For those who enjoy a mixed drink regularly, or entertain frequently, a cocktail making machine can be a time saver. Like a Keurig, but for cosmos instead of coffee, both the Bev and Bartesian use Bartesian-produced capsules that contain the syrups, bitters, extracts, and juices required to make mixed drinks. Those, combined with the spirits you load into the machine, enable users to produce a cocktail in about 30 seconds with the press of a few buttons.
A Brief History of Cocktail Machines
After a successful round of crowdfunding, Bartesian launched in 2019 with capsules and the cocktail machine before turning manufacturing over to Hamilton Beach, which makes the machines today. A few years later, Black + Decker released Bev, which uses the same Bartesian pods. Like a Keurig, using one of these machines requires buying Bartesian capsules. To date, the brand offers about 50 different cocktails that pull from five base spirits: vodka, gin, rum, tequila, and whiskey. Depending on what cocktails you prefer, you might only need one or two spirits on hand. But to realize the full variety, plan to have a bottle of all five liquors ready.
A Bit About the Capsules
The capsules are sold in packs of six, eight, or 32 and can either contain the same cocktail or, in some cases, come in a variety pack like the Vodka Lovers box with amaretto sour, cosmopolitan, and lemon drop. The recyclable plastic capsules each contain about one-and-a-half fluid ounces of cocktail mix-ins, but no alcohol. You can buy the capsules online from Bartesian, or stores like Amazon, Kohl’s, Walmart, Best Buy, Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, and Macy’s.
The price per capsule ranges from about $2.25 to $3.33. When you add that to the cost of the spirits, you quickly realize you’re paying for the convenience of a drink in less than 30 seconds. I found it difficult to locate any capsules in brick-and-mortar stores, so if you plan on entertaining, you should stock up in advance.
How Cocktail Machines Work
The Bartesian and Bev are very similar machines that rely on barcodes and pumps to identify and properly mix a cocktail. Each capsule has a barcode printed on the foil top. Once you load a pod in and lower the head, the scanner reads the barcode and identifies the cocktail. A hollow, stainless steel needle pierces the capsule’s foil top, and then pumps kick on to inject the appropriate spirit(s) and water inside the pod through the needle. After the spirits and mix-ins all blend together for a few seconds, the pump pushes the cocktail into your waiting glass. Along with five base spirits, both machines require water which dilutes the concentrated juices, bitters, and syrups inside the capsules. Technically, you don’t need all five base spirits loaded into the machine. If all you want to do is make old fashioneds all night long, you would only need to load in whiskey (or bourbon or rye) and water.
Every cocktail is available in four strengths, including mocktail. The total amount of liquor used for light, regular, and strong cocktails varies, so a margarita set to strong would have about three-and-a-half ounces of liquor whereas a strong Long Island iced tea would have just over four-and-a-half ounces. Generally speaking, a light cocktail uses one to just over two ounces of spirits; regular uses one to three ounces; strong uses two-and-a-half to just over four-and-a-half ounces. The volume of spirits called for per setting is listed on the capsule’s box. While stronger drinks take a little more time to make than weaker ones, the difference is about five seconds of waiting. The longest either machine took during testing to make a cocktail was about 30 seconds.
How to Make a Drink
While the technology required to make the drink is pretty similar between the two machines, there are several ways in which they differ. The Bartesian has a color LCD screen that acts as a button that, along with a rotating wheel, lets you cycle through options. The screenless Bev has a simple rotating dial button to make drink strength selections. Both work well, but the Bartesian’s screen does a little more hand-holding, like telling you what glass style to use or, when appropriate, to make the drink in a shaker, like with a cosmo or uptown rocks. The Bartesian uses pumps to pull water from underneath the glass jars that hold the spirits, while the Bev pulls from above. In testing both worked just fine, though Bartesian does leave an annoying little pool of liquor in the base of the four openings.
About Adding Spirits
A key difference between the two models is how many spirits they hold simultaneously. For the system to work smoothly, in both machines, each liquor type must be loaded into its designated areas. As clever as these machines are, they rely on you putting the rum in the right spot because they can’t distinguish Bacardi from Bulleit. The Bev has spaces for all five base spirits, and water, so you can make any of the 50 cocktails without much fuss. The Bartesian only holds four spirits at any time (plus water). Rum and gin have to share the same spot on the base. That makes the device less user-friendly because it requires switching between the two bottles, which means cycling through the menu and purging the line with water and air to avoid cross-contamination.
But beyond having to swap bottles to go from a rum-based mai tai to a gin martini, it’s a limitation on both machines. The Bartesian capsules can’t adhere to traditional cocktail recipes that typically require both rum and gin, like a Long Island iced tea and a gin rummy. And because the software is the same with both machines, the Bev, which technically could make a drink with both gin and rum, also skips out on sticking to a traditional recipe. So while Bartesian offers a capsule for Long Island iced tea, it makes the drink without gin. Though, to be fair, making that drink by hand with four spirits can be a pain anyway.
But the Bev can have its own spirit loading issues, too. The stock Bev machine ships with one glass bottle meant to hold water. Because the machine works with just about any standard 750ml bottle of liquor, you can unscrew the cap on some Tito’s, thread the Bev’s stainless steel straw inside, slide the rubber stopper down on the glass, and load the bottle into the machine. While some guests might like to see what brand of spirits you’re using, I think it’s a nicer aesthetic upgrade to buy the five-pack of matching glass bottles Black + Decker offers.
Beyond the uniformity, there’s a practical reason. Part of cleaning the machines means flushing the lines for each spirit. I found that task much easier using the Bev’s additional bottles. After I returned the unused spirits back to their bottles, I added warm, soapy water to each Bev bottle and flushed the lines with the push of a button. Without those additional bottles, you’d have to move the one glass bottle from tap-to-tap, cleaning the lines one at a time.
Testing Results: Bev vs. Bartesian
Both machines make even the largest, strongest drink in far less than a minute. Expect to wait about 17 seconds for a light drink, 18 seconds for a regular strength drink, and about 23 seconds for a strong version. Head-to-head, the Bartesian made a 4-ounce old fashioned in about 18 seconds while it took me twice as long so do so by hand.
Volumes vary from cocktail-to-cocktail since each one calls for a different amount of liquor. On the light and regular strength settings, the two machines made similar size drinks with the Bartesian pouring less than a half ounce more. Expect about three ounces on the light setting, and four ounces on medium. But on the strongest setting the difference can be about 1-ounce between the two. In my tests, a Long Island iced tea set to strong on the Bartesian was eight ounces, while it was only seven ounces on the Bev. And the machines kept the same 1-ounce discrepancy when making strong old fashioneds.
Generally, the Bartesian created a more balanced cocktail while the Bev produced a stronger one, because it adds less water. On simpler drinks, like an old fashioned, the results from both machines fell short compared to the one I made by hand, which tasted fresher, sweeter, and was more fragrant. Machine-made margaritas were slightly better, though not as good as a hand-shaken one. For other drinks, like a whiskey sour, both machines made overly sweet cocktails that couldn’t match the texture of the egg white used when made by hand. And for cocktails that called for special syrups, like the orgeat syrup needed to make a mai tai, the machines fell flat against the one made by hand. When drinks relied heavily on syrups or bitters, adding them by hand ensured that the flavor shined through, where those elements tended to get washed out of the machine version.
Still, there were few cocktails I’d say were undrinkable. Just like using a Keurig, these cocktail machines deliver unrivaled convenience, and for that, you sometimes sacrifice flavor.
With a lower initial cost, the Bev, even after the glass liquor dispenser bottles, is still about $100 less than the Bartesian and it stores all five base spirits simultaneously. At about 15 3/4 inches tall the Bev is slightly larger than the Bartesian, but still short enough to slip under upper cabinets in most newer kitchens where the cabinets are usually around 16 to 18 inches above the countertop. And because the spirit bottles, and water, load in from the sides, you keep the the Bev tucked under the cabinet.
While the speed at which it makes cocktails was similar to the Bartesian, the most interesting departure of the Bev was the volume. In test after test, where I tasked both machines to make the same cocktail at the same strength, then weighed and checked the volume of the results, the Bev consistently made less cocktail. In some instances the difference was minuscule—about 3 grams less when making an old fashioned on light and then 14 grams on medium, which is less than half a fluid ounce. But when set to the strongest setting, the Bev came up as much as one ounce short against the Bartesian when making a Long Island iced tea and old fashioned.
Since both machines are programmed to use set liquor amounts, the difference between the drinks must be the amount of water added. The Bev consistently adds less water, or put another way, it makes a more potent cocktail. I think this makes the machine more useful for guests to then adjust the drink dilution as they see fit by stirring or shaking with more ice, or adding some water. While the Bartesian usually turned out a more balanced cocktail, the Bev was boozier.
The interface to make a drink is easy to navigate: load in a pod, rotate the dial to the strength setting you like, then press mix. Under each bottle is an LED light that you can turn on or off to add a decorative effect.
While the accessory pack of glass bottles makes it easier to flush the lines, the ribbed glass makes it difficult to gauge how much liquor is left, especially clear ones like vodka and gin. Because the Bartesian’s bottles have a wider opening, it’s easier to load them with spirits and clean them with soap and water later—and the smooth sides make it a snap to see how much liquor is left.
Whether you use the accessory bottles or liquor bottles, loading the spirits in requires adding a straw to each of the taps. While it’s a simple process, I wish there was a positive click letting you know the connection is solid. A couple of times during testing the Bev stopped, mid-pour, even when there was plenty of spirits left in the bottle.
- Materials: Plastic, metal, and glass
- Weight: 16 pounds
- Size: 14 inches deep x 13 1/4 inches wide x 15 3/4 inches tall
- Care instructions: Clean straws with warm, soapy water and the included straw cleaner brush or clean in top rack of the dishwasher with stoppers, capsule cup, and drip tray cover. Glass bottles are dishwasher-safe. Wipe the machine, including the bar code scanner, down with a cloth damped with warm, soapy water.
- Price at the time of publish: $300
If you can look past the fact the Bartesian requires a bit more hands-on work to switch gin and rum bottles, the machine produces a well-balanced cocktail. The Bartesian does best in wide-open spaces. Loading in a capsule requires lifting a latch that brings the overall height of the machine to about 18 1/2 inches, which is too tall to tuck under standard kitchen upper cabinets. You also need more room above the machine to load and switch the spirit bottles and water reservoir in the back. Still, the styling of the Bartesian with its four glass bottles, rubber bar mat, and hidden water tank, looks modern and it feels like a premium machine.
The LCD screens provides clear directions for using the machine, though you might have to remind guests that accessing the menu requires a click, hold, and then turn of the directional wheel. Oddly enough, if you follow the directions on the screen you can end up waiting necessarily long for a cocktail. Once a drink starts a progress wheel turns clockwise showing the progress. But while it only takes 17 to 22 seconds to make a drink, the progress wheel doesn’t complete the circle until about 1-minute total. In that time the machine is purging the lines with air and forcing every last drop into your cup. It’s an odd glitch, and while a few drops might end up on the rubber mat if you pull your cup after the drips stop, washing that at the end of the party is a small price to pay for a cocktail in half the time.
The Bartesian has a keyed lock on the side, which means the bottles are not removable. It’s a handy feature to have with kids around since the bottles are, otherwise, easy to remove (you will need to hide the capsules). Both machines make it easy to know which spirit goes where with markings for vodka, tequila, whiskey, etc. marked on the base. But the Bartesian’s bottle tops also spell out the spirit’s name. If you get distracted while loading the machine those markings make it easy to distinguish clear gin, vodka, tequila, and rum apart. Otherwise, both machines will happily make you a hurricane using Beefeater.
- Materials: Plastic, metal, and glass
- Weight: 16 pounds
- Size: 12 1/2 inches deep x 13 inches wide x 18 1/2 inches tall (when open)
- Care instructions: Wash the bar mat, capsule holder, water reservoir, and glass bottles in hot soapy water. Wipe the machine, including the bar code scanner, down with a cloth damped with warm water and mild soap. To sanitize the machine add water and sanitizing solution to each glass bottle and water reservoir and run through rinse mode, dispense the cleaner, and repeat this process four more times.
- Price at the time of publish: $449
The Bottom Line
Both of these cocktail-making machines produce acceptable drinks much faster than you can by hand and with less work—though you should still plan to add garnishes and to adjust the dilution to taste with water or extra mixing with ice. The Bev makes a more concentrated, albeit smaller, cocktail that can be easier to adjust to taste since it has less water in it. The Bartesian offers a more balanced flavor drink-to-drink, though it can be fussier to use if you want both rum- and gin-based drinks.
What’s the best cocktail machine?
If you’re looking to outsource your bartending needs, we recommend both of the models we tested for this review. The Bev is less expensive and might have an easier time fitting in under kitchen cabinets. The Bartesian looks sleeker and has a screen to help walk you through the cocktail-making process.
Is a cocktail machine worth it?
If you entertain frequently or enjoy cocktails during the week, it can be, but the machines are expensive and with capsules starting at about $2.25 each, you pay for the convenience. But if you prefer simple cocktails—like an old fashioned— these machines can be overkill.
Can I use other spirits with a cocktail machine?
Not really. While technically you can load any liquid into the machine, Bartesian designs the capsules to work with the five base spirits. If you want to use brandy or wine, the resulting drink likely won’t be that tasty.