Irish Coffee

Place in a mug (preferably an Irish coffee mug):

  • 1.5 oz (1 shot) Irish whiskey
  • 1 tsp brown sugar

Get a small plate handy. You’ll need it quickly.

Steam this with the steamer on an espresso machine until it’s about as hot as coffee. About 160-180 degrees Ferenheight if you’re counting. Using a grill lighter or match immediately ignite the vapors of the whiskey, let burn for one to three seconds, and snuff by placing the small plate over the cup.

Make and add to the cup:

  • 1 shot espresso

Top with:

  • Lightly whipped cream

The whipped cream should not be whipped as much as you would for other purposes but rather be to soft peaks.

The shortcuts

We don’t all have espresso machines or want to whip our own cream for just one drink, so here are some possible shortcuts…

You could probably do the whiskey and brown sugar mixture in the microwave. You’ll still want to ignite it. That is a very important step.

Strong black coffee could be substituted for the espresso.

For the whipped cream, buy the stuff in the can and don’t shake the can before you use it. You’ll get a thicker, more liquid cream out that’s perfect for this recipe.

Thanks to Amy for reminding me of this recipe. It’s been a long time since I made it, but I think I remembered it all.

coffee, drinks, alcohol, beverages, whiskey, whisky, irish whiskey, irish coffee

Alan Baker’s Bar Monkey

Pouring a drinkWhile I have written about the Bar Monkey I helped Alan build this winter it’s time to give a better overview of how the whole system works. This is not intended as a how-to but may be of help to folks who are looking to make their own Bar Monkey.

The Bar Monkey is a device for automatically mixing drinks. The concept comes from BarMonkey.net where you can see several other versions of bar monkeys. Almost all of Alan’s Bar Monkey, including the software, was designed by Alan.

How it works

To dispense a drink with the Bar Monkey all you have to do is place a glass under the tap and choose the drink you want from the display. Your drink is poured from the sixteen ingredients (13 liquors and 3 mixers) contained in the Bar Monkey, all you have to do is add ice and stir! If your drink requires something that didn’t make it into the Bar Monkey (we had trouble piping soda and decided milk products would probably go sour) the software will remind you to add it afterwards.

The Software

Pour a drink

The brains of the system is the Bar Monkey software. Alan wrote this custom Java application which, on startup, reads a text file with a list of drinks and ingredients.

The application has four screens for setup and controlling the Bar Monkey. The first and most important one is the “Pour Drinks” screen where just a single click can pour a complicated drink with up to sixteen ingredients. While the drinks are of different sizes any of them will fit into a standard pint glass with room for some ice. If you’re not sure if you’ll like a drink you can view the ingredients on screen or even use the “Taste Test” option which will pour a small drink, one quarter the size of the normal one, with exactly the same proportions.

The second screen will pour a 1.5 oz shot of any of the ingredients in the Bar Monkey. If your favorite drink is not in our list you can use the “Create Custom Drinks” screen to enter the amount of each ingredient for your drink. You can then pour the drink, or pour a “Taste Test” to try it and adjust ingredients if necessary.

The final screen is the “Priming/Cleaning” screen which allows you to control individual ingredients to clear air from the lines, backflow to empty the lines, or run a cleaner through.

Alan is continually updating the software and future features include drink pictures and the ability to save custom drinks. If you’re interested in the software you can contact me and I will pass your requests on to Alan.

Inside the Bar Monkey

ComputerThe software runs on a Windows PC which has been mounted in the Bar Monkey without a case. The PC controls a set of serial relays built from a kit. The kits can be purchased from ElectronicKits.com.

ValvesThe serial relay kit is used to control a series of 16 refrigerator water valves which run on 120 volt AC. These control the flow of each liquor to the tap. Since everything is live 120 volt Alan put together a Plexiglas shield to reduce the risk of electrocution.

C02 tankThe valves provide flow control but, just like in a refrigerator, something else needs to provide pressure. In Alan’s Bar Monkey the pressure comes from a five pound tank of CO2. The variable regulator on the tank regulates the pressure down to only 5 PSI and the valve coming off of the regulator provides easy shut off and converts the thread of the regulator to 1/4-inch outer diameter polyethylene tube. This tubing is the standard for hooking up water to a refrigerator and is available along with a wide variety of splitters, valves, and couplers at home improvement stores.

If you’re considering building your own Bar Monkey I suggest starting with the pressure system. Finding a size and style of tank that fits right and can be refilled locally, then matching it up with a regulator and converters proved to be quite a challenge. Pay special attention to the thread (right-hand or left-hand) of all connections to make sure it will go together in the end.

SplittersIn order to pressurize all 16 bottles the pressure line must be split. While I’m sure there is a more elegant way to handle this, we used T-splitters to make one end into two. It took quite a few splitters but they do not seem to leak. We also added valves to be able to shut off each side independently for easy refills. All the splitters and valves are a quick-connect type which allows the tubing to be removed easily to clean and reroute tubing.

capWe chose to use two liter soda bottles to hold all the liquors. Two liter bottles are surprisingly strong, cheap, common, and all have a standard cap. The bottles, caps and lines are all marked with painter’s tape to assure the right bottle goes on the right line.

capThe caps, which we thought would be easy, turned out to be the biggest challenge of the project. The caps, and the tubes which are glued into them, are made of polyethylene. The molecular bond of polyethylene is so strong it is almost impossible to glue. After several failed attempts with hot glue, cyanoacrylate, silicone and epoxy we finally landed on a solution.

This may sound a bit extreme, but in order to glue polyethylene you must “flash” it first… with a propane torch! By just touching the polyethylene with the blue inner flame of a torch it changes the molecular bond (this is a chemical change, not melting) in a way that it will take glue. We actually found this tip in an Old Town kayak repair manual.

The first step to making the caps was to drill two 1/4 inch holes in the cap. The plastic insert usually falls out at this point, but its absence doesn’t seem to hurt anything. You can then insert the tube through the cap. The tube going to the tap should be long enough to nearly reach the bottom, the other just needs to go through far enough to be solid.

Next we flashed the tubing and caps and wrapped a piece of painter’s tape around it to form a cup for the epoxy. At this point we put the cap on a half full bottle to keep it upright and poured enough epoxy to get a good thick layer. We used 30 minute epoxy but faster epoxy would probably work as well. Once the epoxy had a couple hours to set up the caps were ready to go.

The line which runs to the bottom of the bottle is run up to the valve array. Here wire ties and coaxial cable tack-downs were useful to keep things organized. As seen above, the valves were mounted on three boards to make them easier to install.

The tube coming out of each valve runs all the way to the output of the tap. That is why you can see separate colors on some of the pictures. The tap itself is half of a standard sink trap. Running all 16 tubes around the bend of the tap takes a little fidgeting but is possible.

The full monkeyThe housing of the Bar Monkey was an inexpensive computer cabinet from a popular box store. A hole was drilled in the top for the tap and plywood was used as a substitute for the cardboard backing that came with it. The handles were also replaced to dress it up a bit.

Final Thoughts

Alan, and those of us who helped him, learned a lot on this project. The whole thing took probably around 200 man hours to complete. We have not calculated the total cost, but if you were looking to build one of these yourself you should expect to be into it for up to $1,500 or possibly more depending on how much you can scrounge. I also wouldn’t recommend this as a project for anyone who is not comfortable working with household current.

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The Bar Monkey In Action

Pouring a drinkAfter months of planning and weeks of construction, on New Years Eve, 2005 Alan’s Bar Monkey finally made its debut.

I have updated the Bar Monkey image gallery with more photos from the construction, testing and first night of use.

The first night was a limited success. The Bar Monkey made tasty drinks, and calibration was easy, but due to gas leaks in the caps we ran out of gas after only two rounds of drinks.

So we’re currently experimenting with different methods of making caps. The original design used hot glue, but leakage has been a problem. Alan attempted to seal these leaks with silicone sealer but this didn’t help much.

The most recent attempt was made with 30-minute epoxy. Most of us held that this had a better chance than other methods we have tried, but actually failed completely. It seems that polyethylene (which the tubing is made from) is extraordinarily difficult to glue.

So we’re back to the drawing board for caps, but check out the image gallery for pics of the unit in action. There will be more to come.

As time allows I will be posting more info on the construction process and some better pics of the finished unit. Also check out my other stories on the planning process and the relay assembly.

drinks, cocktails, alcohol, bar, bar monkey, electronics, drink, cocktail, alan baker

Bar Monkey Relay Assembly

Relay Kit CompleteSo Alan has made some good progress on the Bar Monkey. The relays are mostly complete (a few nights soldering between grading finals) and the next step is testing them out.

According to Alan the relays were fairly straight forward. The only big challenge was figuring out the orientation of the IC chips. Thankfully they mount in sockets so it’s fairly easy to switch them around.

Check out my Bar Monkey Gallery for some pictures of the relay in various states of assembly.

Check back often for updates on the project!

drinks, cocktails, alcohol, bar, bar monkey, electronics, drink, cocktail, alan baker

A Bar Monkey in the Making

Alan Baker, a good friend and co-worker has decided that it’s time to build a Bar Monkey.

What’s a Bar Monkey? Well the idea comes from the guys at BarMonkey.net. Basically the idea is to have some computer controlled hardware (relays and pumps or valves) that pour precisely measured amounts of liquors and mixers to make your favorite drinks.

Among all the different variations on the Bar Monkey there are really two ways to deliver the mixers from bottle to glass. The first is to use pumps to carry the liquid. The major problem with this is that food-grade pumps are very expensive ($50 and up). Others have used cheaper windshield wiper fluid pumps but Alan and I were concerned about the safety of the materials used being in direct contact with consumables.

That led us to the other option which involves pressurizing the line (either with compressed gas or gravity) and using shut off valves from a refrigerator to control flow. Alan has chosen to pressurize with CO2. Originally we were going to use a CO2 canister from a paint ball gun. The small size and low price of these is ideal, however we are having trouble finding proper threaded fittings.

Flow control will be accomplished with refrigerator ice maker valves. Alan found these valves for $15/each at WaterFilterMart.com however they seem to have gone up to $22 almost immediately after Alan bought them.

The brains of this operation are the Kit 108 Serial Relay Kit from ElectronicKits.com. Each kit can control 8 relays capable of running the shut-off valves. The kits are connected by the serial module upgrade kit which allows you to join two of the controllers together to control 16 valves.

So the purchasing phase is nearly done and we hope to start assembly soon. Click here to view the complete shopping list and check back frequently for updates on our progress!

drinks, cocktails, alcohol, bar, bar monkey, electronics, drink, cocktail, alan baker