Normally, finding something floating in your drink would be cause for alarm, but in the age of 3-D printing, it's cause for wonder. Print A Drink is a new industrial 3-D printer that builds liquid objects within a cocktail by injecting individual microliter droplets in a preprogrammed pattern, creating basic shapes while basically blowing our minds. A printed shape jiggles but remains intact as you swirl the drink around it—and it’s totally potable.
The Print A Drink machine was developed in Austria, but it recently made its way to the U.S. thanks to a partnership with scotch distillery Auchentoshan. While we always enjoy watching a master bartender prepare a complex cocktail, watching the Print A Drink machine at work is even more satisfying. The printer’s long arm, which resembles something from an automated car production line, gingerly dips a long needle into a glass, then spits out droplets in rapid fire with shocking finesse for such a hulking mechanical device. The entire process takes less than 90 seconds for the most complex shapes.
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According to Benjamin Greimel, who developed the technology while studying at the University for Art and Design in Linz, the printer can work with standard cocktail ingredients, including juices, syrups and spirits, but it’s best to choose a clear cocktail so that the printed figure is visible. Auchentoshan created the Bamboo Scotsman—a play on the classic Bamboo with Auchentoshan American Oak, Dolin Blanc vermouth, fino sherry, aromatic bitters and orange bitters—to act as a canvas for the first 3-D printed cocktail in the U.S. The molecular shape itself is made out of colored olive oil. If you prefer to gaze in awe at the printed figure rather than gulp it down immediately, it will maintain its shape for 15 to 20 minutes.
Print A Drink has a long way to go before you’ll see 3-D cocktails on a menu at your local bar, since the current industrial robot is heavy, bulky and expensive, and the machine’s interface requires some technical training to use. But, with the help of an Austrian research institute for food technology, Greimel is hard at work on the next generation. He hopes to create a version more suitable for actual bars, one with improved resolution allowing for more complex printed shapes. We imagine a bar printing its name inside a drink would do pretty well on Instagram—kind of like a next-level logo—and who know’s what a molecular mixologist could do with that kind of tech.
Greimel, for one, emphasizes the printer’s egalitarian possibilities, pointing out that the once distant and alien technology of 3-D printing is much more comprehendible to everyday people when they hold it in a lowball.