As technology and society catch up with the pages of Huxley, Orwell and Assimov, the drinks industry keeps presenting us with innovations that wouldn’t be out of place in a sci-fi novel. When we think about science fiction drinks, images of performance enhancing beverages, mind altering milks and robotic bartenders might come to mind, however, these and many other drinks previously envisioned for galaxies far, far away are already among us.
Coffee machines are now so mundane that no one bats an eye when facing one but a mechanic arm that can make a perfect Martini? That’s a sight to behold, at least until we get used to it.
Last year Royal Caribbean introduced the bionic bar, with two mechanic arms able to shake the combination that catches your fancy from 30 different spirits and several mixers.
A few weeks ago, The Tipsy Robot Bar opened in Las Vegas and, if you’ve ever watched Futurama, you’ll know the venue would fit right in. “If Our Robots Intimidate You, Visit Our Human Bar”, reads on their page and once you’re there, you can order cocktails like “Deep Space Brew”, “Silver Satellite” or “Cosmic Cucumber.”
Less bombastic and with a lower novelty factor, the world of wine is also feeling the steely touch of AI. “In comparison to machines, humans are also expensive and slow” this quote doesn’t come from the merciless cyborg CEO of a futuristic corporation a la Ghost in the Shell, it’s from a piece on last June’s Wine Enthusiast.
While the feature is more nuanced at comparing machine harvest and hand harvest than what this bold line suggests, the days when machine harvesting meant grapes picked by a tractor that would bring in the ripe, the green, the rotten and maybe even a rabbit or two are gone.
And it’s not just the picking; robotic eyes are already in charge of identifying the good grapes in modern wineries. By 2011 Torres Wine’s prestigious Mas La Plana was already benefiting from this technology.
Equipment like VitiSort, makes it possible for a winery to run through up to four tons of harvested grapes in one hour with only two people. Manually, this would represent at least a dozen people’s labour.
But you’d think that the pleasure of tasting wine and discovering its intricacies is reserved for human palates, and even in this territory, the widely publicised creation of an artificial tongue capable of identifying wines would make Andrew Martin proud. The character, Isaac Asimov’s bicentennial man, designs a system that allows him to “eat” food, as his goal was always to become more human-like.
Last year, a a similar synthetic “taster” gave whiskey lovers drink for thought as it was introduced as an equipment able to best sommeliers. As we write, this has yet to be proven, but it surely is giving us the Deep Blue vs Kasparov chills.
But worry not, robots are not here to drink your wine and ruin your whiskey: this sophisticated equipment is intended to help spot counterfeits, which might not be a concern for your fifteen quid go-to bottle of Malbec, but can mean fortunes when talking about rare and ultra premium bottles.
Let’s not start yelling Skynet yet fellas.
From the Wachowski’s Bar
If there is a surname associated with sci-fi gold is Wachowski. The siblings behind The Matrix trilogy are cyber-punk royalty and often, food and drink plays a symbolic role on their films.
When it comes to beverages, their recurrent topic of a nutritionally complete food (often with origins you really don’t wanna know about) is reminiscent of the 70’s classic Soylent Green.
Which takes me to a meal replacement substitute you can actually buy and which, in a very tongue-in-cheek manner has been named Soylent. Don’t panic, it’s not made from people, but the idea of giving up meals for this “just add water” plant-based white powder does give you a taste of dystopia.
I recently received a sponsored add on my Facebook timeline inviting me to try a similar watershake called Ambronite. Testimonials on their page include this pearl: “I want to work through lunch in a healthy way”. I’ll give it to them, the name is way less creepy, but having Big Brother’s algorithm thinking that I need a smoothie that helps me skip lunch time is straight out of a Black Mirror episode.
While Jupiter Ascending’s plot might have more holes than a pasta strainer, the Wachowski siblings managed to include yet another bizarre tipple: a youth serum made from the cinematic duo’s favourite raw material. Intergalactic aristocrats produce the bottle, capable of restoring the DNA of those who can afford it.
In real life, numerous drinks are believed to help extend one’s youth. One drink that made headlines recently because of this was unexpected: an anti-ageing gin. Distilled with pure collagen, which doesn’t affect the product’s taste, the launch took the spirit from mother’s ruin to yummy mummy’s fortune.
The concept might be as mind-boggling as a coffee that helps you sleep (exists), a sweet fizzy drink with zero calories (we all know it) a probiotic beer created to help gut flora (it’s a thing) or a rum that makes you skinny (well, I made this last one up, but fingers crossed), but it’s a taste of things to come, as beverages of all kind keep getting more and more creative with their added functionalities.
A Clockwork Orange Juice
Forget Alex DeLarge singing in the rain under the influence of Moloko Plus, the drug-laced milk served at the Korova milk bar in both the book and the film A Clockwork Orange; today’s “herbal infused” drinks are keener to promise relaxation that a thirst for ultraviolence.
They are more reminiscent of Huxley’s A Brave New World Soma than of the spiked dairy drink from Anthony Burgess’ novel/Stanley Kubrick’s film.
In countries where cannabis products are legal, a booming industry of derivative food and drink is thriving: in California for example, weed-infused wine is very real and in Colorado weed sommeliers are even offering classes.
But not all functional drinks serve that function: beauty waters like Bella Berry offer you “everything you need for gorgeously clear skin and a healthy body”, relaxation drinks like Tranquini lure you in with the loose promise of helping you “feel the flow” and mental booster beverages like LGND swear by their nootropic cocktails that they’ll “help you perform on a higher level and at the same time provide you with long-lasting energy.”
A similar vow was made by the NZT-48 tablets that Bradley Cooper’s Eddie, the main character from Limitless, took to become a smarter, sharper “perfect version” of himself.
Often advertised as the real life “Limitless Pill”, nootropic containing products might find it challenging to live up to their promises depending on how much of their recipe is science and how much fiction.
Once upon a time, a drink was supposed to do one of these three things: quench your thirst, keep you awake or get you drunk. Nowadays, the race to innovate, offer value and create an experience that consumers deem worthy of their timelines is a driverless vehicle of change.
Perhaps in a handful of years you’ll meet with your friends at a virtual reality bar and share a bottle of synthetic Chateau Montelena served by a robotic sommelier. It might sound like a scene from The Fifth Element, but the technology to make it happen is here already.
Gabriela’s passion for writing is only matched by her love for food and wine. Journalist, confectioner and sommelier, she fell in love with Ireland years ago and moved from Venezuela to Dublin in 2014.
Since then, she has written about and worked in the local food scene, and she’s determined to discover and share the different traditions, flavours and places that have led Irish food and drink to fascinate her.