that can allow the manager to sell a few cocktails for minimum fuss, it might be doable. We can always say "here have it for free for two weeks, see what you think".

The business potential of this idea is rapidly vaning. It will make (is making) an interesting project, and a good way to explore different combinations of ingredients to get closer to the perfect <insert cocktail name>. Oh well, at least my college bar wants it (anything gimmicky?). I'll post photos of the beast if it's not too ugly once built...

As for legislation - anything with more than three liquids in it is not subjected to ANY measuring (anything with less, you gotta get out the "crown-stamped" optics). This opens the door for interesting things.

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Yea, it could work as a novelty item in certain frat-boy-heavy contexts.  Still, though, why go to all the trouble of coming up with a machine that mixes the drinks to order?  Why not just have five internal tanks of premixed cocktails inside?  Or, better yet, why not have a cart with iced premix in bottles wheeled around by a surgically enhanced blonde in a halter top?  I guarantee she'll be able to generate more revenues for the business than any credit-card operated cocktail machine.

I think we've got to think outside of the box here, or rather the bar. A brief anecdote. Last year, I found myself waiting for a plane in a business class lounge at Tokyo's Narita airport. As soon as I sat down, I noticed a steady stream of people walking by carrying large glasses of perfectly-poured draft beer, each with an inch of creamy head and no more. Finding this rather tempting, I thought I would go and say hello to the bartender. After looking around, I realized that there was no bar in the lounge, let alone a skilled bartender. Those beers were coming from a little machine on the counter, next to the club soda and Pocari Sweat and what have you. You simply took a chilled glass out of the refrigerator below, put it in the thing and pushed a button. A probe would then extend to the bottom of the glass and squirt beer in along the side of the glass (so that there would be no foam), rising with the level of the liquid. An inch from the top, it switched nozzles and squirted the beer straight down, thus creating the head. Done.

Now, if there were a machine there that was prepared to offer a limited but sufficient range of precisely-prepared cocktails, would I have pushed that button?

That's a rhetorical question. There are many places where one wants--nay, needs--a good drink where it would be impractical to keep a skilled bartender hanging around. Hotel lobbies, transit lounges, theaters, executive offices, IRS centers, hospital waiting rooms, PTA meetings....

So I say tally ho! If you build it, they will drink.


aka David Wondrich

There are, according to recent statistics, 147 female bartenders in the United States. In the United Kingdom the barmaid is a feature of the wayside inn, and is a young woman of intelligence and rare sagacity. --The Syracuse Standard, 1895

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Oh, totally. Outside the context of a bar or restaurant, there are plenty of places a machine like this could potentially work. Although I think it will be substantially trickier than dispensing beer from a keg if the idea is to include fresh juices, etc. Japan, of course, is also a culture where people buy all sorts of foods from machines (e.g., french fries).


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Quality cannot be mass produced. Enough said. Even if you have a machine its going to matter what goes in it not how it is shaken or stirred or chilled. Its still going to take skills to balance the right ingrediants in the "mix". I must admit though the idea of watching a cup put up to a nozzle and squirting out my drink makes me so much thirstier than the conjuring the image of a skilled human measuring out each ingrediant right in front of me, shaking or stirring my cocktail, pouring it, and serving it to me. Is infantile the word I'm looking for here???

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I don't think that this sort of machine is going to replace the artisan aspect of making good drinks, but it could raise the base level of the craft a bit.

Quality is holistic... getting crap ingredients into the ideal proportions is still going to result in a pretty crappy final product. But think how much worse it can be if those same crappy ingredients are mixed in god knows what proportions by an unskilled human who doesn't really care that much. Try ordering a Manhattan in a karaoke bar in Ft. Worth sometime.

There is only so much of a market for custom crafted artisan cocktails... and a machine would do a piss poor job at my standard order in a bar where I trust the mixological skills-- "Surprise me". So there's no real competition from a machine like this for a cocktail artisan... but is cuts out the crappy middleman in spots where the mixer doesn't give a damn.


Christopher D. Holst aka "cdh"

Learn to brew beer with my eGCI course

Chris Holst, Attorney-at-Lunch

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To go along with cdh's concerns, the fresh juice is something that I am wondering about.

Unless you are providing some shelf stable, filtered, pasteurized and preservative laden juice, someone on staff is going to have to be juicing the lemons and limes, and filtering the juice.

The shelf life of freshly squeezed lemon and lime juice is pretty short, even filtered, so it will also be necessary to monitor the quality.

Seems like that would be a big challenge for citrus based drinks.


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Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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IF the device has built in refrigeration, e.g. keeps all the liquids in it at 38F all the time, I think that the citrus juices could survive for a sufficiently long time to make the minimum service interval a good few days. And if the machine is earning its keep, it should need bottle refills much more frequently than a minimum service interval. Though building in a timer/level sensor that dumps old juices after a certain period of time would certainly be a good engineering move to head off the spoiled juice problem. Don't forget that citrus juices are packed full of citric and ascorbic acids, the preservatives that get dumped into lots of other things.


Christopher D. Holst aka "cdh"

Learn to brew beer with my eGCI course

Chris Holst, Attorney-at-Lunch

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One of the best brain dumps I've found regarding the use of fresh juice in a bar setting, was this post from kingcocktail, (aka Dale DeGroff,) on the DrinkBoy forums:

Running Bar Programs with Fresh Juice

I was faced with this problem at Aurora and the Rainbow Room in the beginning where we used only lemon and lime we squeezed in house. We squeezed prior to the lunch shift and made enought to last through the evening shift using a Sunkist commercial juicer..(very efficient)...squeeze only room temp fruit cold fruit gives 1/3 less juice! ...and that is a lot of bucks at the end of the year. If there was lemon or lime left over the next day I would use in my bloody mix for lunch but after 24 hours all fresh lemon and lime juice has oxidized and become bitter and should be discarded. I would rather under squeeze for the day and squeeze a bit more toward the end of the shift the constantly over produce...as expensive as fresh fruit is...all juice must be refrigerated at all times! don't keep the juices in the well they will die within hours

edit - To me that suggests, even refrigerated, you've only got 24 hours maximum life on lemon or lime in contact with air.

I was thinking you might be able to mitigate by backfilling the bottles with a neutral gas instead of air. I think wine dispensing devices often do this.


Edited by eje (log)

---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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Could use liquid nitrogen, get both gas + cooling effect. But it's not practical for the average Joe.

To be honest I've never had a cocktail made with packaged juice - is it really bad?

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To be honest I've never had a cocktail made with packaged juice - is it really bad?

Yes.

I agree that the handling of the juice will be by far the trickiest thing here. Could it be frozen in individual portions and flash-defrosted as needed? No substitute for real fresh juice, but not so very bad either, provided it's real, fresh-squeezed, filtered juice without additives of any kind that's being frozen.

More venues where a machine like this would be welcome:

Trains/planes/automobiles (well, autobuses, anyway)

The New York Public Library (okay, maybe it's just me, but I like a drink at hand

when reading about the things)

The laundromat


aka David Wondrich

There are, according to recent statistics, 147 female bartenders in the United States. In the United Kingdom the barmaid is a feature of the wayside inn, and is a young woman of intelligence and rare sagacity. --The Syracuse Standard, 1895

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As much as I love the idea of helping things along with a decent cocktail while running PTA meetings and doing my laundry, I couldn't imagine schools or laundromats permitting hooch sales -- at least not in the US. Then again, we can't get beers for our movies, either. What are the sorts of venues that would permit tippling in the UK?


Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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As much as I love the idea of helping things along with a decent cocktail while running PTA meetings and doing my laundry, I couldn't imagine schools or laundromats permitting hooch sales -- at least not in the US. Then again, we can't get beers for our movies, either. What are the sorts of venues that would permit tippling in the UK?

There are laundromats and movie theaters in the USA that sell booze.


Jeff Meeker, aka "jsmeeker"
jmeeker@eGullet.org

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As much as I love the idea of helping things along with a decent cocktail while running PTA meetings and doing my laundry, I couldn't imagine schools or laundromats permitting hooch sales -- at least not in the US. Then again, we can't get beers for our movies, either. What are the sorts of venues that would permit tippling in the UK?

A man's reach should extend his grasp, or what's a heaven for?

Airplanes, though, would be eminently practical.


aka David Wondrich

There are, according to recent statistics, 147 female bartenders in the United States. In the United Kingdom the barmaid is a feature of the wayside inn, and is a young woman of intelligence and rare sagacity. --The Syracuse Standard, 1895

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Don't larger aircrafts (e.g. 747) have a bar? Is it already possible to get cocktails on a transatlantic flight?

They have bars but no bartenders; the definition of "cocktail" they use is "liquor plus a bottled mixer".

Plus most planes don't even have bars at all (the only one I know that does is Virgin Atlantic).

Not only would this be a golden opportunity, but whoever made it possible for one to secure a real gin martini inflight would deserve the title of Benefactor Humani Generis. There might possibly be a Nobel Prize in it.


Edited by Splificator (log)

aka David Wondrich

There are, according to recent statistics, 147 female bartenders in the United States. In the United Kingdom the barmaid is a feature of the wayside inn, and is a young woman of intelligence and rare sagacity. --The Syracuse Standard, 1895

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Is that true for business and first class? I doubt many "coach" passengers would want a cocktail (just a bunch of us from eG), but considering the choices usually available in terms of booze on a flight (together with their pricing) I'm sure it would be great.

And easy, to be honest. A team of 2-3 with £20k and a year could make a commercial version with customizable amounts of gin/vermouth/number of stirs. No "shaken" option or Gordon's. Orange bitters optional. Now it's just fantasy...

I'll add the aircraft machine as a Mk II (expansion into other markets). Can't believe they serve Sauternes in first class but can't make a simple margarita.

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What are the sorts of venues that would permit tippling in the UK?

All sorts of places could get a premises licence and sell booze from a machine or otherwise , but every sale needs to be "authorised" by a personal licence holder. While that individual doesn't have to be on the premises for every sale , someone acting for him has to. So you would have to pay someone to be there all the time the machine is operating.

The only self service alcoholic drink machines I'm aware of in the UK are card operated machines dispensing tasting samples of wines in a wine shop in Islington. The shop is staffed all the time and they have obviously persuaded Islington council that they can prevent sales to minors, intoxicated persons and police officers in uniform (the ban on selling alcohol to "two or more known prostiutes consorting together for the purpose of prostitution" having been revoked a few years ago).

Selfridges Deparment store planned to have the same machines but ran into problems with Westminster Council who pointed out that wine can only be sold for drinking on the premises in specified volumes or multiples thereof , all much larger than the intended samples. I'm not sure if this has been resolved - but it does seem to me that technically Westminster were right to refuse the license and Islington are turning a blind eye to an offence.

gethin

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Could use liquid nitrogen, get both gas + cooling effect. But it's not practical for the average Joe.

To be honest I've never had a cocktail made with packaged juice - is it really bad?

Not a bad idea. Having the N2 on top of the juice might be enough to keep it tasting fresh for a reasonable amount of time. Same for any other oxidizable mixers.

Of course, you would need to keep the liquid nitrogen topped up which would be an effort in itself.

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Roger, you've got a viable idea here, especially considering the British pub culture that I'm familiar with.

I have lots of British friends, and you're completely correct, they order those very drinks that you've mentioned, every time they are here in the States!

I'm always flummoxed when my erudite friends belly up and order a margarita- but they seem to think that drink is very 'fantastic', and Brits tend to really go for those citrus flavors with their alcohol, too.

At oleast the ones I know, do!

And, they've all told me how different drinking habits are in the UK.

There are probably many pubs that would take an interest in your machine, and lots of clientele for those drinks, machine made.

Our fair citizenry of eGullet may be forgetting that most people are not cocktail snobs as we tend to get here- most people in a pub are looking for a bit of a buzz and some socializing- their palates are not so sophisticated that they would refuse a drink from a machine out of hand- they're actually more open minded and relaxed in attitude than serious cocktail afficianodos would be about the process.

There are many clubs that don't have bartenders who 'do' cocktails, as well.

My fiance has performed in many venues in Britain where they only served beer, ale, some hard liquors in shots or with soda, and some drink made of ale mixed with juice- that was odd to my tastebuds.

I would have appreciated a drink machine in some of those places!

I say go for it anyway, you're already making the machine, use it as a prototype and take it around- you've got nothing to lose.


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The machine would have to make excellent cocktails and many varieties but I can see a market for this. There are plenty of coffee makers that sell for $10000 or much more. With the right marketing, people will come to a coffee house and pay a premium to have a cup of joe made from a fancy machine. I don't see why the same people wouldn't do the same thing for a good cocktail. I think selling the machine for around $1000 would be too cheap. I guess it could open up some different markets but would make the product less 'special'.

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