Welcome to this week’s first edition of iOS Gems! Cocktail recipe applications have grown considerably in number since the early days of the App Store, yet many of them offer the same stale mix of plain text and amateurish photography. We’ve thankfully found a few that really stand out from the pack, and wanted to highlight them here.
It’s rare, but it does happen: all three of today’s apps rated our high recommendation, though the Absolut-developed Drinkspiration Home Edition was particularly impressive given that it’s free, beautiful, and packed with great features. Read on for all of the details.
Two of the apps are free thanks to sponsorship by vodka maker Absolut: the iPhone/iPod touch app Drinkspiration by Absolut and the iPad app Drinkspiration Home Edition are spectacular-looking guides with somewhat different scopes and interfaces. While each app has the occasionally obvious plugs for Absolut-branded drinks, neither is over the top or exclusively vodka-related.
Taking advantage of the tall iPhone/iPod touch screens, Drinkspiration by Absolut uses a card-themed interface that lets you swipe through beautifully illustrated choices—everything from non-alcoholic drinks to drink recommendations by weather, glass type, color, bar vibe, spirit type, popularity, and more. Tapping any card brings you to additional cards with drink options, then very simple preparatory directions. You can track previously tested drinks, see what’s currently being consumed around the world by other users of the app, search recipes using a variety of tools, and share picks on Facebook or Twitter.
The iPad app Drinkspiration Home Edition is far more powerful, including both frequently updated recipes and more detailed explanations of each recipe’s preparatory techniques. Six collections are currently found in the app: “Celebration,” “Classics,” “Summer,” “Pre-Party,” “Prohibition,” and “Red,” each with a fairly obvious theme that enables Absolut to highlight some interesting drinks—the Prohibition collection is small, but includes some great choices from the 1920-1933 speakeasy era. If the app had nothing more than these collections, which are updated with new recipe and collection options from time to time, it would be pretty cool, but it goes further in two ways.
One is a huge database of drinks that can be searched or filtered by taste, spirit, occasion, glass, and level of mixology skill, producing a really cool grid-like poster of options. Another is a feature called My Smart Collection, which allows you to tap on all of the items you have at home—spirits, mixers, fruits, and more—then see only recipes that fit what you have. This is a powerful tool, which combined with the iPad version’s larger collection of recipes gives you a great assortment of options that you know you can enjoy right away. Even better is the iPad version’s art and music, which are elegant and charming, collectively demonstrating how even simple recipes can be made engaging with subtle animations, great artwork, and light audio accompaniment. Of the two apps, the iPad version of Drinkspiration is the better free download due to its broader scope, but it’s hard to fault either given the price and impressive designs. iLounge Ratings: (iPad Version) A, (iPhone/iPod touch Version): A-.
Today’s third and final app is Open Air Publishing’s Speakeasy Cocktails: Learn from the Modern Mixologists ($10), which is priced higher than the typical cocktail app—and frankly quite a bit better in some ways. This iPad-only application is essentially a digital book: the first four chapters focus on the concept of the speakeasy, the stealthy bars that continued to serve drinks during prohibition, using both text and photographs to discuss both historic and modern speakeasies, their gear, techniques, and suggested ways to stock a bar. Using Speakeasy Cocktails as a reference, you can go beyond the 200 very well-selected recipes and actually consider what you’d need to start from scratch with either a professional or nice home bar, subject matter that’s well beyond the scope of most cocktail apps.
Additional chapters look at recipes sorted by base spirit, as well as a set of classic master drinks that can be customized with the spirit of your choice. Even by comparison with the PDT Cocktail Book it venerates—available in iBooks format at a higher price, incidentally—this app’s easily, quickly searchable interface is far superior for recipes, thanks to a digital book interface created by Inkling, the digital textbook company; Open Air Publishing could hardly have picked a better wrapper for its content.
Each chapter’s initial presentation of well-known, spirit-specific recipes along with second (“rediscovered classics”) and third (“new standards”) grouped sections gives readers a very easy way to learn and find recipes, with some nice images and videos for many of the key drinks. Over 90 minutes of video tutorials are included across 40 total videos, featuring a couple of famed bartenders from PDT, Little Branch, and Silver Lining. Even though the recipe pages are very ingredient and simple-prep-focused, generally omitting the brief “story behind the drink” details that PDT includes, there’s otherwise very little to complain about here, and quite a few excellent drink recipes to enjoy. Only the app’s “buying guide”—complete with links to web sites—falls a little short on options, and seems like something that should have been used to subsidize the app’s price.
From our perspective, Speakeasy Cocktails is a really nice digital book on an increasingly compelling subject, and generally justifies its atypically high app asking price through high-quality content. Only one thing is obviously missing here: iPhone and iPod touch compatibility. Hopefully that feature will arrive in a future update. iLounge Rating: A-.