By Patruus Inebrius [email protected]
Cocktails are one of the most creative aspects of the Inebrial Arts. You can take anything from a standard white liquor, such as vodka or gin, add ingredients from the mundane to the exotic, and create a flavorful masterpiece.
Thanks to Prohibition encouraging people to get creative with flavorings when the alcohol available was harsh, there are literal libraries of cocktail recipes available. Whether you’re a seasoned bartender or a just-turned-21 explorer, you’ll find that there are always more recipes to try. And some may even be good!
We’ll be doing some cocktail recipe reviews in later posts, but for now, let’s share some basic recipe sites to start your exploration. A simple Google search reveals the most “relevant” sites (depending on Google’s algorithm this week).
Now before we list the full sites, I need to point out that Google itself has become a drink recipe generator. Just type in the name of the drink you’re looking for and you’ll get a nice, large description of the drink and the accompanying recipe. It isn’t as comprehensive as more specialized sites, but is fast and can work in a pinch. You can read more about that here: http://punchdrink.com/news/new-google-feature-tells-you-how-to-mix-drinks/
Now we can’t just list the sites. We need some method of comparison. Some search term to test out how easy it is to find and use a recipe.
So let’s try a couple. We’ll go with an absolute classics: a simple “Manhattan.”
This site is literally a searchable database of drinks and drink variants. When I put in “Manhattan” it returned 56 variant recipes in an instant. Being as I’d like this to be an apples-to-apples comparison, I selected the plain “Manhattan.” To my surprise the recipe called for a Scotch rather than the expected bourbon. And not just a Scotch, but a specific Scotch.
0.5 oz sweet vermouth
2 1/2 oz bourbon whiskey
1 dash Angostura® bitters
1 maraschino cherry
1 twist orange peel
VARIATION: No bitters. Substitute a twist of lime for the cherry and orange. Hold the lime twist in a lighted match over the drink and then drop it in. The heat really zips up the lime flavor.
To start, this is a sub-section of the greater Epicurious website. And while it has a clean layout, it appears to be more “featured” recipe driven than wanting to serve as a drink search engine. In fact you can click on various spirit categories to filter the list, but there is no actual text search.
Shaking my head a bit, I clicked on the singular “whisky” filter box and took a look at the shortened list. The first instance of “The Manhattan” I spotted was submitted to the website in 2008 and was third from last on the first page of recipes. At least it was on the first page!
Opening up the recipe I found that it was simple and generic, eschewing any brands for the recommended “hearty shot of bourbon,” “splash of sweet vermouth,” or “dash of bitters.” As it went to lengths to say the recipe and instructions were copyrighted – by some remarkable stretch of the imagination given the age of this drink – by “Freakin’ Fabulous by Clinton Kelly” I will refrain from publishing the full recipe here. Instead, you can just see it here: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/the-manhattan-355290
So I was a bit unimpressed by the Epicurious list-o-drinks. It works and has a nice clean layout, but isn’t very flexible or easy to use if you’re looking for a particular drink recipe. However it does have ratings and review for the recipes, so if you’re looking to explore some new things and want a little third-party research support, it’s a great site to visit!
First mark against “The Bar” is that it has one of those ineffective and annoyingly invasive “birthdate” requirements before it will let you see the site. I’m sure some liability-oriented administrator sold that content wall as a way to prevent underage persons (who of course would never lie about their age to a web page) from accessing the site while giving them some age-related demographic information about visitors. At least it has a “remember me” tracking cookie it can plant so that it need not bother you to make up a new birthdate each visit.
But to the heart of the matter: how does it work as a recipe engine?
Answer: Pretty damn well. Though it seems to skip the basic recipes.
The opening page lets you either filter or do a word search. In “Manhattan” went and up popped the results. Ten different recipes appeared, though none were just a “manhattan” though they all apparently fall into the “Manhattans” category. Each of these recipes, with names ranging from “Blood & Sand” to “Dickel Rye Manhattan” reveal a greater level of sophistication than those shown on Epicurious. Most variants called for particular brands of bourbons, Scotches or other ingredients. I can say that I found my interest piqued by more than one of the recipes that called for both a bourbon and Scotch.
The closest I found to a straightforward “Manhattan” however, was the Bulleit Rye Manhattan. It called for the branded bourbon, sweet vermouth and aromatic bitters. Strikingly simple compared to most of the other variants.
One thing that is swiftly apparent is that The Bar sells spirits. Every recipe has brand names and typically purchasing links included. That’s actually very handy if, like me, you live in one of the U.S. states that allows home delivery of hard liquor.
So there you go, three top recipe sites and a taste of what you can expect when you try to use them. Of course there are literally hundreds of other recipe sites available, some probably far superior to these guys. But if I were to rank these three, I’d put Drinks Mixer first since it had the most robust results from a text search. Next would be The Bar, which has some very creative, if sponsored, recipes that actually made me want to try a couple. Third would be Epicurious, that’s aimed more at someone exploring their reviews and “featured” recipes.