This Canadian startup wants to be the Keurig of cocktails

Kitchener-based Bartesian is betting consumers want fancy drinks—but not the trouble of shaking them themselves



Unless you’re rich or aristocrat-y enough to have a personal bartender on call, mixing elaborate cocktails is an endeavour reserved for long weekends and dinner with the in-laws. But Kitchener-based Bartesian promises to make concocting cocktails as easy as pressing a few buttons.

Bartesian began as MaxMixology, a company founded by three MBA students at Wilfrid Laurier University. When I spoke to co-founder Bryan Fedorak last year, the team was still working on a proof-of-concept prototype. A name change and six cocktail mixes later, Bartesian is currently engaged in a $100,000 Kickstarter campaign intended to fund the company’s first production run.

The Bartesian is a single-serve cocktail machine, similar to the wildly popular Keurig, Tassimo and Nespresso coffee-makers. Fill Bartesian’s glass reservoirs with four basic spirits (rum, vodka, gin and tequila), pop a capsule into the slot, select your strength, and the machine does the rest.  The company believes the product will be particularly popular among those in the habit of entertaining. “It’s a classier dinner party or intimate gathering of six to eight friends, rather than a rager from your college days,” Fedorak says. All a host has to do is add the hooch.

Fedorak explained how Bartesian has evolved since its original conception, and why he believes there’s a huge market single-serve cocktails.

Why did you decide to rename the company?

Through our customer discovery efforts, talking to customers about what the cocktail experience means to them, we realized that our positioning was a little bit off initially, I guess the analogy in the coffee space is we went from Keurig to Nespresso—a little bit more classy, more sophisticated.

MaxMixology was a little more fun and targeted a younger demographic—a little more party-y. Bartesian, our new branding has a broader appeal and brings in a little more sophistication. You get dressed up for cocktails—you typically have them during somewhat of a special occasion, like you’re celebrating something. So the branding had to match that same feeling.

Part of the cachet of cocktails is the expertise you get to show off by making them. Do you think that’s going to reduce consumers’ willingness to buy the Bartesian?

There’s a person we call the Cocktail Connoisseur. This person is similar to someone who likes to cook really fancy meals, is really good at it, and takes pride in the craftsmanship of their chef skills. The same thing applies to cocktails, and that’s not who we’re trying to replace. If that’s your thing, then the Bartesian wouldn’t be for you.

Who this is for is the person who wants to provide their guests all the variety they could if they were that expert, but aren’t able to. The analogy that we like to use is the Betty Crocker story about cake mix, which no one bought until they made people add an egg. We use the same idea with a cocktail shaker. We could have done that internally in the machine, but we’ve actually pulled that feature out. You put the cocktail shaker underneath the machine, it pours right into there, and then you put the cap on and you shake it yourself. That really adds to the experience for the participant—it makes it personal. Our customers really wanted that visceral experience. And sure, that’s definitely not the full expertise required to make a cocktail, but it’s a lot of the fun, and you did do something to make the cocktail.

We also learned from our customers that people didn’t want to use an app interface. We have one competitor, and they use an app interface. When people are having cocktails, they’re there to socialize and have fun with their friends and family in intimate settings; they don’t really want to be staring at their phones and playing with the cocktail-maker. Our target market isn’t especially young, tech-savvy people.

How big is the market for this kind of product?

We’re kind of a hybrid of a lot of different markets. We’re in the alcohol market, but we have the single-serve model from the coffee space and we’re a home appliance but we also sell capsules, which are a consumable. The alcohol market is huge, and we think there’s a lot of opportunity there. Our Kickstarter campaign is very strong, so we’re very excited about that. We got to half our goal in about four days—that’s pretty good.