Different groundbreaking digital tools have infiltrated just about every aspect of the modern world as technology continues to improve at an ever faster rate. But one area that’s been largely untouched by tech is the bar scene. You can still find bartenders crafting drinks the same way they have for hundreds of years at the local watering hole.
That may change soon with the help of 3D printed technology recently debuted to the public as a part of Bulleit’s Frontier Works program, a series of projects and collaborations with cultural creators.
A crowd filled with industry insiders and social media influencers gathered at an abandoned train station in Oakland, California to get a glimpse into the potential future of the alcoholic beverage industry. Guests were served drinks at a giant bar made completely of 3D printed plastic but managed to look like rustic copper, an achievement its architects took pride in after completing the largest node-based printing structure they’d ever taken on.
“[Bulleit] wanted us to go bigger in scale, which is really uncommon and something they deserve credit for,” said Machine Histories principal Jason Pilarski. Computational designer Ryan Oenning compared the task to turning in a rough draft for your master's thesis.
Impressive as the structure was, a much smaller booth adjacent to it drew more attention as the night went on. That’s where German robotics pioneers Benjamin Greimel and Philipp Hornung supervised a robotic arm making 3D printed cocktails.
The two twentysomething wunderkinds worked with local mixologists to concoct a drink with a base consisting of Bulleit Bourbon, Chardonnay grape juice, peach juice and green tea. The arm then dipped droplets of lemon oil into the mixture, which formed various preprogrammed shapes, words and even the Golden Gate Bridge.
What started as a university project for Greimel three years ago is now his full-time job at his company Print A Drink, which holds a patent for the first 3D printing process for beverages and other liquid foods. His first successful “cocktail” was inserting pumpkin seed oil into jelly water. But now, he’s begun to master the far more complex task of getting those droplets to stay hovering in their intended shape while surrounded by alcohol – even after the customer drinks part of the cocktail.
Greimel says that the more alcohol or oil is in a drink, the harder it is to add a 3D element into it. Right now, his cocktails are maxed out at 40 percent alcohol and take about a minute each to make. And they taste delicious -- unfortunately, the company's robotic arm cost 25,000 euros, or roughly $28,500, to buy in Austria with an interface that requires technical training.
So perhaps your local watering hole won’t be willing to commit to this technology in the immediate future. Greimel says he’s in the process of making a smaller, cheaper arm, and it’s easy to imagine upscale bars investing in the niche product as an innovative marketing ploy once it becomes commercially viable.
Though the appeal of watching a skilled bartender shake up a fancy cocktail will likely never lose its luster, Bulleit and Print A Drink prove that even the most ancient of pleasures can add a new dimension of wonder.