We tried the famed Bartesian cocktail maker—is it worth the hype?
Make a cocktail at home with the push of a button
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The thing about isolation during a pandemic is you start to realize you could really use things that you never thought you’d need before. For some that might mean an extra half dozen pairs of stretchy pants, and for others that might mean immediate access to a personal bartender.
In the "before times," I’m not sure I would have given a second thought to the Bartesian, a pod cocktail maker that works just like your favorite single-serve coffee machine. But during social distancing it gave me a whole new perspective on homemade cocktails.
At $349 for the machine and $14.99 for a six-pack of pods, it seemed like a pretty pricey investment for something that you can really do yourself, so we decided we should try one out.
What is the Bartesian?
Consider the Bartesian to be a Keurig for cocktails. (We should mention that Keurig does, in fact, have its own pod cocktail maker, but the point stands.)
About the size of a KitchenAid stand mixer, it’s a machine that promises “premium cocktails on demand” and makes them using a similar technology to the popular pod coffee makers, where you pop a capsule into a machine, press “go,” and have a perfectly mixed drink within one minute.
How does the Bartesian work?
The highly concentrated cocktail capsules are reconstituted with water and a choice of five spirits: gin, vodka, rum, whiskey/bourbon, or tequila. You must supply the water and liquor to fill the reservoirs in the machine.
Nothing could be easier to use. The machine reads the barcode on each pod, so even if you aren’t really sure what sort of liquor goes into, say, a paper plane, the Bartesian makes it a fool-proof process. There's even a monthly subscription service to keep you fully stocked.
The Bartesian allows you to choose from four levels of cocktail strength: mocktail, light, medium, and strong. It then guides you through the appropriate glass or shaker to catch and serve the drink in. A flow rate sensor measures the correct amount of water and alcohol to bring your cocktail to life, and voilà: Your robot bartending machine just made you a perfectly mixed cocktail.
What we like about the Bartesian
We were pleasantly surprised that there is a lot to like about the Bartesian. We tried it out with friends during a few socially-distant hangouts and were not only impressed with the ease of use but with the quality of the drinks overall. These are nothing like the premade cocktails of decades past.
If you’re a cocktail snob, bear with me a moment. We aren’t saying that the Bartesian is any sort of match for a carefully mixed drink that’s constructed by a fastidious palate. It does, however, make some darn tasty cocktails and is a pretty ingenious appliance for someone who simply wants to have good-tasting cocktails without stocking a full home bar or putting too much thought into it.
It makes all cocktails customizable
Even in the face of the new breed of canned cocktails, the Bartesian stands above and beyond. For one, you get to manage the strength of the drink by selecting the strength of the pour. You also get to customize which spirits are used, allowing your margarita to go from a well drink to Cadillac depending on the quality of liquor you choose to add to the dispenser.
Cocktails taste great
The results are actually pretty good. While the cocktail nerd within me initially shuddered at the idea of these pods, I was pleasantly surprised. These capsules create drinks that are completely in step with a cocktail you’d get at a good bar. They don’t use any artificial colors or sweeteners, so what you are getting from each pod are real bitters, extracts, and juice concentrates. They are even dated for freshness.
We tested from the Classic Collection variety pack, which featured a whiskey sour, an old-fashioned, a margarita, a cosmopolitan, a sex on the beach, a Long Island iced tea, a rum breeze, and the Bartesian signature cocktail: the uptown rocks. By and large, what we drank we liked. The margarita, the whiskey sour, and the uptown rocks were the standouts. The Bartesian website, however, has a pretty extensive list of cocktail options, with something to appeal to any palate.
If you’re a margarita fan, using a Bartesian pod is just as easy as pouring a grocery store mix—and tastes infinitely better. The pods make for a bright, sweet, and tart margarita with none of the cloying sweetness you get from a bottle mix. Everyone who tasted the margarita said they were like what you’d get at a family-style Mexican restaurant here in Los Angeles, which is a pretty high compliment. I can see how owning one of these would make Taco Tuesdays a real weekly tradition.
The whiskey sour is both lemony and sweet and we liked that the pod went equally well with rye whiskey or smooth bourbon. This was a really drinkable cocktail and only took a cherry to make it feel like a human had served us, rather than a robot.
The Bartesian signature uptown rocks was especially delicious and our favorite of the batch. It had a fruity, peach and cilantro flavor that paired great with gin. Even our non-gin drinkers loved this. The old-fashioned was pretty good, in fact it was better than we’ve had at a lot of bars, but, considering how easy old-fashioneds are to make, it seemed a bit pointless to invest in these pods.
The cosmo was sweet and refreshing, and the rum breeze and sex on the beach were both fun and beachy. I will say that most of the drinks erred on the side of sweet, and they weren’t as complex as some might like, but we think for many they’ll find these are every bit as good as a cocktail you’d get a reasonably good bar.
Pods are recyclable
Thankfully, all of the single-serve cocktail pods are recyclable, so no need to grapple with waste-ethics if you’re considering buying one of these.
What we don't like
The only drink that we would say really should be avoided is the Long Island iced tea (though maybe we’d say that about the original drink anyway). I wouldn’t say my husband and I are fans of these drinks in general, but the pod had a cloying and confused taste to it. I also tried mine as a mocktail, which was a huge mistake I would caution anyone against.
Is it worth it?
Absolutely! My husband and I aren’t the presumed the market for this—we have a fully stocked home bar, more bar tools than power tools, and a library of cocktail-making books. We looked at the Bartesian with skepticism and even scoffed a bit as we set it up.
But after one drink we looked at each other with surprise, and after two we were converts. We have enjoyed every pod, save for the Long Island iced tea. It’s fun, it’s easy to use, and the drinks are delicious. This is one appliance that will never languish on your counter unused and will never cause you shame for not measuring up to your home cooking—or, rather home bartending—ambitions.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.