In the age of the Smartphone, you’d think it’d be pretty easy to find a good cocktail recipe, and quickly. But oddly enough, in the sea of Cocktail Apps, it’s surprisingly difficult to find a recipe you can trust.

Today I wanted to do a little experiment and test four cocktail recipe apps against what I consider to be the “Gold Standard” for cocktail recipes – the International Bartender Association Official Recipes.

The Contenders:

I chose my apps in an extremely unscientific way:

First, I limited my search to “free” apps, because I felt those are mostly likely the apps with the most users. Second, I did some research on Reddit and around the web for the most often recommended apps. Third, I decided to exclude what I’m calling “Social” Bar / Cocktail apps – which are apps whose recipes are user-submitted. My reasoning is that these apps are not really intended for searching for classic cocktail recipes, and I can’t hold it against them if their users are incorrect. (I do hope to do a review of these Social apps soon, so stay tuned.)

The Cocktails:

In order to have an accurate representation, I tried to pick a list of cocktails that were fairly common and, of course, listed on the IBA Official Cocktail list. Here’s the list:

  • Margarita: Common, simple, standard. Lots of likely variation on this one.
  • Manhattan: I would assume the recipe for a Manhattan would be fairly standard… except I’ve had so many terrible ones in bars. We’ll see.
  • Old Fashioned: This should be interesting…
  • Negroni: If any apps suggest a non “perfect” cocktail (equal parts of all ingredients) I will be very, very upset.
  • Mojito: Another simple, common, standard cocktail.

The Challenge

This review will not be discussing usability, visual appeal, speed, or any of the other factors which may make these apps great. Today we’re focusing 100% on the accuracy of five cocktail recipes, as compared to the IBA.

First I’ll compare ingredients, then key proportions. We aren’t looking at instructions, just ingredients. (I also reserve the right to lean heavily on my own opinion wherever I feel like it.)

Gentlemen, Start your iPhones!

Manhattan: Cocktail Flow

The Manhattan

I was holding my breath searching this one. Thankfully I found absolutely no references to cherry coke anywhere. #thankgoodness.

None of the apps had a perfect copy of the IBA Manhattan recipe, but every one got the list of ingredients correct – with some variation on the whiskey.

Here’s the IBA Recipe: (Converted to Ounces and slightly rounded)

  • 1 2/3 oz Rye or Canadian Whiskey
  • 2/3 oz Sweet Red Vermouth
  • 1 Dash Angostura Bitters
  • Maraschino cherry (Garnish)

The Rankings:

  • Cocktail Flow: Correct ingredients and Whiskey / Vermouth / Bitters proportions were correct.  + 3 points. (Yes, there are points.)
  • Mixology: Proportion was 0.25x as much Vermouth as Whiskey, which was a bit farther off than Highball, but Mixology got the Bitters right. + 2 points.
  • Highball: The proportion of Rye Whiskey to Vermouth was closer to the IBA standard but this recipe called for two dashes of bitters instead of one. + 1 point.
  • DrinksFree: Last place for using an “incorrect” bourbon. (No points!)
Margarita: Cocktail Flow

The Margarita

I expected variations to include different orange liqueurs and possibly simple syrup. I was right!

Here’s the IBA Recipe: (Using 1/4 oz as 1 part)

  • 1 3/4 oz (7 parts) Tequila
  • 1 oz (4 parts) Cointreau
  • 3/4 oz (3 parts) lime juice

Notice, this recipe is in ounces – not Cups. I’m looking at you, Mixology.

The Rankings:

  • Cocktail Flow: Coming in with an absolutely perfect recipe, Cocktail flow takes first place again. + 3 more points.
  • Highball and DrinksFree: I had a hard time ranking these two. Highball calls for 3/4 oz Cointreau plus 1/2 simple syrup, to 3/4 lime. DrinksFree calls for 1/2 oz Triple Sec to 1 oz of Lime Juice. Seems to me Highball’s Margarita will be too sweet and DrinksFree too acidic. +1 point each.
  • Mixology: Here’s the recipe, you decide: 1/4 Cup (2oz) Cuervo Gold Tequila, 1/4 Cup (2 oz) Triple Sec, 1/4 Lime (roughly 1/4 oz). This must be a typo …. no points!
Highball: Old Fashioned

The Old Fashioned

I didn’t know what to expect with this one, but was very happy to see most apps did not include soda.

Here’s the IBA Recipe: (Converted to Ounces and slightly rounded)

  • 1 1/2 oz Bourbon or Rye whiskey
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters
  • 1 sugar cube
  • Few dashes plain water

The first thing to notice is that the IBA advocates the “Sugar Cube + Water” approach instead of using Simple Syrup or – ahem – 7-up. I do think the sugar cube is a very “traditional” way of creating the Old Fashioned

The Rankings:

  • A Three-Way Tie: Mixology, Highball and Cocktail Flow were all close – but not quite there – on their respective Old Fashioned Recipes. + 1 point each.
    • Mixology: Was the closest in recipe but called for “Blended Scotch Whiskey” instead of Bourbon or Rye
    • Highball: Called for bourbon and two dashes of bitters – but it was one dash Angostura and another dash Orange. It was also the only recipe that called for Simple Syrup (although the correct amount.)
    • Cocktail Flow: Was so close! But instead of still water it calls for Club Soda. So close.
  • Drinks Free: Sorry guys, but “6 oz 7-up” is not part of the IBA Old Fashioned recipe. Since the “Old Fashioned” has been around since the late 1800’s and 7-Up invented in  1929, I just can’t let this one go. No points.
Negroni: Mixology

Negroni

The Negroni is perhaps the easiest cocktail recipe there is – so my expectation is that all four apps will get a perfect score. Let’s see how that goes…

Here’s the IBA Recipe: (Converted to Ounces and slightly rounded)

  • 1 oz Gin
  • 1 oz Sweet Vermouth
  • 1 oz Campari

See what I mean?

The Rankings:

I am very happy to report that every single app got this cocktail perfectly correct. I won’t nitpick about amounts – as far as I’m concerned, if your recipe calls for equal parts Gin, Sweet Vermouth and Campari, you are gold. Well done, folks. + 3 points for everyone, why not?

Mojito: Highball

Mojito

Despite the fact that – strangely – every bar in the world seems to run out of Mint when I order this cocktail, I still think it’s one of my favorites.

Here’s the IBA Recipe: (Converted to Ounces and slightly rounded)

  • 1 1/3 oz (4 parts) White Rum
  • 1 oz (3 parts) Lime Juice
  • 6 Leaves of Mint
  • 2 Teaspoons Sugar
  • Soda Water

The Rankings:

Now this was a bit of an interesting case, because nearly every recipe called for more (if not significantly more rum. I’m not one to argue with that, but unfortunately I have to stick with the plan for the purposes of this review.

  • Highball: Swooping in at the last minute, Highball not only has an exact copy of the IBA recipe in their app, but strangely, this recipe is in cL instead of ounces. Coincidence? The only possible point of contention is the IBA calls for 6 “leaves” of mint but Highball calls for 6 “sprigs.” I’m willing to call that a wash.
  • Cocktail Flow: Not quite enough for the top spot, Cocktail Flow had a very close cocktail recipe. The only difference here is that Cocktail Flow calls for 2 teaspoons of Simple Syrup instead of sugar. Very close. + 2 points.
  • Mixology and Highball’s recipes were almost exactly the same, so they tied for third. +1 point each

The Final Rankings:

And now for the results of my completely unscientific, biased and arguably unfair ranking…

  • DrinksFree: 5 Points
  • Mixology: 7 Points
  • Highball: 9 Points
  • Cocktail Flow: 12 Points

I’m actually pretty impressed with these apps overall – for the most part the recipes were fairly consistent and the apps were easy to use.

In my completely subjective opinion, the two best ranking apps – Highball and Cocktail Flow – were also the apps that had the prettiest interface. But I also noticed that it seemed like DrinksFree and Mixology had far larger databases of drink recipes. So it may still be worth keeping more than one app on your phone after all.

As Always: Drink What You Like:

This entire “analysis” (if you can call it that) is based on the assumption that the IBA has the “best” cocktail recipes. But who’s to say how you like your drinks? Maybe you do prefer 7-Up in your Old Fashioned. While I think it’s useful to have a “standard” list of cocktail recipes to work from, the beauty of craft cocktails is how everything can be adjusted, altered and tweaked. So choose the app you like (or a couple or them) and go drink what you like – whatever it is.

Did I miss an app you like? Let me know in the comments!