Inspector of Gadgets is our series in which we investigate, critique, and experiment with some of the most idiosyncratic single-use kitchen utensils on the market (or found on eBay). The goal is to figure out why on earth these items are, or were ever, “a thing.” Which ones will genuinely surprise us, and which ones will leave us wishing we hadn’t blown $9.99?
I don’t know if you all can tell, but my job is a lot of fun. I get to try lots of different food, cook a bunch, and in the case of this column, mess around with whatever gadgets I can get my grubby little hands on. In previous installments, I’ve mainly nosed around on the internet to see what ridiculous, possibly useless knick-knacks I can find, and then buy one to
ruin play with.
In this case, however, my coworker Lillian Stone received an email about an interesting product she thought I might be interested in
ruining testing out, and so I reached out to the manufacturer. I’d like to introduce you all to The Bartesian. (Did I mention just how much fun this job is? Sorry to rub it in.)
The Bartesian, my friends, is a countertop bartender, and unlike the other devices I’ve reviewed, it’s an electronic one. The concept is simple: You store reservoirs of liquor in it, like rum, vodka, tequila, and whiskey, then you pick a little cocktail pod of choice, push a desired drink strength on the display, and the robot makes a cocktail for you!
If that idea sounds awfully familiar, well, yes, you’ve kind of seen this before. It is sort of like the Keurig of cocktails, though it is 100% unaffiliated with Keurig. In fact, Keurig has a countertop bartender that’s currently on the market too, which serves pretty much the same function with some slight differences.
I... was not aware there was demand for gadgets like this. Especially at this price point, because holy shit, the Bartesian retails for $349. The most expensive thing I’ve purchased to review in this column was like $12, and that was the Sushi Bazooka. Looks like Dennis is movin’ up in the world!
The first thing you need to do is fill up the bottles with spirits of your choice. For this testing, I used a bottle of vodka and bourbon. Each liquor gets a designated spot on the device, as the machine doesn’t automatically know which alcohol is which (electronic tastebuds are not installed), and that way your margaritas don’t get mixed with gin or something.
Then you pick your drink of choice, which in this case was a cosmopolitan, for testing purposes.
Bartesian sent me quite an array of drink pods, including those for Long Island iced teas, mai tais, Old Fashioneds, lemon drops, and more. There’s a respectable list to choose from, and all of the cocktails can be converted into non-alcoholic versions. Each box of six pods runs anywhere between $14.99 to $19.99, which is also not what I’d consider cheap, given that at this point you have already dropped $349 on the thing. If you’re a regular drinker, you can opt for monthly refill subscriptions.
The machine recognizes each drink based off a barcode on top of each pod. Neat! Once the pod is placed in the chamber, you snap the machine shut, which takes a little force, and then the touchscreen display activates. I felt like I was on boozy Star Trek.
The device will tell you what glassware to use for the drink. The cosmo asks for a shaker with ice; this surprised me momentarily since I’d assumed everything was plug-and-play. Then it occurred to me that there’s no on-board chilling mechanism, and that cosmos come shaken and not on the rocks if you’re ordering one in real life. So, with some of these drinks I guess you do need a tiny bit of manual labor.
Next, you get to pick how stiff you want your drink. I hate how fun this is, because if you keep pressing these buttons, it’ll dispense you a hangover. We learned that the hard way. Maybe next time we’ll mash on the mocktail button.
No matter what glassware the machine tells you to use, I’m going to recommend you use something with a high neck, like a pint glass, shaker, or a highball. If you use a rocks glass, your cocktail will splash everywhere. At the time we didn’t notice, but later when we saw our kittens, Scorpion and Sub-Zero, playing near the bakers rack, we saw them step on sticky patches on the floor and we could see their paws adhere to them (they were as curious as we were).
Now, onto the drinks: Are they any good?
I ended up with conflicted feelings. The entire process is fun and convenient, but as I’m sure you can imagine, the cocktails don’t taste as bright as ones you can easily mix yourself. There’s no substitute for freshly squeezed citrus juices, or even the flavor you get from a can of pineapple juice. And canned cocktails have come so far these days too, and are also starting to get really impressive, rendering a $349 machine even less necessary.
Plus, mixing your own drinks really isn’t that hard, time consuming, or messy, and on top of everything else, being your own bartender is fun. And when you’re whipping up your own drinks, you don’t have to worry about the environmental waste of so many spent pods (again, let’s use Keurig as the big example). Of course, there’s also that whopping price tag, which kinda makes my head spin.
In the end I can see this being a fun luxury product for someone with a lot of counter space (it takes up about the same amount of real estate as my big air fryer) and a lot of disposable income. When we’re comfortable having a friend or two over again, the Bartesian will definitely be a conversation piece, though, and I’m sure we’ll get some use out of it that way. And even more hangovers.
But in keeping with the theme of this column, I decided to see if I could use the Bartesian for some... additional kitchen tasks. I mulled over what I could possibly do with a flavor pod, a dispenser, and a shaker. And then I had an idea: Could the Bartesian make salad dressing?
Think about it. Some vinaigrettes have fruit bases, like raspberries or citrus juice. Would a lemon drop vinaigrette work if I put vinegar in one of the reservoirs? Or how about an alcoholic lemon drop dressing?
For the experiment, I decided to swap out the vodka with a canister full of white distilled vinegar. Then I’d use a lemon drop pod, mix it with some dry Italian vinaigrette seasoning, and mix it with some oil in a shaker. Voila, lemon drop Italian dressing!
I dumped a seasoning pack into the shaker, removed the vodka bottle and replaced it with the vinegar, and pressed the “regular strength” button. This would be a good prank to pull on a friend. “Here, I made you a lemon drop. Punk’d!” Then Ashton Kutcher would jump out of my refrigerator with a whole camera crew.
Once my robot friend was done dispensing the good stuff, I poured some vegetable oil into the shaker, gave it a vigorous shake, and poured it on a simple salad of cucumbers, tomatoes, and red onion bits. After my first bite I considered it a resounding success. I don’t know if it was because it was hot as hell outside, if I was hungry, or maybe my body was in desperate need of fresh fruits and vegetables, but the mini salad was absolutely delicious. I saved the rest of the dressing, excited to pair it with a future salad.
Okay, so the Bartesian also makes a good lemon drop dressing. Next time I’ll get a little spicy and maybe try a rum breeze flavored dressing. But for now, I decided to try the same experiment again, this time with vodka instead of vinegar.
I repeated the packet salad dressing process, except with alcohol, and poured it on some more salad. Then I took a bite. There is officially a reason why highly intoxicating salad dressing does not exist, and it’s because it tastes terrible, at least with that concentration level of alcohol. While it didn’t quite taste like jet fuel, it definitely had an aftertaste that made it feel like I was exhaling flammable fumes. Blech.
Obviously, I had to see if perhaps the fully leaded lemon drop salad dressing tasted better by itself, so I poured myself a glass to try drinking straight. After all, on a scorching hot day, what better drink to reach for than a high-ABV salad dressing?
Holy shit, that was a mistake. I knew there was no way it would be good, but an oily seasoned lemon drop cocktail was an even worse idea than I anticipated. Worse than any idea I’ve had in a while, in fact. It smelled like salad dressing, but my mouth and my brain went in so many directions at once afterwards, especially with the afterburn, that I was having a hard time reconciling my actions. Well, the important thing is that I tried. If any of you need me, you can find me here tinkering with The Bartesian, finding all new uses for what I’m hoping will be a surprisingly versatile kitchen appliance. Maybe I’ll try instant pudding next.