Buried in cocktail books? That little computer in your pocket can help.
They say the best camera is the one that you have with you. The same could be said about the best cocktail recipe and the best cocktail recipe often is the one you can remember. For those of us who are not bartenders (those folks who eat, sleep, and breathe drinks), technology has come to the rescue with a series of iPhone apps that can help you craft the perfect cocktail with the ingredients you happen have on hand.
Of course, there is something nostalgic about the weight of a book in your hands and the feel of the pages as you turn them in your fingers. That sensation will never be replaced by a Kindle or an app on your smartphone. Still, you need not throw out your dog-eared collections of recipe books for a new icon on your home screen; they can live in harmony together, as apps have their own advantages.
The beauty of these cocktail apps is manifold. Despite being filled with hundreds, or in the case of Martin’s Index more than a thousand recipes (see below), not an ounce of weight is added to your pocket. Searching for a recipe is a snap. A user can search by ingredient or style to find a cocktail quickly to match every mood. Even veteran bartender Jim Meehan of PDT, who has created his own app, finds these new tool to be a step up from the “100 page A-Z organized word document” he previously used behind the bar.
“A bartender is an analyst, and when someone asks them for a drink recommendation, they must cross-reference the guest’s preferences with all the cocktails they think will please them based on the ingredients available to prepare each recipe,” he explains.
“As the number of working recipes grows in a well-stocked bar, this process becomes more challenging. It’s become nearly impossible for me, and this app makes it manageable. Once you’ve entered your inventory, the app will give you all your options, and on a busy night, when the bartender’s working on five things at all times, this is a very useful tool.”
Many of these apps owe a great debt to the community that was fostered over the internet on forums such as DrinkBoy. DrinkBoy gave way to Cocktail DB, which was created and maintained by Martin Doudoroff and Ted “Dr. Cocktail” Haigh. These online communities allowed recipes to be exchanged and historical information to be shared, which cultivated interest in the growing cocktail scene, ushering in a new generation of websites, forums, and, as smartphones became ubiquitous, apps.
In fact, Doudoroff created one of the first cocktail apps in the nascent Apple App Store, “Cocktails +”, which was one of the featured apps on opening day. Since then he has collaborated with such cocktail luminaries as Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, Jim Meehan, and soon David Wondrich on an upcoming app featuring punches, based on Wondrich’s book Punch: The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl.
Martin Douderoff-Design Apps
All of the apps in Douderoff’s Mixology Tech collection (PDT, Total Tiki, Gaz Regan’s 101, Martin’s Index) benefit from the confluence of Douderoff’s knowledge of software and cocktails.
“I’m in a unique place,” he observes. “There aren’t very many people around who have enough of the software background and enough of the cocktails and booze background to put this together.”
Case in point, all the Mixology Tech apps draw from Martin Douderoff’s proprietary database of ingredients, which is built with the growing cocktail bar in mind. Rather than filtering by individual ingredients, it allows users to input all the bottles in their growing bar collection and any ingredients in their kitchen that might be of use in a cocktail into the app’s Ingredient Inventory.
From that database, the app will then be able to tell you what drinks you are able to prepare and will helpfully offer substitutions when available. As a notable addition to that database for those interested in exploring vintage cocktail recipes or learning more about cocktail ingredients, the app will also offer explanation of obscure ingredients, like this entry for catawba:
The Mixology Tech Ingredient Database currently holds more than 8000 ingredients (proprietary, generic, and abstract) which are the backbone of all Mixology Tech apps. Those ingredients sync between all apps in the Mixology Tech universe, saving your ingredients in the case of a system crash or new device, as well as lightening the burden of imputing the same information multiple times across apps.
The following three apps (Total Tiki, PDT, Martin’s Index) utilize the Mixology Tech database, so the thoughtful navigation will be familiar between apps and their ingredient lists will conveniently sync if you purchase another app in the family. Chosen for their quality of information, each app reflects a specialized area of expertise and has been extensively curated and annotated by a cocktail expert at the top of their field.
Total Tiki ($9.99)
Jeff “Beachbum” Berry is one of the foremost authorities on tiki and tiki culture, having written six books on the subject. That knowledge is on display in Total Tiki, a comprehensive tiki recipe collection, complete with historical anecdotes and pictures. According to Berry, “The app was the brainchild of Martin Doudoroff, who’d previously created Cocktails + before approaching me about doing Tiki + (as the first incarnation of our Tiki app was called; it’s now known as Total Tiki).”
Berry continues, “Before Martin, several tech-minded people had pitched doing a Tiki app using recipes from the Beachbum Berry books, but I didn’t know them and I didn’t know anything about apps. But I did know Martin, and when he suggested we do an app together I said yes instantly. I supplied the recipes and the drink photos and the historical notes, and he did the rest.”
Building upon the success of Tiki+, the new Total Tiki app offers 70 new recipes as well as organizing the recipes with an attention to historical detail and grouping related recipes in chronological sets to show the evolution of certain drinks through the years.
PDT Cocktails ($9.99)
Launched in March of 2015, the PDT Cocktails app is a perfect companion to Jim Meehan’s 2011 cocktail book of the same name, which chronicled the opening of the multi-award winning cocktail bar PDT in New York. “The goal of the book was to be a snapshot in time. To go back and retouch that photo (edit and rewrite the book) undermines its intrinsic value as a piece of history, and it already weights almost two pounds!,” he explains.
“The app is more like security camera footage: it’s a working document that will reflect what we’re doing today.”
Consequently the app is a living document that provides added value in the form of photos for recipes and ingredients, an easily searchable index, updated house recipes and classics, as well as an additional 100 new recipes from PDT in New York.
Martin’s Index of Cocktails ($9.99)
For those who are curious about the origins of many of the classic drink recipes that are appearing on bar menus across the country, Martin’s Index of Cocktails is an ever expanding resource of over 1600-plus recipes (and growing) from Pre-Prohibition through Prohibition and onwards, meticulously researched and annotated by Martin Doudoroff. A labor of love beginning with the “First Golden Age of the American Bar”, Doudoroff has included recipes from vintage compendiums written by the likes of Jerry Thomas and Harry Craddock, and continues to add more every day.
Full citations are provided for every recipe, so you can trace the origin of each recipe in this collection, as well as the evolution of certain recipes through time. “This is the deep end of the pool,” Doudoroff explains.
“All the recipes in this app are here for a reason, but not every drink is good, let alone bulletproof. Most can be elevated by an experienced hand and careful discretion. You have to think carefully about your choice of ingredients and technique, and tweak or adapt to suit your good taste.”
A snapshot of time, this app is both an extensive collection of vintage recipes as well as a lesson in history.
Two Other Approachable and Affordable Apps
The final two apps were chosen because they excel in simplicity and community. Both have sizeable recipe lists, yet affordable price tags. They succeed in being un-intimidating and welcoming to newbies and veterans alike.
901 Very Good Cocktails ($3.99)
Launched November of 2014, the 901 Very Good Cocktails app is based on Stew Ellington’s successfully funded Kickstarter book of the same name. An artist and photographer by trade, Ellington taste tested over 1000 cocktails; over the course of his self-education, he compiled a list of 901 “very good cocktails.”
Approached by Scott Stanfield of Vertigo to make an app, together they collaborated on an app that, in Stanfield’s words, could “be easily read from three feet away (so I can scan while mixing) and will tell me what can I make if I have lemons and bourbon.”
These recipes are delicious and approachable to newcomers to the cocktail scene. 901 Very Good Cocktails allows you to find drinks by filtering by ingredients you have on hand, but Ellington insists, “the best way of using the app might just be to lose yourself in the all the fun lists.” A unique feature of the app is the ability to search by whimsical classifications depending on your mood which include the color classifications of “R-G-B,” the irreverent “Pretentious or Annoying”, or the romantic “The Drink to Have When You’re in…Paris/Havana/Florence/etc…”
BarNotes was built with community in mind. Peter Bodenheimer, with partner Brandon Herring, had the seed of the idea back in 2010 at SXSW. “It was inspired by seeing how many patrons were photographing the beautiful cocktails they were ordering in bars,” Bodenheimer recalls, “and the little notebooks that most bartenders use to keep recipe ideas, notes, and other info in. Hence the name.”
Both creators have a background in tech, so it’s no surprise that social sharing plays a big part in the BarNotes app. Users share pictures, recipes, comments, and feedback. While the other apps in this roundup are curated by a single person, this one is built by user recipes and curated into lists by the Bar Notes staff. Users are encouraged to converse with other community members because, says Bodenheimer, “We believe people should drink well and that drinking well is inherently social which is why BarNotes exists!” The app now has a web component, so you can also share links to the recipes and login to the community from the comfort of your desktop.