For various reasons, I don't use apps all that much (and, please, I don't need to be told why I should; I've heard it all). A few months ago, a reader pointed me to an app—Beachbum Berry's guide to tiki cocktails. Unfortunately, it's not available for Android (see below), but it gave me the idea to see what all's out there. So, I went app scouting with two rules: The app had to be free and available for both iPhone and Android because, at least until my contract's up, I'm stuck with an Android.
Food & Wine Cocktails was, by far, my favorite. It's tied to Food & Wine magazine, which means really nice photos—like, total cocktail porn. The app lets you search for recipes by spirit and type of cocktail (Creative, Classic, Updated). There's a section that includes a spirits lexicon and cocktail-making tips ranging from what kind of glassware to use to how to make perfect ice cubes. But the nearly 400 recipes are what set this app apart. They range from basic to brilliant and include links to instructions for homemade ingredients like toasted-raisin syrup. The app claims to include a list of top cocktail bars, but I couldn't get it to load. Bummer. Still, for everything else it offers, I'm amazed this app is free.
I downloaded—and quickly deleted—several apps that give you a checklist of common (and some less-common) ingredients, ask you to select everything you have on hand and show you what you can make. Barssentials comes with 2,200 recipes, which was whittled down to 277 after I went through the checklist. Of those, I found maybe five that I hadn't heard of and would actually drink. When I pretended to have a slightly classier liquor cabinet, the returns were better.
Similar and a little more manageable was Cocktail Hero, which comes with only 146 recipes, all of them unfussy classics. The list of possible cocktails goes in descending order from what you can make right now with what you have to what you could make if you acquired one more ingredient, two more ingredients, and so on.
If you don't mind spending 99 cents, iBartender does the pick-your-ingredients thing and offers more sophisticated recipes. The free version lets you search for drinks by one ingredient and turns up anywhere from two recipes (for Fernet Branca) to more than 80 recipes (for gin).
Swizzle Drink comes with more than 10,000 recipes. You can do the what's-in-your-liquor-cabinet routine, though the app asks you to type in an ingredient and see if it shows up—there's no handy checklist. Still, the recipes are great—I'm one ingredient short of "A Pimp Named Slickback" (1 ounce triple sec, 1/2 ounce white rum, 1 ounce Rose's lime juice, splash of amaretto). But what made this one worth writing about is that it comes with 52 recipes for homemade liqueurs, including absinthe, Southern Comfort and three takes on Bailey's. There's also a feature called "My recipes," that, in addition to storing your own concoctions, lets you pull something from its recipe list, alter it to your liking and save it as a new recipe.