I tried Oprah Winfrey’s favorite cocktail machine, which whips up complicated drinks in a matter of seconds

  • I recently tested out Bartesian, Oprah Winfrey's favorite cocktail-making machine. 
  • Bartesian makes complex cocktails within seconds through it's lightweight and interactive machine, which mixes everything together in a small capsule. 
  • The capsules — which have all the bitters, extracts, and juice each drink needs — cost just $2.50 each, and there are more than 30 cocktail varieties available. 
  • I was impressed with the quality of the cocktails and loved that I was able to experiment with drinks I've never tried before. 
  • Bartesian provided Insider with a machine for the purpose of this review. 
  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

What if you could make yourself a cocktail with just the push of a button? 

That's the concept behind Bartesian, a premium cocktail-making machine that has risen in popularity ever since Oprah Winfrey added it to her list of favorite things in 2019. 

The brand launched just six months before the pandemic hit. And after a year of mostly drinking red wine and White Claws, I decided to see if Bartesian could really change the at-home cocktail game. 

While the $350 machine comes with a hefty price tag, I was surprised to find that it could make an incredible variety of cocktails. They all tasted far better than any I had tried to make in my own kitchen — and I barely had to lift a finger.

But before I tell you how the machine works, let me give you a little background.

Ryan Close, the CEO and founder of Bartesian, is a former bartender. And he'll be the first to tell you he was lousy at it.

"I was a bartender for six years, and I still couldn't make a solid Old Fashioned for my wife," he told me. "I'd try and make it, the kitchen would be a mess, there'd be ingredients everywhere, and she'd be like, 'Eh, it's not sweet enough.' It's not that complex a cocktail, and I still can't do it." 

Close wondered why people could easily make a cup of coffee at home, but never a good cocktail. And he realized there was a gap in the market when it came to helping people entertain as well. 

"In college, you've got your Solo cups, booze, juices, and mix on the kitchen table," he said. "But even when I got married and had friends over and dinner parties, I was doing the same thing. No one makes a drink. They're gonna make a rum and coke or vodka soda. I'm still not adulting here."

So Ryan Close teamed up with a group of engineers to try and launch the perfect cocktail-making machine. The process took six years.

Close went on Kickstarter, where he said Bartesian was in the top 1% in the fundraising site's history. But many venture capitalists who wanted to invest insisted that the machine was a commercial product meant for hotels and stadiums. 

"We agreed that it is, but we really believed that people would want this in their home," Close said. "The idea is that it minimizes space, you can use the booze that's collecting dust in your liquor cabinet, and have a consistent cocktail. Plus, you don't need to go out as much either."

I heard about Bartesian just before New York went into lockdown. Now that my bar-hopping days were over indefinitely, it seemed like the perfect time to test it out.

I've made a few successful cocktails in quarantine (including Ina Garten's cosmopolitan), but I've also seen firsthand how much work some of them can take. Never try to make four mojitos in 10 minutes — you will fail. 

Plus, I quickly learned that a lot of cocktails require small amounts of certain ingredients — from bitters to juices — that aren't exactly cheap. So the idea of having everything in one little $2.50 capsule (more on that in a second) was already very enticing.

I opened my box to find the Bartesian machine inside, along with five glass reservoirs.

I liked that the Bartesian was lightweight, and the reservoirs looked chic along with it — their spots clearly labeled on the base of the machine. I had been expecting something big and hefty, but this was sleek.

Close told me that he set out to make a cocktail maker that was interactive, one where people could actually watch their drink being made in front of them. 

"People didn't want to just push a button and have something come out of this black box," he said. "They wanted to see activity. That's part of the fun of cocktails, interacting with them."

Each glass reservoir has a specific label to signify what type of liquor should go inside.

There's one reservoir each for rum, gin, whiskey, vodka, and tequila. 

Close said that, during his research, he learned that people wanted to put their own alcohol in the machine — rather than having it in a capsule — because they cared about the liquor brand. 

"It was, 'We want to make sure it's Tito's vodka, or Maker's Mark,'" he said. "They weren't brand agnostic." 

As someone who can no longer touch Smirnoff due to my college years, I very much understood where this research was coming from. 

Last but not least were the actual capsules, which come in nicely-designed boxes.

On the front of each box is the name and picture of the cocktail, while the back lists the ingredients and calories.

While most of the boxes indicated which liquors were used for the drink (like tequila for margaritas), some didn't. This was confusing at times when I'd think about making a drink, but wasn't sure if I had enough liquor leftover to mix it with.

Inside each box are six capsules, which have all the bitters, extracts, and juice concentrates that you would need to make the cocktail.

Close told me there are no artificial colors or flavors in the capsules, which are recyclable and can last four months outside of the refrigerator (inside the fridge, they can last up to six months). 

"We're not going to put out a capsule that's not recyclable," Close said. "We've truly done the research. By using Bartesian you reduce your carbon footprint significantly because you're not buying those jugs of cranberry or orange juice." 

"To be able to make these exact cocktails with all the complexities, without using artificial colors or flavors, was very complicated," he added. "But we're not going to start putting things you can't pronounce in the capsule. It has to be something I would drink personally." 

I liked that the capsules were transparent, adding to the playful nature of the machine. I could actually see the color of each juice inside, from the hot-pink Cosmopolitan to the royal-purple Aviation.

Before I started making my cocktails, I filled up the water reservoir hidden in the back of the machine.

This reservoir is how the Bartesian can make cocktails at varying levels of strength. Depending on which level you pick, the machine knows how much water to add to the capsule so that it can reconstitute the ingredients.

Then it was time for the fun to begin. First, I opened the lid of the machine so I could insert my capsule.

Bartesian has been compared to a Nespresso machine for the similar way in which they work with pods and capsules.

Each capsule has a barcode so that the machine can identify which drink you're trying to make — whether it be a Negroni or a margarita.

Once I closed the lid, the machine knew exactly what cocktail I wanted to make and told me what kind of receptacle to put underneath it.

If you're making a Whiskey Smash, for example, it'll tell you to fill a lowball glass with ice. And if you're whipping up a drink like a cosmo — which needs to be shaken with ice — Bartesian will tell you to use a cocktail shaker instead.

This is another great feature of the machine that I really appreciated. It added to that feeling of interactivity, plus I learned a little more about which glasses are best to use with which cocktails.

Next, the machine asked me how strong I wanted my cocktail, which was definitely my favorite feature.

It's been a long time since I was the stereotypical college student asking a bartender for "whatever drink is strongest" (cringe). But, no matter what your age, I think we've all had those days where you could use something extra

So I love that Bartesian has the option — via its touch screen console — to add a little more liquor. And, believe me, it's a machine of its word. My friends and family who helped test out these drinks over the last few months were shocked at how strong they could be. 

But you can also opt for the regular, light, or mocktail option, which makes Bartesian accessible to everyone. 

"We talked to bartenders who saw a significant uptick in people ordering mocktails at bars and lounges," Close told me. "So we wanted to give people an option. If they're coming over, they should be able to enjoy Bartesian as well and feel like they're part of the party, even if they're laying off the booze. And my kids drink the mocktails all the time."

Then it was time for the machine to get mixing.

The Bartesian makes this whirring sound as it works its magic, and the first thing you see is the vessel with your liquor of choice starting to bubble.

As Close explained to me, everything in the machine has its own line to avoid any chance of cross-contamination. 

"There's channels and tubes inside the capsule, and everything is being pulled into that capsule and mixed inside there," he said. "It doesn't seem like a big deal, but if you put in a cosmo and then you make a margarita, there's juice that could create mold in the lines. You don't want anything touching juice anywhere other than where the cocktail comes out." 

This allows the machine to be completely self-cleaning, meaning you can make a variety of cocktails one right after the other — something I found extremely convenient.

Within seconds, my cocktail was ready to go.

I have to admit, I didn't have the highest expectations when I first heard about Bartesian. I figured the cocktails would taste watered down, that they'd be paltry imitations of the drinks I had at my favorite New York bars. But once sip promptly proved me wrong. 

Close told me that Bartesian worked with food scientists and award-winning mixologists to nail the recipe of each drink. They ran 76 tests just to get the perfect margarita. And that effort definitely shows. 

The margarita is just the right balance of tart and sweet, with none of that artificial-lime flavor you so often get with store-bought mixes. The Rum Breeze was nice and fruity, the complex notes of the cocktail easily shining through the juice. My Uptown Rocks was sweet and refreshing, reminding me of the kind of cocktail I'd order on a Manhattan rooftop in the middle of summer. And the cosmo tasted almost exactly like the one I had made with Garten's recipe!

What I've especially loved about the Bartesian is that I've gotten to try so many cocktails I've never had before.

Cocktails in New York City (and many other major cities, of course) don't exactly come cheap. You can pay anywhere from $14 to $18 for just one drink. And with a price tag that high, experimenting becomes a lot less appealing. So I mostly just stuck to what I knew I'd love, choosing rum cocktails and almost always avoiding vodka. 

But with Bartesian's system, you can experiment with a cocktail at one-sixth of the price. A $15 box gets you six cocktails, rather than just one. So if you don't like the new drink, you can just give the other five capsules to someone else at home.

Since testing out the Bartesian, I've discovered a love for Lemon Drops and Kamikazes, along with Aviations and Uptown Rocks. I've also found that some drinks just aren't for me, like the Whiskey Smash and Long Island Iced Tea. But broadening my own cocktail horizons has been incredibly fun.

And the company is constantly researching new drinks to add to its growing arsenal.

Close said that the company first wanted to perfect "the most popular cocktails of all time," launching 15 classic drinks with the machine's release. Now, there's more than 30 different cocktails available, in addition to new drinks in special limited-edition packages. 

The $20 holiday collection box, for example, includes cocktails like spiced coffee, apple pie, and the Clausmopolitan — a cosmo made with edible shimmer. 

Bartesian has also launched a monthly subscription service, where you can get anywhere from three to eight six-packs a month priced from $42 to $104.

If you love entertaining and trying new cocktails, Bartesian is definitely a worthy investment.

When I asked Close about the $350 cost, he told me that Bartesian is worth the price tag for people who love throwing parties, or just want to enjoy a cocktail while hanging out with their kids or having a quiet night in.

And after testing the Bartesian over the course of the last few months, I have to say I agree with Close's assessment. It was obvious to me from the beginning that the machine would be great for hotel rooms and airport lounges. But as I got to try more cocktails and watch my family interact with the machine, I saw how great an investment a Bartesian could be — especially when we're allowed to get together in big groups again. 

And with bars closed throughout most of the US for who knows how long (sigh), Bartesian seems to have come at the perfect time. It's definitely a splurge, but it could be the perfect holiday gift for cocktail lovers stuck at home. 

We may not be able to join our friends at the local bar on a Friday night, or flirt with our favorite bartender. But, with Bartesian at least, we can still have a great drink. 

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