Lily Szajnberg didn’t set out to invent the home bartender’s best friend. She simply got tired of hunting for recipes only to find she didn’t have the ingredients necessary to concoct her drink of choice for the evening. They say necessity is the mother of invention, and the baby that Szajnberg’s need for a drink produced is the Cocktail Computer, a beautifully designed, mid-century inspired recipe search engine.
In 2012, Szajnberg, a cocktail enthusiast and self-proclaimed defunct technology nerd, decided to take on the yearlong challenge of making one new cocktail a day. It seemed easy enough with the endless possibilities from searching the internet and her growing library of booze books to reference. But Szajnberg realized within a few weeks Googling ingredients was resulting in hundreds of entries, and combing through cocktail books was a laborious task. Can’t a girl just get a drink?
Szajnberg, a web products developer for MTV with a background in design and technology, decided it was time to curate a list of 24 essential cocktail ingredients to make the job of concocting drinks at home easier. She polled top bartenders and consulted her personal list of over 350 spirits, modifiers and garnishes from the cocktails she had sipped over two years to come up with the final list of 24 key ingredients and their drinks. Now it was time to compile all of this boozy knowledge into a neat, tidy and searchable package.
“I had come across an old contraption that used punch cards. I thought, what if I used punch cards to make searching for cocktail recipes easier,” Szajnberg says of the ah-ha moment which lead to the computer’s creation. “Punch cards are the original concept of filtering back information. This technology was essentially the first search engine.”
The computer uses punch cards along with steel pins to filter results. Simply insert the steel pins into the ingredients you want to use (say, bourbon, lemon and sugar,) open up the device for your results, and voila! Recipes right at your fingertips. The Cocktail Computer contains basic recipes like the Old Fashioned or Manhattan and more complex cocktails like the gin and absinthe-based Foaming Fairy. Results from your filtering can be as little as five cocktails or as many as 10.
“The gadget pulls you away from your phone and your apps. It forces you to physically search your bar for ingredients and think about flavors you love. It’s like a teaching tool,” Szajnberg says. “This isn’t an algorithm that gets smarter each time you use it. It’s 100% human driven. It always filters back what you put into it.”
And maybe just as important, the Cocktail Computer is one rad-looking device to display on your bar. Szajnberg designed it to be a statement piece as well as a utilitarian contraption performing the most basic of functions—to find you a drink. Her love for mid-century design inspired her to keep the Cocktail Computer classic in both look and in function. But would it sell? If her Kickstarter is any indication, the answer was a resounding, “Yes, ma’am!”
“The Kickstarter was a special moment because I realized I wasn’t nuts,” the inventor says. “People wanted to invest in this slightly nerdy cocktail concept.”
The Cocktail computer holds up to 80 cards and contains over 100 recipes; including mocktails, which Szajnberg says were important to include for those who don’t or can’t drink booze. She’s currently working on expansion decks with themes for the holidays and possibly recipes for the flowing bowl (aka punch.) But we’re hoping for an entire deck dedicated to the glory that is Star Wars.
You can pre-order the Cocktail Computer for shipping by Fall 2016.