The Basics Bar Tools

This New App for Making Cocktails Isn't Perfect. But It's Still Pretty Great.

Clockwise from left: Vatican cocktail and Cover cocktail—both on the “Bartender’s Choice” app—and Sam Ross.

Despite what my Instagram page may suggest, I don’t go out to bars every night. Frankly, there are plenty of evenings where I’m perfectly happy to skip jockeying for a bar stool and mix my own cocktail at home. The catch is that I often wind up fixing the same drink.

So I was happy to test-drive the updated version of the “Bartender’s Choice” app, which allows you to choose drink styles and tastes before spitting out the perfect cocktail for you. The first version debuted in 2010, a collection curated from the Milk & Honey archives by Sam Ross, now of Attaboy. It debuted at $3, and the new version goes for $5, less than the cost of a shot of premium hooch, let alone a craft cocktail. Even with the price hike, it’s still less than many other bartender apps: “Beachbum Berry’s Total Tiki,” “PDT Cocktails” and “Modern Classics” apps all sell for around $10.

Martini Orange on “Bartender’s Choice”.

Compared to the first version, the updated “Bartender’s Choice” nearly doubles the number of recipes to around 650 and has a more user-friendly interface and search functionality.

In general, the app is intuitive and easy to figure out, even if you’ve never ordered a “bartender’s choice” at a bar. Text on the front page explains: “The following guide is meant to mimic the experience of sitting in front of a talented, passionate bartender willing to make anything you desire.”

For my first try, I opted to let the “bartender” choose. You do this by shaking the phone, which is fun and feels a little like shaking a cocktail tin. This brings up a selection of seemingly random drinks to try. (I say “seemingly random” because the first drink that came up for me was “Newman,” which I’ve never heard of before and freaked me out just a little, since that’s also my last name.)

The recipes, as expected, were on target. Over the course of a couple of weeks, I worked through a half dozen—some classics, some completely new to me—and there was not a clunker in the bunch. The drink instructions were successful and easy to follow, and I appreciated an option to toggle easily between ounces and milliliters.

Hot in the Shade on “Bartender’s Choice”.

I also experimented with the option called “I Feel Like,” which walks the user through four steps, selecting spirit choice, flavor profiles (bitter, fruity, dry, etc.), drink styles (apéritif, low alcohol, etc.) and a few other extra ingredient choices (egg white, Champagne, cucumber). You can also opt out of any of the steps if you don’t have a preference. For example, my request for bourbon/bittersweet/boozy/absinthe led to four choices, one of which was A La Louisiane (a personal favorite!) and three that were new to me, including the Waldorf, an absinthe-rinsed Manhattan variation, which was what I ultimately made. I promptly starred it to add to the “My Favorites” section for future reference. The “I feel like” option is one I expect to return to repeatedly in the future.

That said, there were a few things I’d love to see changed. In addition to the recipes, the app includes a substantial glossary and how-to section, similar to what you encounter in the early pages of most cocktail books. But for the beginner who might endeavor to make a Waldorf but isn’t familiar with the phrase “absinthe rinse,” it would be nice to have a link directly to that explanation. Ditto with terms like “swizzle” and “dry shake.”

Army on “Bartender’s Choice”.

I also hope a more robust photo budget is in the offing. I quickly tired of seeing the same coupes and Collinses pop up over and over and over again. An app with more than 600 innovative drinks shouldn’t have to rely on a limited roster of generic photos.

While I liked that the recipe section encouraged users to search by favorite bars and bartenders and even drink families (Collins, Martini, etc.), the catch is there’s no pull-down or other list supplied; you have to know what you’re looking for. That’s great if you’re already a Diamond Reef fangirl (hi), but not so great for a newbie looking to explore.

Queen’s Park Swizzle on “Bartender’s Choice”.

However, these are minor criticisms. Overall, this is a highly useful app for all levels and a strong addition to any home bar.

While the original “Bartender’s Choice” app was iOS only, the newest version is available on both iOS and Android and scheduled to be updated with new recipes, techniques and videos every six months, so keep on top of those updates. In the meantime, you can always pay a visit to Attaboy to quiz the bartender in person.