Reimagining Cocktails Through Smart Connected Products

Innovating Beyond the Bottle

Smart cocktail machine that connects with smartphones
  • Capabilities Used
  • Strategy
  • Industrial Design
  • User Experience
  • Engineering

The spirits business has a problem. While cocktails and cocktail culture have never been hotter, Americans don’t drink them at home. In 2012, U.S. spirit suppliers sold more than $21 billion in spirits, but only 12.6 percent was spent on in-store purchases. That ratio is down almost two-thirds over the last two decades.

It’s a connected system for making home cocktails easy, delicious, exciting and accessible to everyone

The Cocktail Experience

It’s in large part because of the way the industry is set up: Spirits companies sell liquor—on levels of “premium-ness”—but people want cocktail experiences. There are barriers at every step to achieving a good cocktail experience at home: from deciding what to make, to finding a good recipe, to buying what you need, to actually making the drink with confidence. As a result, making a cocktail at home is intimidating and difficult: it never tastes the same as it does when you’re out, it takes you away from your guests, and you never seem to have the right ingredients on hand.

Altitude set out to solve this problem, leveraging over 20 years of experience designing breakthrough innovations in the beverage and related markets. The result of our Connected Cocktail Project is a concept system named Stem. It’s a smart connected system for making home cocktails easy, delicious, exciting and accessible to everyone—enabling people to easily select, serve, and shake cocktails like a real mixologist right at home.

Makers Mark with Stem's Smart Connected Cocktail Experience

The Connected Cocktail Project began by building a deep understanding of the people we aimed to serve. We met people at their homes to watch them make cocktails and entertain guests (and even helped them clean up). And we talked to them extensively about their experiences. Our key learning was that people want to “graduate” to cocktails from beer and wine. They are thrilled by the sense of discovery and connection that cocktails offer in bars and restaurants, and they want to bring that experience home with them. Stocking a bar full of spirits isn’t the challenge. But knowing what to do with them is.

It was clear that a smart, system-based solution was required: something that would “unlock the bar” and help people not just make a great drink, but decide what to make and ensure that they have the right ingredients on hand. We began exploring a variety of technologies and approaches, through which Stem was born.

Top of Stem Smart Connected Cocktail Bottle

Stem is hardware, software, and service. It is an app, a cloud application, and a set of “smart caps” that live on top of your liquor bottles. This smart connected product makes cocktail experiences at home accessible and fun for anyone. When the caps are paired with ingredients, Stem knows what’s in your bar. Armed with this knowledge and access to a community-powered library of recipes, it helps people find new drinks or even plan a menu for a gathering. When you are ready to mix, Stem’s app and LED-powered caps seamlessly guide you through the steps and intelligently meter out accurate quantities of the right ingredients so your cocktails come out perfectly each time.

Virtual Tour of Stem Smart Connected Cocktail Application

But Stem goes beyond the occasion. Because it knows what you like and what you’re using, it can help you discover and order additional supplies, like new spirits, bar tools, and unique cocktail-grade mixers, all of which are delivered conveniently to your door. It’s like Netflix for cocktails.

Stem helps people to “get to know their bar again” by bringing the fun and excitement of cocktails into the home, with a sense of ease, convenience and personalized support. And Stem provides the foundation for a strong and innovative business model in the cocktails business. It provides its business owner with robust data about cocktail and ingredient preferences, and a direct, personal connection to consumers for their entire cocktail needs. With the Connected Cocktail Project, our Boston design firm set out to bring home cocktails into the digital age.