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How cocktail-making machines could put bartenders out of business

The Bartesian cocktail maker works similarly to pod-using coffee machines but produces cosmopolitans and margaritas instead.

Bartesian

There are several good reasons why bars and nightclubs are on the decline.

Skyrocketing drink prices are making it too expensive to go out. Smartphone apps mean it's easier for people to stay in touch. Dating apps are cutting out the need to mingle in person. Even larger televisions are allowing friends to stay at home and watch sporting events or movies together.

Add a number of emerging do-it-yourself cocktail- and beer-making machines to the mix and the speed at which watering holes are closing down may soon accelerate dramatically.

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"The trend is to stay in and try to improve what you consume," says Ryan Close, co-founder of cocktail-mixing machine maker Bartesian. "That's where we come in."

Bartesian's nascent invention is similar in form and function to devices such as a Keurig machine, except it makes alcoholic drinks instead of coffee.

Specially coded capsules contain all the ingredients needed for specific cocktails, such as cosmopolitans and margaritas, with the exception of alcohol. Users supply the required spirits by filling the machine's reservoirs. The Bartesian then reads the capsule's bar code and mixes the cocktail in 18 seconds flat.

Kitchener, Ont.-based Bartesian expects to start shipping the $299 (U.S.) machine and capsules, at $20 a dozen, in spring of 2018. Mr. Close says the company has signed agreements with several large retailers, including Bed Bath and Beyond, to sell the machine.

The Canadian startup is one of several entrants in the emerging field of drink-mixing appliances. Los Angeles-based Somabar is working on a similar product, as are Keurig and drink giant Anheuser-Busch InBev.

Seattle-based PicoBrew, meanwhile, will start selling its beer-making Pico Model C machines through Canadian retailers including Best Buy, Amazon and Canadian Tire in October for $549. The $799 Pico Pro is already available in the United States through Best Buy, Williams-Sonoma and other retailers.

The Pico machines work on the same basic principals as Bartesian. Users order "Pico Packs" of ingredients – typically costing around $25 – from a range of brewers on PicoBrew's BrewMarketplace website.

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The machine then scans the pack and sets to brewing, which takes about two hours. The beer is ready after fermenting in a small keg for a few days, with each batch producing about five litres or 14 pint glasses.

"The vision is to do for craft beer what has been done for coffee," says co-founder Bill Mitchell, who was a Microsoft executive prior to starting PicoBrew. "We believe in the hyper-local production of beverages."

Both Bartesian and PicoBrew were hits in their initial crowdfunding campaigns. Bartesian raised $115,000 on Kickstarter in 2015, while PicoBrew hit its $150,000 goal in a single day in 2013, ending at close to $670,000.

Bartesian has attracted interest from big industry players, with Chicago-based Beam Suntory making an investment last year. Terms of the deal weren't disclosed, but the startup has given the liquor company a seat on its board and will sell capsules incorporating its brands, such as Jim Beam whisky sours and Sauza margaritas.

PicoBrew, meanwhile, has signed up more than 60 breweries – including 15 in Canada – to its BrewMarketplace.

Industry analysts say the attention to do-it-yourself devices from brewers and spirits makers is being spurred by the decline in bars and nightclubs, which is happening in a number of countries.

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The United States, for example, had 12,000 fewer bars last year than it did in 1998, according to census figures, while Statistics Canada numbers show that revenue for drinking establishments has declined by more than a third since 2001.

The success of coffee-pod machines such as Keurig has also put the spotlight on Bartesian, PicoBrew and others. Environmental and quality concerns have cooled coffee machine popularity in recent years, but the initial bite they took out of the café business did not go unnoticed by spirits makers and breweries.

"That was essentially a wake-up call to many of the big players," says Spiros Malandrakis, senior industry analyst of alcoholic drinks for Euromonitor International. "It used to be a very traditional and conservative industry, but they are now trying to avoid making the same mistakes."

Both Bartesian and PicoBrew believe their products will also have an impact on the business-to-business front.

Bartesian is targeting hotels and restaurants that want to offer customers cocktails without the expense of keeping trained bartenders on staff. PicoBrew, for its part, also sells a larger appliance – the $1,999 Zymatic – to craft brewers and brewpubs. The machine incorporates a software tool that lets brewers experiment with new recipes, which can be shared online with others.

A local brewery in Toronto or Vancouver, for example, could send its recipes to any other Zymatic-equipped pub in the world where it could be brewed on location and sidestep the need for traditional distribution.

"We solve that problem for them by allowing them to bridge the gap," Mr. Mitchell at PicoBrew says. "They can get their brand and reputation out worldwide."

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About the Author

Peter Nowak has been writing about technology for 15 years, with a focus on trends and how they affect the world. He worked at The Globe and Mail between 1997 and 2004 before moving to China and then New Zealand, where he won the award for best technology reporter at the New Zealand Herald. More

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