A More Permanent Bartendro Setup January 05 2015, 2 Comments

Over the last few years, Bartendro has remained a go to staple for parties of 10 or more people. But what about Bartendro for the humble home bar? Is it really practical to setup Bartendro for individual use? Well, that depends. We, like you, hate cleaning. So, we've been developing ways to have a more permanently loaded bot that doesn't require constant flushing...that is, until your friends require it at their parties. :)

We've been heading in that direction and recently created these slick bottle toppers that keep dust and fruit flies off your precious booze. As we continue experimenting and developing, we're coming up with even better solutions and hope to get your feedback on them.

If you've been using Bartendro for a while, you'll notice a few things. If an ingredient isn't loaded, the tubing dangles down to the table or surface that the bot is on. Unfortunately, this length is required to get to the bottom of the bottles while allowing a little bit of bottle shifting. You'll also notice that while restocking a bottle, there is a bit of inevitable dripping as you transfer the tubing from one bottle to the next. Finally, you'll notice that over time and prolonged soaking, tubing may begin to yellow, especially with highly tannic ingredients like cranberry juice or wine.

So, we set out to address some of those things and here's what we came up with.

We chose the ever abundant and ubiquitous glass mason jar as our star. We found that the wide-mouth style comes in a variety of sizes up to a half-gallon, and our favorite 24 oz size is straight-walled, making it super easy to clean. While mason jars have many accessories and lids, we couldn't quite find anything that fit our needs and was affordable, so we custom made our own.

We're still experimenting with 3D printing, laser cutting and potentially injection molding some of these lids. They have two holes, a narrow one for a stainless steel tube and a wide one for a funnel. The narrow hole has a precision diameter for allowing the stainless steel tube to easily pass through without letting much else through like bugs, dust or evaporation. The larger hole has a plug in it for 99% of the time until the booze that's in the jar needs to be topped off. The lids don't create a prefect seal, but that's good because the pump tubing would collapse if the pumps were trying to draw that kind of vacuum. 

Another key component of this setup is a special fitting that will connect the stainless steel tube with the soft tubing. As we experimented, we found that we were forced to use different diameter tubing which actually opened up the options for tubing materials quite substantially. We also found that the gray fitting below with a 1/4" stem can actually connect into one of the dispenser nuts quite nicely. 

We decided to test several new tubing chemistries. You can see the results in the image below. After 2 weeks of soaking in a glass of wine and a quick rinse, the following is what three different types of tubing looked like. The one on the bottom is what is currently shipped with bots and dispensers. We needed this tubing because it was thin-walled and allowed for drinks to be poured out of the spout with less splashing. Our liquid level sensors also needed this inner diameter. However, if we loosen some of those constraints and go with the narrower 1/8" ID tubing, we have much nicer chemistry options albeit for 5 times the cost.

So let's go back to our original question. Is it practical to have a Bartendro in your home bar? With the swanky setup above, we certainly think so! The only other thing to keep in mind is the shelf stability of the ingredients you like to use. Spirits and liqueurs are fine, but perishables like freshly squeezed juices need to be loaded up on demand. The mason jars can be labelled to give an elegant, or classic apothecary look, and they're clear unlike some bottles, so you know when you're running low. They can be easily removed with the straw and put into the fridge when done. The tubes won't dangle, or yellow, and there will be no drips even while restocking at a busy party (if you're careful, and not too inebriated). So that's the solution in a nutshell. Glass jars can be purchased from the local hardware store and the other materials can be purchased from online retailers. The goal in designing all of this was to keep the cost under $10 per ingredient, but it's closer to $15 with the expensive new tubing, but we think it's worth it. So what do you think, do you want to see a retrofitting kit in our store?

A New Bottle Topper Design October 20 2014, 0 Comments

The old design

On a recent camping trip, we took Bartendro out to make drinks for our friends in the fine outdoors. Each bottle had a single tube draped down into its liquid with no bottle topper to keep the bugs out. A small swarm of bees got wind of the sweet scent and in no time, regular sized bees were negotiating themselves down the crowded bottle neck. Unfortunately, the exit seemed to be much more elusive than the entrance, and they found themselves drinking and swimming in what must be the most decadent way for a bee to go. Unfortunately, the camp-goers weren't quite as happy as the bees. After a few hours the bees were bobbing in the sweet stuff. Off-putting, I know, but this was inspiration to refine a component of Bartendro that needed some attention.

Before Bartendro made its debut, the first comments that people made were about the exposure of booze to the open air. We understood the concern. Even with the tubing hanging down into the bottle, there was still plenty of space for fruit flies (even bees) to find their way to the delightful nectar. Commercial environments, especially bars and restaurants take this very seriously and every night the bottles are capped with plastic wrap or some other type of closure. It's a real sanitation concern and we made sure that we would address it before shipping any of our Kickstarter orders.

Our solution was these plastic bottle toppers that could allow the input tube and level sensor tube to pass through the bottle top and not allow any fruit flies in. 

While effective, there were a couple of problems with this design. Sometimes, when catering a small get-together or out of sheer laziness, using the liquid sensor tubing wouldn't be desirable. We often run the bot without the second tube because we're usually standing next to the bot and monitoring it anyway, and we don't want to clean a second tube for every bottle at the end of an event. If we were to use the bottle toppers, we would still be left with a gaping hole for pests to get into. The second problem was more of a logistical and manufacturing one. These parts were quite difficult to source, expensive, and slow to modify.

We needed a better way to close up the bottles whether using one or two tubes. After much experimentation, here's what we came up with:

We found that it was nearly impossible to make a one-size-fits-all type of solution. There was simply too large of a range to make an elegant solution. We created a large spreadsheet and measured as many bottle openings as we could get our hands on. The data showed us that there were four distinct groupings of opening sizes so we decided to design for those. This covered everything from a narrow dessert wine to a wide-mouth cranberry juice bottle. There was a limitation in that some bottles could not accept two tubes to begin with, so we did not design for bottles that were that narrow.

The plugs are slit in a similar way as fountain drink covers, but instead of poking a straw through, you poke your tubing through. We tried many variations of slit length, number of slits and distance between both slit patterns before we reached the optimal design. The hole in the center is the biggest opening at 0.010" and about 0.002" when a tube is inserted. The average fruit fly body is about 0.030". The part is made of food-grade silicone, it is soft and flexible, and will allow the passage of the tubes in either direction hundreds of times without tearing. 

We will now be including these new caps with all new bot purchases. In the near term we will likely make them available for purchase individually, and they should range from $3-$5 depending on size.