Do You Need an At-Home Cocktail Machine?
These machines make cocktails as easily as a cup of coffee, but are they worth it? Food Network Kitchen tested them to find out.
By Sharon Franke for Food Network Kitchen
There’s nothing like a well-mixed cocktail to end the day or get a party going. However, pulling out all the ingredients and measuring them can seem like a chore, especially after doing a day’s work or getting the house spruced up for company. And that’s not to mention that if you don’t follow a formula carefully, you can wind up with a drink that’s doesn’t quite hit the spot. An electric cocktail maker takes most of the work out of bartending and nails the mix every time. Here's the complete lowdown on how these appliances work and all the pros and cons.
What Is an Electric Cocktail Maker?
It’s a large countertop appliance for making cocktails with capsules the way a Keurig machine brews coffee with pods. Depending on the machine, you either fill glass bottles with liquor or attach a bottle of spirits. You fill a reservoir or bottle with water and then open the head of the machine and insert a capsule that contains a concentrated mix of all the elements, like juices, bitters, and extracts, that when combined with the water and a spirit make a cocktail. After you select the strength of your beverage on the control panel and push the mix button, the machine automatically concocts your drink and dispenses it into a glass within seconds.
What's the Story With the Capsules?
You can buy the capsules from Bartesian or major retailers. They come in over 40 different varieties from classics like a gin martini and an old-fashioned to more trendy ones like a jalapeno lime shrub and a mango margarita. Some drinks, like the cosmopolitan, are available in low-cal versions and you can also buy variety packs or sign up for a monthly subscription. On the company website, prices for the capsules range from $14.99 for 5 to $19.99 for 8 or about $2.50 per capsule. You can also buy larger quantities and reduce the cost of each by about 25 cents. The capsules are recyclable.
How Do the Cocktails Taste?
We thought the cocktails tasted quite good. A whiskey sour had the right blend of sugar and lemon. Neither a traditional or a blackberry margarita tasted cloyingly sweet. There are no artificial colors, fructose, or corn syrups in the capsules but there are some preservatives.
What's the Difference Between the Machines?
Bartesian Cocktail Maker
The Basics: With a matte dark gray finish, this Bartesian is a handsome appliance with an LCD control panel. Along with it, you get glass bottles topped with dispensers to hold spirits. Each of the 5 bottles has a 26-ounce capacity and the caps are marked Whiskey, Tequila, Vodka, Rum, and Gin. You insert the bottles insert into corresponding receptacles in the base of the machine. Rum and gin share the same spot and if you change one out for the other you have to purge the machine first.
How It Works: The Bartesian couldn’t be simpler to operate. The reservoir is removable so you can fill it at the sink. It’s easy to lift the top and insert a capsule and the display prompts you through the entire process of mixing a cocktail. If you’ve forgotten to fill the tank with water, it alerts you immediately. It tells you what size glass to use. The settings are straightforward: Light, Regular, Strong, and Mocktail.
How to Clean It: On the machine there’s few crevices so it’s easy to wipe the surfaces clean. Both the water reservoir and the rubber bar mat that your glass rests on as it’s being filled are easy to remove and wash at the sink. The capsule holder and the glass bottles and lids can be put in the dishwasher. You do have to remove the capsule seal and the valve in the lid and wash them carefully by hand periodically. To clean inside the machine, you merely have to press a setting. There’s a First Use setting to rinse it when it’s brand new, a Switch setting to purge the machine when you change out rum and gin, a Rinse/Clean setting to use if the machine hasn’t been used in a while, and a Transport one to empty the machine completely if you’re carrying it someplace or stashing it away.
Bev by Black + Decker
The Basics: This black machine is taller and less refined looking than the Bartesian. While with a little bit of trial and effort you can figure out how to set it up and operate it, there are no prompts on the machine and the owner’s manual isn’t easy to read or follow. For starters, the print is small and indistinct. There are many steps that refer to numbered diagrams at the beginning of the booklet so there’s a lot of going back and forth from page to page. However, once you get the hang of it, the Bev is as easy to use as the Bartesian.
How It Works: Rather than a reservoir, you get a glass bottle to fill with water and then attach to the machine with a special straw. Five additional straws are included that you insert into liquor bottles up to 750L in capacity. On the machine, there are 5 spots for the bottles which are marked with the names of liquors but they aren’t easy to read as they are embossed black letters on a black background. If you prefer the look of plain glass bottles to ones with labels, you can use any bottle that fits in the space or purchase a Bev bottle for $9.99.
Once you pop a capsule into the holder, the spot for the specific liquor required for the drink of choice lights up to alert you to make sure you have a filled bottle in place. You then turn a knob to select the size of your drink or a mocktail and then press the center to start mixing. When it’s recommended that you shake your drink before serving, a little cocktail shaker icon lights up.
By pressing a party mode button, you can activate a pattern of flashing lights to add a disco vibe to your party. Mirror ball and DJ not included.
How to Clean It: The Bev is easy to wipe clean and the drip tray and capsule holder come off easily to wash in the sink. As the straws require a little bit of attention to clean thoroughly, a long brush is included with the unit. To clean inside the machine, there’s a cleaning mode.
What We Love About Electric Cocktail Makers
- The cocktails taste great.
- The machines couldn’t be easier to use.
- You get absolute consistency.
The Downsides to Electric Cocktail Makers
- They’re expensive.
- Not only does the machine take up a lot of space but you need to have room to store the capsules.
What's the Bottom Line?
If you love, love, love cocktails and drink them at home often, you’ll find an automatic cocktail mixer is a game changer for its ease of use and consistency. You’ll think it’s worth the investment, won’t mind keeping a supply of capsules on hand rather than stocking up on juices and other ingredients, and won’t miss all that measuring, stirring, and shaking. However, if you find that part of the fun of having drinks at home is crafting your own beverages to your own specifications, with juice from freshly squeezed fruits and your preferred brands of liquors and bitters, you’re not the ideal candidate for this machine.
With the footprint of a toaster oven and the height of a stand mixer, these machine aren’t small. You need to have room to spare on the countertop in your kitchen or home bar area as well as space in a nearby drawer or cabinet to stash the capsules.