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Trendinista: Cocktail, beer programs get high-tech boost

Trendinista: Cocktail, beer programs get high-tech boost

• Meet the robot bartender-in-a-box • Supplier introduces smartphone app and connected cocktail shaker • A barista-like experience for beer-drinkers

Let's hope customers who embrace technology as part of their dining experience will feel the same way when they drink in restaurant bars. Inventors are set to introduce clever new devices designed to provide a better drinking experience for patrons while boosting efficiency and profitability for the bar. Two products aim to bring digital precision to the drink-making process; two others let bartenders create high-end flavors when pouring low-end whiskey and beer.

Earlier this year we reported on the Monsieur, the robot bartender-in-a-box that uses artificial intelligence to make drinks at the push of the button. It was a Kickstarter-funded venture when we wrote about it in September. Its initial success—the original model sold out quickly and new orders have been wait-listed ever since—has now attracted mainstream financial backing. Outside investors have sunk $2 million into Monsieur and the company is ready to move forward beyond its initial test restaurant and bar installations in Atlanta.

"We are in pilot with several NBA arenas, one of the top hotel brands that has over 4,000 locations, and a popular movie theater brand that has over 500 locations," cofounder and c.e.o. Barry Givens told TechCrunch. Presuming its kinks, if any, get worked out in these large-scale tests, the Monsieur could be available for purchase by restaurants soon.

Don't want a robot bartender but wish your human bartenders did a better a job? A San Francisco company called Magnified Self has a solution: B4RM4N, a smartphone app and connected cocktail shaker it says "eliminates the scale, measuring cup and skills needed to craft the perfect cocktail."

The target market is home consumers, but a quick look at the product video will have many restaurant operators dreaming about how well it could work for them.

Producing well-crafted drinks would be a can't-miss proposition with this device, and it could double as an in-house training device that would make bartender school redundant. If you╒ve ever wished there was a no-brainer device that would put an end to rookie mistakes by your bar staff, your time may have come.

Monsieur and B4RM4N are all about precision, but the engineers at British product development firm Cambridge Consultants are taking the opposite approach. Their new product, the Hoppier, gives bartenders wide latitude in flavor creation when pouring their customers a beer. Inexpensive tap beer can acquire craft-like flavors after a trip through the Hoppier.

The Hoppier creates "a barista-type experience for beer drinkers, with the barman adjusting the 'hoppiness' level of each pint on demand," the company says in a release. "It also opens up the possibility of introducing new flavors into beer."

"Essentially, we're making an 'espresso' of beer," says Edward Brunner, head of food and beverage systems at Cambridge Consultants. "By adding extra hops at the point of dispense, their volatile aromas are as fresh and intense as possible. Additionally, the aroma of the finished pint can be adjusted by increasing or decreasing the quantity of hops and by changing the type of hops used."  Watch it in action here:

Time will tell if, in the microbrew/craftbrew era, restaurant bar customers are interested in altering the taste of their beer. But the success of the funding campaign for Whiskey Elements indicates the market for alcoholic beverage customization tools might be gaining steam. This product, which comes from Portland, OR-based Time & Oak, creates a customized whiskey flavor in 24 hours.

Time & Oak sought to raise $18,000 in startup capital via Kickstarter. So far, 5,005 backers have pledged $195,982, indicating a strong level of interest among some consumers.

It's a lot of upfront money for a process that basically involves dropping a stick of wood into a bottle of whiskey:

Here's the pitch:

"After a year of development, six patents filed, hundreds of samples tested, three ovens destroyed and a couple nights we do't really remember, you can now get three years of aging 'effects' (time travel not included) in just 24 hours, and have complete control over the flavor."

Whiskey Elements doesn't stir in flavor additives. Instead, the company has discovered a way to reproduce the effects of barrel-aging in a day. "In a way, we redesigned the whiskey barrel by removing the barrel and developing a proprietary curing method to replace its presence in the aging process," company founders say.

Time & Oak is set to start shipping Whiskey Element products in December. Two "elements," enough to flavor a half-gallon of whiskey, cost $12.

One attraction for restaurant operators is that this process makes well whiskey taste like top-shelf products, no additives or chemicals required. If you want to make high-end cocktails on the cheap, or if you just want to have something your competitors do not, Whiskey Elements might be for you.

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