AI-Generated Cocktails Are Here

Currently, we co-exist in a world with NFT whiskeys, blockchain bourbons, and crypto cocktails. Some hate it — I’d like my Old Fashioned analog, thanks — while others are leaning into digitally-infused drinking. 

This month, Houston’s Axelrad bar is releasing a new menu of AI-generated drinks, all fully conceived by ChatGPT, an AI language generator. The ‘Humans vs. Machines’ menu will pit these four bot-made beverages up against four similar drinks made by flesh-and-bone bartenders. Customers can order half portions of each of the drinks and vote for their favorite. At the end of the month, the winning team — either humans or machines — earns bragging rights, and their drinks get permanent spots on the menu.

“I’ve seen ChatGPT being used in a lot of different fields and we thought, could it create a cocktail?” says owner Adam Brackman. “It’s passed medical exams, it’s passed the bar — why not see what it can do behind a bar?”

So, he set up four prompts, like ‘make a spicy mocktail,’ or ‘a legend of Zelda-inspired drink’ –– and fed them into ChatGPT.

When asked to create a spicy mocktail, the AI came up with a Sweet Heat: mango nectar, lime juice, honey simple syrup and a sprinkling of cayenne and paprika. Axelrad returned with a hot Paloma — grapefruit and Squirt soda, with the heat turned up via muddled serrano peppers.

Two berry cocktails are also up against each other: a blackberry bramble jam from the humans (with Texas Ranger whiskey, turbinado simple, lemon juice, and blackberry puree) and a Berry Blitz (gin, simple syrup, lemon juice, blackberry puree, and chambord) made by AI. “ChatGPT had a real tendency to just crank out a cocktail made with all liqueurs,” says Brackman.

Sonic Tonic and GPT's version


There are two Legend of Zelda drinks: the Zeldarita, a Margarita made with serrano-infused tequila and melon liqueur, and the neon-blue Triforce tonic: gin, pineapple, honey and a healthy dash of blue curacao. (Guess which one is the AI? Hint: it’s the one with a big glug of blue curacao.)

For a fruity, frozen drink? ChatGPT made a slushie with rum, pineapple juice, coconut milk, and lime juice, while Axelrad’s bartenders made a frozen drink with rum, mango nectar and syrup, lime juice, Chamoy, and tajin. “ChatGPT’s is pretty good!” admits Brackman. “It’s kinda like a Pina Colada. If you think about it, it’s got every cocktail recipe that’s been published on the internet at its fingertips  — it’s really just scouring through those.” 

That said, it did take some refining to get ChatGPT’s recipes to a drinkable state. “Off the bat we found they lacked some creativity — ChatGPT would just crank out sugary drinks,” says Brackman. So, Axelrad’s bartenders would have to coax better cocktails out of ChatGPT. If a drink had too much simple syrup, they told it so. Heavy handed on the liqueurs? They’d direct it to dial it down. “We ended up with some recipes that weren’t that bad!”

ChatGPT’s lack of autonomy and need for supervision leads to the major flaw in AI’s future behind the bar. ChatGPT is, well, a machine: one lacking a mouth to drink a cocktail, as well as a palate to understand if a drink is off balance.  “The robot obviously can’t taste or adjust, but our bartenders can,” says Brackman. So he uses ChatGPT as more of a tool for inspiration — he plugs in ingredients or a general vibe, and sees what the AI program comes up with, before using his own knowledge to finalize the recipe. (Got a bunch of odd ingredients on your bar cart? Maybe ChatGPT can make something wonderful with them.)

Even when this experiment is over, Brackman doesn’t think his ChatGPT dalliances are done for. “We’ll probably use the AI for our monthly specials,” he says. “We always pick a non-profit, dedicate a drink to them, and donate the proceeds of the drink sale. It can be exhausting coming up with a new name and a new cocktail each time. So we could enter the colors and flavors associated with the non-profit and ChatGPT will play off those prompts.”

Humans' Spicy Paloma Mocktail and GPT's Sweet Heat


If staff are stumped when naming a cocktail, they’ve also started turning to ChatGPT. “We were trying to come up with our St. Patrick’s Day drinks and we asked AI,” says Brackman. “The names [like Celtic Cider Crush] weren’t bad!”

And while some are threatened by ChatGPT’s infiltration, Brackman is confident AI will never replace true, in-person hospitality.  “People go to bars to interact with people,” he finds. Just as we couldn’t replicate the revelry of a real bar on Zoom, remove real bartenders from the equation, and you lose those warm fuzzy familiarities of a Friday night at your favorite local.

“While some jobs can be handled by machines, there are certain industries where human touch is needed. We have the option to order via an app at Axelrad, but we find the majority of the people come to the bar — it’s about the environment and engagement.”

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