Plenty of us enjoy a cold beer, a tall glass of wine or a stiff cocktail at the end of the day, and the holidays are as good an excuse as any to serve up some festive concoctions. When the family comes a calling, you'll want to be a good host and serve up everyone's favorite beverage. Here's what we want to know: Can a smart home add anything to that experience?
That's one of the many questions we've set out to answer here at the CNET Smart Home, our living lab for testing out connected home tech. After tackling some of the smart home essentials -- energy management, climate control, security and lighting, for instance -- smart boozing seems like little more than a questionably luxurious novelty. The real question: Is any of it worth it? If it can help appease your holiday guests and your own stress from hosting in the process -- maybe so.
Making beer better
First, perhaps due to personal preference, I turned my attention to beer. At CNET, we've tested a full-on automated smart brewing machine before (and more are on the way). As of yet, connected brewing hasn't quite lived up to expectations. So instead, we chose a much simpler device for our current CNET Smart Home setup -- Fizzics. This currently US-only $170 gadget claims to make your bottled beer taste more like it came fresh from the tap without the use of extraneous paraphernalia like kegs and gas canisters. Instead, Fizzics uses sound to agitate the carbonation in your beer.
(Fizzics Group, the beer tech startup behind Fizzics, is finalizing retail plans for international distribution in the UK and Australia. The plan is to keep pricing consistent, so that means the US price should convert to approximately £110 and AU$230, plus tax.)
Basically functioning as a beer decanter during the initial pour, you put your bottle into the pressurized compartment, snap your lid closed, then pull the handle and it'll evenly pour your drink. When you have enough beer, push the handle the other way, and Fizzics tops off your beverage with an attractive, frothy head. Again, it does all of this using sound to generate vibration.
More surprisingly, it actually works. It's an odd choice for our smart bar setup, given that it's not actually smart, but it's fun and easy to use. Fizzics doesn't perfectly replicate draft beer, but it definitely makes the bottled version taste livelier. If you have a practiced palate, you'll be able to tell the difference, and you might be disappointed that it can mute the more bitter end of certain flavor profiles.
But everyone in our CNET office agreed that it made a difference when I tested it out. More than anything else, it tends to improve dark, malty beers, sometimes significantly. No matter what your beer preference, though, Fizzics is fun to experiment with, and it's a perfect edition to the CNET Smart Home bar. It might even impress your beer-loving relatives this holiday. At the very least, it's sure to get them talking.
The connected cocktail
Aside from beer -- smart cocktail gadgets are starting to pop up, too. Most, like the Kickstarter-funded MixStik, promise to liven up your next party by offering app-enabled, drink-specific pouring guidance.
That gadget isn't available yet, though, so we went with a less flashy alternative called Perfect Drink for the CNET Smart Home bar. Available for $50 from Brookstone (converted roughly, that's £46 or AU$69), Perfect Drink is essentially a Bluetooth scale. Set your glass down, open the app and pick your poison -- Perfect Drink will tell you exactly how much of each ingredient to pour, as well as when to shake, stir, or add ice. Pour too much of one ingredient, and the app will recalibrate the recipe to make sure that your drink remains, well, perfect.
Perhaps even more useful is the app's extensive, ingredient-specific cocktail database. Tell it what you've got on hand, and Perfect Drink will list all of the cocktails you can make, along with suggestions for the ingredients you should pick up next time you're at the grocery in order to help that list grow.
We had plenty of fun trying out new cocktails we'd never heard of before when we first tested Perfect Drink out -- that, coupled with the low cost and the fact that it doesn't take up much space, make it a no-brainer addition to the bar in the CNET Smart Home basement. If you're lacking skill as a mixologist, you might finally be able to wow a picky relative with your Manhattan, or show off a lesser-known concoction customized from the selection in your cabinet.
At this point, you might have noticed that these smart booze gadgets aren't really designed to integrate into a larger smart-home setup -- they tend to stick to their niche, promising nothing more than connected assistance as you mix, brew or pour your beverage of choice.
But if you're willing to get a little bit creative, you can flip it around and use your existing smart-home gear within that smart drinking niche. The most obvious way has to do with how you store your adult beverages. For instance, you could stick an open/closed contact sensor inside the doors of your liquor cabinet, then tell your setup to notify you whenever it gets opened to help you keep tabs on your teenagers.
Since we already have a SmartThings hub installed in the CNET Smart Home, I picked up an extra SmartThings multisensor and placed it on the inside of the liquor cabinet's door, then created an IFTTT recipe that texts me whenever the cabinet opens. Now, our CNET Smart Home bar is indeed connected to the rest of the CNET Smart Home -- and if any of my colleagues try and sneak one of my craft beers when I'm not around, I'll know about it.
Wine cellars also seem like particularly good candidates for automation, since you're going to want to monitor and regulate the temperature and humidity inside. Stick a temperature sensor on the wall and plug a humidifier into a smart socket, and you'll be able do all of that from your phone, or better yet, automatically. That's a project we might try to tackle a little further down the line.
In general, we've started with beer and cocktails in our bar, but we've yet to tackle wine. We want to give plenty of attention to the elegant beverage soon, and we're waiting for wine specific gadgets to prove worth our time and yours.
We're also starting to see smarter takes on inventory management. For instance, a design firm called Buzz Products built a Wi-Fi mini-fridge called the Linq IQ that tracks the number of drinks housed within and lets you check on your stock remotely. Buzz Products doesn't manufacture mass numbers of units, though, and instead, licenses their designs out to product makers looking to offer something unique.
That's where Anheuser-Busch comes in. For now, they've got exclusive licensing rights to the Linq IQ. That means that this is now a real, manufactured product that you can buy, but it also means that it'll come decked out in bright blue Bud Light branding (or bright red Budweiser branding if you're in Canada.)
Branding aside, the Linq IQ's focus on inventory management lines up with what we've seen from the larger smart refrigerator category, where products have done their best to help you keep track of what's stored inside. Those efforts -- everything from ingredient-tracking touchscreen apps to built-in smart scales that measure your milk -- have largely come up short of impressive. A simplified bottle and can counter might be a more sensible step towards that goal, and that makes it the sort of feature we wouldn't mind seeing in the smart fridges of tomorrow. Today, though, we're going to hold off on loading Bud Light's smart fridge into the CNET Smart Home.
The future of smart booze
Right now, the CNET Smart Home will keep an eye on our liquor stock, it'll help us serve up a perfect cocktail, and it can even turn an ordinary bottle of beer into something closer to its freshly tapped equivalent. We've made the CNET Smart Home bar ready for holiday hosting, and the devices we've picked can help you keep your own family gathering merry.
That said, we're far from done with the CNET Smart Home bar. In the near future, I'd love to see an automated beer brewing machine that's easier to use and that produces a better product. I have my fingers crossed for upcoming contenders Pico and Brewie. Heck, I'd also love a robot bartender so I didn't even have to bother mixing the drinks myself.
That's actually not a completely outlandish request -- we've seen the tech on display on cruise ships, and crowdfunded gadgets like Somabar have long endeavored to bring an automated mixologist right to your countertop. Maybe at some point one of them will actually deliver. We also have our eyes out for a smart wine cooler, an inventory-tracking fridge, and even the upcoming, non-connected but awesome Opal Nugget Ice Maker from GE's Firstbuild to round out our bar nicely.
As more of these products hit the market and smart drinking tech matures, the CNET Smart Home bar will mature right along with it.