On this episode of the “VinePair Podcast,” hosts Adam Teeter and Zach Geballe discuss Diageo’s new Espresso Martini machine, which can make the cocktail in a mere 20 seconds, as well as what this means for automation’s role in the bar industry’s future. Tune in for more.
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Adam Teeter: From VinePair’s New York City headquarters, I’m Adam Teeter.
Zach Geballe: In Seattle, Washington. I’m Zach Geballe.
A: This is “The VinePair Podcast,” Monday edition. Wow, March is crazy, it’s just like we’re just marching on through.
Z: Man, you’re ready to be a dad. You got those dad jokes on deck.
A: What have you been drinking, Zach?
Z: Good question. A couple of things lately that have been enjoyable. You’ll probably hear me reference this thing a lot in the coming months because it’s become this weird crusade of mine. Two of them, actually, I have two that are relevant. One is drinking a really nice bottle of DOCG Prosecco from Collalto the other day, and people do not drink enough DOCG Prosecco like it is. One of my hobby horses for 2023 is there’s so much excellent Prosecco out there. It’s so much more affordable than even in a lot of cases your standard bottlings of Champagne to say nothing of your more high-end bottlings. It’s just like it’s the f*cking Rodney Dangerfield of wine — it gets no respect. Sorry, that is an old-person reference. I am officially almost an old person, so I’ll try to think of someone who is a more contemporary person. It’s just that I really enjoy Prosecco. I found myself drinking more and more of these DOCG bottlings. Just on the one hand, I’m like I guess I should not be lobbying for it it’s become more popular because right now it’s alarmingly affordable. I do believe that it’s a category that should — because it’s so weird because Prosecco as a category is so incredibly popular and yet these slightly higher-end bottlings — again, we’re talking about bottles at retail for $25, $30. We’re not talking like $75 bottles of Prosecco here. It’s hard to find a bottle over $50 unless you really look, and many of these great bottles are, like I said, 25, 30 bucks retail. Yet it’s just like you can find them, but just people are not buying them, I don’t think. I’m still trying to investigate why this is. One day I hope to have an article on VinePair about this, struggling to get people to explain to me why they don’t sell Prosecco or why they don’t carry Prosecco. That was one thing. Then the other is we’re in the early stages of Taste Washington wine month here. Next weekend I’ll be at — or this coming weekend, I suppose, a very large conference, which will be the first time that they’ve held it since 2019. It was one of the first things that I recall being — intending to attend that got canceled when Covid cropped up in 2020. It’s just been this interesting — it’s like this great chance for me to get a little bit more of a feel for what’s going on in the local wine industry. I’m sure I will have some comments next week about what I’ve tasted. The one thing that I had recently that I really enjoyed was just a beautiful bottle of Merlot from Betz Family Winery here in Washington. It’s a Merlot-centric blend. Adam, I guess I’m out here campaigning for all the unpopular things. Expensive Prosecco, relatively expensive Prosecco, Merlot. That’s me today. How about you, Adam? What have you been drinking?
A: I mentioned on Friday, like a few of the wines I had in — Napa so we don’t have to really talk much more about that. Like I said, I thought it was a little crazy. I didn’t drink a lot of Napa or Sonoma wines, the only two that I had that one fateful night. When I came back I took some break, but then towards the end of last week, actually, Naomi had the gala for her organization that she’s the executive director of her nonprofit. There was an open bar and everyone always asks me what they should order. Every time I walk the bar like, “Oh, are you Naomi’s husband? Oh, you have VinePair. Cool, what should we order?” It’s like there’s so much pressure. The one thing is that they had vermouth on the bar but no shaker, so they couldn’t make anyone Martinis. I had some Knob Creek 9-year, which was great, and that’s really all. I had recently like a glass or two trying to keep it all together for Naomi and just be there. We were seated at different tables because I had to be with the young patrons’ table. It was not a lot, man, not a lot at all. I’m looking forward to maybe getting ready to not drink as much — maybe drink more, I don’t know, in fatherhood. You tell me.
Z: Drink differently. I think it’s what it means to you.
A: Yes. You definitely don’t want a hangover, so that’s something that — I mean I don’t get them that often anyways. I try to be very intelligent in how I drink and how much so that I don’t get used to them because I don’t like them, but still every once in a while they happen. I’ve just been led to believe that if it accidentally happens in the future I’m going to regret it greatly.
Z: Parenting hung over, no fun and parenting with a newborn could be a thing that happens at any moment of day or night, so you gotta keep it a little bit restrained. The flip side is like, as I think I’ve said on the pod a number of times, there is a satisfaction I derive from the drink I have after my children are asleep. I’m not sure any other drinking occasion in my life can quite match. It’s not necessarily better, it’s just special.
A: It’s like this is my time.
Z: Exactly. Oh, you will come to know soon.
A: What we want to talk about is actually — the conversation is based around another — guys listen to our email. Y’all are the best emailing in like crazy, so keeping a million questions. A listener emailed us and said the subject was something like, do you think this is the future of the Espresso Martini? Basically what they were talking about was — we’ve covered this now for the public — for VinePair as well. Ketel One, first of all, I want to say I think this is effing brilliant. I can’t believe that no one has done this yet. Ketel One made a machine that all you do is add Ketel One, Kahlua or your other coffee liqueur. I’m assuming now that Diageo owns Mr Black, they’ll probably start telling you to use Mr Black, so it was those two things. What else do you add, Zach? Oh, and cold brew concentrates, to the machine in the proportions that it tells you to add them. It’s your proportions and then you plug the machine in and put it behind the bar, and it seems to me from the pictures and videos I’ve looked at it looks as big as an espresso machine that a bar would normally have anyways or as big as those Jäger machines.
Z: That’s the first thing I thought of when I saw it.
A: For pulling the cold Jäger shots. You put on the back bar and it plugs in and it generates its own nitrogen, which I’m unclear how it does that but it says it generates its own nitrogen. You pull the tap like you would pour a tap of beer, and it pulls the perfect Espresso Martini with a beautifully foamed head, cold. Then all you do — I guess it must somehow dilute a little bit because that’s what you’re losing with the shaking. I’m sure you add water as well. In this writeup, it didn’t say that you added water, but there’s no way you’re not also adding water. Then all the bartender has to do is add three coffee beans at the top and you can make an Espresso Martini in — it’s 20 seconds. Takes 20 seconds to pour the Espresso Martini into the Martini glass and it can take many, many minutes to make a real Espresso Martini. This has been the big issue for bartenders is they all like it because it sells, but they also all hate it because it’s a very involved drink. You have to pull a shot of espresso, or you have to go add the coffee, and then you put it on the shaker tin. It has to be shaken fresh because you’re trying to get that head. The question we have, do you think this is the future for this drink? Also what’s brilliant is this is obviously a marketing ploy by Ketel One, I’m sure. I think it’s around a $1,200 or $1,300 machine, but the bar gets it for free obviously if they probably buy enough Ketel One.
Z: You would have to think so.
A: Some discount anyway. I don’t know how that-
Z: For those of you who weren’t aware, bars were not paying for those Jägermeister dispensers. Let’s be very clear.
A: You get it for free. I don’t know. What do you think? I think it’s — dude, brilliant. Again, like I said, I’m shocked that another vodka brand did not create this already but just f*cking brilliant.
Z: No, I think for this specific application here I think this is a cool idea. I think there’s a lot that I want to say about this more broadly in a minute about these time-saving steps slash possibly tiptoeing into the conversation around automation in bars. I think the outlook is a little bit murkier. I think to come back to the specifics of this I think it’s basically — again, the Jäger machine is I think the best analogy because its success and its long-term utility and outlook are connected to, does the Espresso Martini remain popular enough to necessitate a machine behind your bar? In this moment now if you’re selling 100 Espresso Martinis a night, absolutely. If in two years you’re selling six, well you’re not going to take up the bar — even if it was free, you’re not going to take up valuable real estate with a machine that gets used on occasion; you’ll make those ones by hand. That’s just what you’ll have to do. There’s a question about whether this specific trend will last. I think there are reasons to think that the Espresso Martini will probably have some staying power. I think sometimes drinks just — it had its first run at it, but without the social media photographic kind of oomph behind it in the early 2000 it just — I don’t think it grew to the point where it could have. Now I think it will probably remain an after-dinner, going-out cocktail staple because it does what it does really well and it’s got a lot of appeal to a wide range of drinkers. In that sense, I think, yes, a great machine or great idea will definitely save — in bars that are selling a lot of these I think it will save a lot of time. I think the question for you, Adam, is to what extent do you think the appeal of the Espresso Martini as a drink is about the idea, whether people acknowledge this or not, that it is a pain in the ass for the bartender. I’ve always wondered if — when I was bartending every once in a while we get a call for a Spanish Coffee. For those of you who haven’t made it before or had it before, Spanish Coffee is a great drink that requires the bartender to light overproof rum on fire while they’re making it. It’s a process. Inevitably, almost always whenever I would get one ordered people at the bar would be like, oh, what’s that? Then you find yourself making five of them, which f*cking sucks because it’s time-consuming. Yes, like most people, I enjoy lighting things on fire. It gets old when you got a rail full of tickets backing up. I think that part of the reason people liked ordering it was because they liked watching me work. Part of the reason you sit at the bar is to watch the bartender do their thing. There’s a part of me that wonders if people are going to be turned off by the idea of an Espresso Martini comes off a tap. In the same way that I think there are people who don’t order kegged or pre-batched cocktails in some cases because they’re like, well, I want the bartender to make my drink fresh. I don’t just want them to put a glass down there, pour something out of a bottle, or spigot, or whatever and move on. I think that there’s maybe some pushback to this. I think in a lot of places people are not getting served at the bar directly or just they want the visual appeal. If the drink can deliver that then it probably will go far enough. What do you think?
A: Here’s where I think it’s not going to be an issue, and I think it’s going to be readily embraced. The thing with the Espresso Martini that’s so interesting is it’s one of these cocktails that’s getting ordered f*cking everywhere at-
Z: That’s true.
A: -your high-end cocktail bar at your dive. I’ve seen people order at dive bars and I’m like, what are you doing? Which is funny because I don’t see a lot of people ordering Old Fashioneds at dive bars. I don’t see a lot of people ordering even traditional Martinis at dive bars. I think what we have to accept is that at least right now in our current culture the Espresso Martini is the Red Bull and vodka, it is. It is what people want to continue to stay out drinking. They want this — exactly what the quote was, f*ck me up and wake me up and f*ck me up. That’s what they want. In that regard, at certain places, this machine will be 100 percent embraced. It’s probably going to be much more consistent than what was being made behind the bar in the first place. I’m sure there are certain bartenders that like, as you said, cannot be bothered like, oh, f*ck, this again, and they just get lazy with it because they’re busy and they have other things to do. Probably certain restaurants where — I could see this, especially where this has been rolled out initially, and I think it’s perfect is Philly. Philly has a lot of these tavern-type places where there’s a restaurant, but there’s also a bar scene. You know what I’m talking about? At those places, I’m sure they get a lot of Espresso Martini and just like look, yes, I have a bunch of regulars sitting here just drinking at the bar not eating dinner. I’m also in charge of getting the drinks out for all of the people in the restaurant who want wine by the glass and sh*t. If I could just avoid making an Espresso Martinis and I could just pour it from a draft that would be awesome. As long as those Espresso Martinis stay affordably priced I don’t think anyone’s going to have an issue with it. If it’s a $10 or a $12 Espresso Martini, I’m f*cking here for it. I think the issue will be if certain bars like this is a $20 Espresso Martini, and you see it pulled from draft you’re like, no, I’m not going to do that. I think that’s where people will start to have this issue. In general, I feel most people are going to be like I’m totally fine with this. You’re giving me a drink that is way more delicious than I think you could make because of all the other factors and it’s coming very fast. I can order multiple of them and my group of 10 can now just get a round in what would be like three minutes. That’s dope. I’m here for two and a half minutes. I definitely think that’s where it’s going to work. At a high-end cocktail bar, no, I’m sorry, to the bartenders at PDT and Death & Co and stuff. First of all, they would never allow this machine in their bar anyway so it’s fine. They’re still going to make it. I’m sure they’re the ones that’ll be like, gosh, this amazing program and you just want to Espresso Martini. You should go to the bar down the block that has the machine. In the other bars I think it’s great. I do think you will have — the bigger conversation will be over price. How much is someone willing to pay for that? I do think that’s the issue. Dude, so many cocktails, especially to a lot of these big-format bars that are built for speed are batched anyways and the consumer usually doesn’t know it.
Z: Because those are not the bar where someone sits at the bar and pays attention to the bartender. You’re there at a table with your friends or you’re packed in. The bar is the place where you fight your way to the front to get a drink. There aren’t people sitting there watching the bartender execute their craft?
A: No. You know where else I think that this is brilliant? It’s the airport bar. Do you know how many people when I was sitting down in the Delta lounge I saw ordering Espresso Martinis? It was a lot for these bartenders in the Sky Lounge because I was like, oh, great. Now I’ve got to do this. People are traveling for business. There’s a bunch of people who just literally probably want whiskey on the rocks, or a Scotch and soda, or — that’s an older-school drink. A gin and tonic or something. Now here I am making an Espresso Martini for this group of people that are on their way to holiday or something and want to be really awake for this flight while also being f*cked up. There again it’s perfect. Put it behind the bar, let it do its thing and go. I wonder if they’ve patented this, or I wonder if this is patentable. It’s very smart.
Z: Yes. I’m very curious too about, to broaden this conversation out just a little bit for a little while. One is I was thinking about this when we saw this news and I was like, what? Are there any other drinks where this would make any sense? Is there anything else that’s a combination popular enough and time-consuming enough to be a thing that would make any sense? You’re not going to find a Ramos Gin Fizz machine even if inventing one would save bartenders some trouble. Obviously, that drink is not popular enough to necessitate a special construction. I thought, oh, well, actually the answer to this is something that already exists, which is the various slushy machines that exist to make frozen drinks. Blending a drink by hand takes more time and you get less consistency. The frozen Margarita machines and stuff are already the predecessor to this in a lot of ways along with obviously the Jäger boxes or whatever we call them. The other thing though is, to what extent does — we’ve talked about this in a few ways on the pod before, but are we seeing — the other reason for these things being appealing and perhaps being more and more prevalent is as we keep talking about on the pod, there are real labor issues in the service industry. It’s harder for places to staff and anything that allows for expediting service making it less labor intensive in certain ways is going to have an audience. I don’t know. We’ve seen various things from robot bartenders to drink machines that will make a wider array of drinks. I think those are tech questions that I’m not equipped to answer. I’ve tried a couple of the drink machines and then I’d say not overwhelmed by their response. The drinks are fine, but they’re not great. They have an awkward — for home use, they’re awkwardly priced where it’s more expensive than just buying the ingredients and making it yourself. Even if it’s less expensive, of course than going out and getting the same drink at a bar. I do wonder to what extent we see these things. Are they just one-off kind of, oh, that’s a cute machine that we use for a single drink. Are we thinking we’re going to see bars, again, you mentioned airport bars and think of those as being an example where undeniably the concessionaires that own those and operate those would love to have less staff because that’s probably their biggest rent. Outside of rent probably their biggest expense, and if they could replace a bartender with a machine they would probably gladly do so.
A: Totally. I think this whole thing is really just amazing. I think what also makes this really cool for me is that this to me is different than the RTDs because that I’ve always pushed back against. You’ll be like, well — I think in certain settings, again, the airport bar, concert venues, et cetera, I’m a huge fan of the Tip Top Espresso Martini. I think that’s a great move because you can sell those there. All the bartender has to do is pop the can, pour into the shaker with ice, shake it so that it gets the foamy head, and hand it to the consumer. Again, that’s probably another solution. In the bar, bar setting where you want to feel like it was at least made, come on, man, back in the kitchen they’re batching sh*t. That’s all happening. When you order this fancy pasta they’re not chopping the carrots and things like the mirepoix right then. That’s all ready to go and probably already done and they’re just assembling. I think that as we’re becoming more and more aware of these kinds of things it’s not the worst idea for these to exist. Again, as long as you’re in the right place, right time, right setting, priced fairly. Again, I know people have a huge issue with batch cocktails and even fancy cocktail bars like, oh, this was batched, I didn’t see you make it. I don’t want to pay $25. Again, I don’t have that big of a problem with that as long as it’s high-quality ingredients and it’s something I can’t get elsewhere like a batch Negroni at a high-quality bar. Come on, man. These other ones I get some signature cocktail that is just going to make it a lot easier and more consistent for it to have been batched. I’m good with that. We were talking a bunch about Hawksmoor. Hawksmoor’s gin Martini that they serve are like negative 7 degrees but they serve that. That’s a batch cocktail.
Z: Yes. It would have to be to be a thing that they can serve.
A: Exactly. That’s what makes it even cooler. I really don’t have a problem with those things as long as we are out in the open about it all, and so this to me is that same kind of thing like, oh, you can see it on the bars, it’s great advertising. My one thing I’ve always wondered about, maybe someone who’s in the industry can fill us in on this. If you take the machine in and you get it from the brand, what happens if you decide down the road that you don’t want to use Ketel One? It’s not like it will not work, are you required to, is that weird? Do people do that if people don’t want Jäger in their machines, like poured other cold things out of it? I get that the machine is fully branded Ketel One Espresso Martini, so you’re hoping the person just realized maybe we should just keep Ketel One in it. You could see it in some places and be like, f*ck it, I want to put whatever we want in here. Is there a thing? Could you lose the machine? Could they take it back?
Z: That’s a good question right in. I have one question, which is, is the VinePair bar getting one of these?
A: Look Diageo, if you listen, you want to send us an Espresso Martini machine, we will totally take it. We will put it on the bar, and we will make Espresso Martinis. I’m not a big Espresso Martini fan. I don’t like the whole heart beating on my chest thing, that’s not for me.
Z: Oh, to come full circle Adam you will be by the time baby Teeter is here.
A: Dude, this is why I’ve also never done and will never do cocaine. I’m just not interested in that sh*t. I just don’t-
Z: Amen to that.
A: I don’t need it, but some people love it. I think everyone can tell who listens, I have enough energy already.
Z: It’s true.
A: I don’t need all the other things, but I’m sure there’s some members of the staff that would love an Espresso Martini machine. We could have an Espresso Martini party just let us know.
A: Ketel One hit us up, give us that Espresso Martini machine, or if anyone else who listens is making the Espresso Martini machine we’ll take it, or if you have any other kind of cool drinks machines. I think innovation is really cool and I think what’s happening in spirits with stuff like this is really interesting. Hit us up and let us know. Zach, I’ll speak to you Friday. Everyone else, have a great week.
Z: Sounds great.
Thanks so much for listening to the “VinePair Podcast,” the flagship podcast of the VinePair Podcast Network. If you love listening to this show or even if you don’t, but I really hope that you do, as much as we really do love making it, then please drop us a review or a rating wherever it is that you get your podcast. Whether that be iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, anywhere.
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Thank you as well to the entire VinePair staff and everyone who’s been involved in making VinePair as special as it’s become. Thanks again for listening and we’ll see you next week.