The automated cocktail

29 May

The twentieth century brought us many technological marvels designed to spare us the exhausting manual labour involved in opening tin cans (the electric can opener, patented in 1931), slicing food (the electric knife, 1939),  brushing our teeth (the electric toothbrush, 1954) or pleasuring ourselves (the electric vibrator, first patented in 1902). To be honest, it’s surprising that it took as long as it did for the first automatic cocktail dispenser to hit the market.

In 1961 Auto-Bar Systems, a division of Ametek brought out the “Cocktailmatic”. The gizmo was designed, The LA Times reported, for large-scale commercial use, “where dispensing of drinks in a hurry is a problem” (Joe R. Nevarez, “New Dispenser Mixes Drinks Automatically”, Los Angeles Times, 12 June 1961, p. C8).

In an ad Ametek loudly and proudly trumpeted its achievement:

The martinets laughed when we sat down to our Cocktailmatic dispenser and demonstrated how a mere machine could produce scientifically-proportioned martinis, manhattans and other cocktails every time. But the hotel and tavern industry, to whom the problems of the hit-or-miss martini are no joke, is taking our Cocktailmatic to its bosom. Not only is it saving the industry millions a year, but the automatic martini mixers developed by the Auto-Bar Systems division of Ametek, Inc. have enabled any number of bars to step up the horsepower of their martinis without raising prices.

Business Week, issue 1740-1747, (1963), p. 107.

The folks at Industry Week were certainly impressed, particularly with the way the device “counts your drinks on a meter and can be preset to serve dry, very dry, or very, very dry martinis” (Industry Week, vol. 149 [1961], p. 5). Meanwhile, the Hartford Courant admitted that, while the Cocktailmatic might seem “sacrilege to the artist who insists on mixing his own after the fashion of the dedicated salad-tosser”, its inhuman precision made sense to the drinks industry:

Every martini quaffer has his own recipe for the perfect blend of gin and vermouth. But when he orders one away from home, he never knows quite what he’ll get. The new cocktail dispenser is aimed at curing such frustration. It can be dial-set for the flavor and zing the customer requires for lip-smacking. One may imagine the bartender asking: ‘Will that be 90 proof, Sir, with a four-to-one ratio?’ as he spins the knobs. Once the right setting has been discovered, the bibber has only to write the combination on his cuff in order to get the same satisfaction on the next round or the next day . . . It probably has an optional gadget for simply passing a vermouth cork over the rest of the liquor when the customer wants one real dry.

— “The Automated Martini”, Hartford Courant, 19 April 1963, p. 16.

Others sounded a note of caution. “Is this another case of machine taking over for man?” wondered H. R. Clauser in the pages of the always entertaining Materials Engineering. “If it is, the machine better watch out . . . Not only might they become inebriated and start being as obnoxious as many human drunks, but they could conceivably escape and go around getting other machines plastered. Considering some of the sensitive jobs being handled by computers today, a binge of this kind could give the whole world a hangover” (H. R. Clauser, “Last Word”, Materials Engineering, vol. 56: 1 [1962], p. 180).

That would give new meaning to the phrase “a well-oiled machine”.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: