Today Drinkworks, a joint venture of Keurig Dr. Pepper and Anheuser-Busch, unveiled its first product: a countertop appliance which can prepare cocktails, ciders, and beers with the press of a button.
Available through an early access program in St. Louis, Missouri, the Drinkworks Home Bar is a pod-based system that can chill, mix and carbonate a variety of alcoholic beverages, from Margaritas to Mai Tai’s. Initially, there are twenty-four boozy pods to choose from, developed by “mixologists and beverage scientists,” according to the press release. The appliance also pairs with your smartphone to give system info and “fun tips.”
Though cocktails seem to be their main focus, you can also buy flights of beer pods, which include (surprise!) brews from Anheuser-Busch, including Beck’s beer and Stella Cidre. I can’t imagine a beer made by adding water to a flavor-concentrated pod filled with malt and hops would taste better than one from a can (or brewed from a PicoBrew), but I suppose some people would pay for the draft experience.
A limited number of Drinkworks drinkmakers are available for pre-order in St. Louis. While they’ll initially be available solely on the Drinkworks website, on November 19th local St. Louis brick-and-mortar stores, including all Total Wine & More locations, will carry them. They’ll roll out to more locations in Missouri and Florida in 2019, and California in 2020.
When Keurig announced plans to buy the Dr. Pepper Snapple Group earlier this year, my colleague Chris guessed that some sort of pod-based cold beverage appliance wouldn’t be too far behind — though maybe not one that sprouted soda. It seems Keurig was thinking along the same lines and decided to try to enter the booming craft cocktail market instead. By launching a home appliance, they’re also cashing in on the growing number of consumers who are staying home to get their buzz on (we’re looking at you, lazy millennials).
Drinkworks will have to compete with other at-home cocktail concocters, and the one that immediately springs to mind is Bartesian, which makes a countertop device that also mixes up pod-based cocktails, and also retails for $299. Bartesian offers six cocktail pods which it sells for $11.99 for a pack of six; almost half the price of the Drinkworks pods.
While they might not have the massive warchests, reach, or name recognition of Keurig or Anheuser-Busch, Bartesian did raise a seven-figure round in September of last year from Beam Suntory and has handed their manufacturing operations off to Hamilton Beach.
It also has a head start: Bartesian shipped the first round of its countertop drink-mixing robot to Kickstarter backers in June of this year (in fact, it shipped two). While the next round, which is available for preorder now, won’t ship until March of 2019, that’s basically in line with Keurig’s timeline to ship its preordered Drinkworks machines sometime in 2019, at least in Missouri and Florida.
The other thing to consider is that Dr. Pepper and Anheuser Busch bring with them a number of well-known brands. That recognition could come into play as a key differentiator for cocktail mixes: for example, people might gravitate towards a Moscow Mule made with Canada Dry ginger ale, or a G&T made with Shweppes tonic. As of now they don’t seem to be using any Dr. Pepper branded sodas in their cocktails, but it’s something to keep an eye out for.
While something like branded vs. unbranded soda in your mixed drink may be a relatively small detail, Bartesian and Keurig are competing in a zero-sum game. I can’t imagine why anyone in the world would want two pod-based countertop cocktail machines, so any little thing that could give them an edge is worth exploring. It seems like this next year (or two) will be a race to see which robotic bartender can carve out the most space in this niche market — and on our countertops.