Gadget Lust: Don't Think Before You Drink!

Cocktails Marissa Rothkopf Bates

Into the strange world in which we live, where apps try to improve facets of our lives we didn't know we had, much less needed improving, Brookstone has brought The Perfect Drink App-Controlled Smart Bartending. Many cocktail apps have come before it, but none have been attached to a scale and integrated into a system that for all intents and purposes holds your shaky hand and helps you pour yourself a cocktail.

When you order The Perfect Drink, what arrives is a box with a scale, a cocktail shaker, two pouring spouts just like actual bartenders use, and a stand to hold your smartphone or tablet. The all-important "free" app, without which this box of things would only be a box of things, needs to be downloaded before any magic can happen.

I downloaded the app and plugged the scale into my phone via the headphone jack. I chose a sidecar for my first try. It's a drink I am very familiar with - some might say too familiar with - but some folks are nosy. I set the shaker on the scale, where it was automatically calibrated. When you choose a cocktail, you're taken to a "build" screen, where each ingredient is represented by a box stacked one on top of another. I prepped my glass according to instructions and embellished the edge of my cocktail glass with a swipe of lime juice and a sprinkle of sugar on the rim. I was then instructed to pour the two ounces of brandy required for one drink, and watched as the box magically filled up brown - just like gen-u-ine brandy! As I reached two ounces, a loud ping announced I'd poured enough, and we moved on to one ounce of triple sec (that box filled up orange). Getting a little excited for my drink at this point, I poured in an ounce of lemon juice instead of the three quarters of an ounce demanded by the app. Another loud ping and "overpour detected" appeared in red on my screen. Very kindly, the app told me just how much more brandy and triple sec to add to even up the ratio. (Was this nice Mr. Bartender trying to overserve me? I hadn't even tipped him yet!) I added ice, put the cap on and shook that shaker as the app counted down 10 seconds for me.

I then poured the frothy, caramel-colored drink into my glass and took a hesitant sip. The result was a well-balanced, tart little sidecar. I made more than 10 drinks from the app, including a cousin to the whiskey sour called a Ward 8 (rye, orange juice, lemon juice, club soda, grenadine) for my husband, an Atlas (gin, orange juice, Lillet, orange bitters) for a neighbor, then a cocktail named for a French Olympic fencing star of the 1920s - because why wouldn't you? - for another fortunate friend. They all were easy to make and easier to drink. These were grown-up cocktails with balanced flavors, not Jell-O shots for teenagers who bought their fake ID's online.

The app has some snazzy features. You tell it everything you have available at home for cocktail-making, from grenadine to egg whites, and it gives you a list of drinks you can make. If you're short on a particular ingredient (say you're making a rusty nail and you don't have enough Drambuie), it will resize the drink appropriately. Drinks are also sorted into interesting categories, such as Prohibition-era cocktails or cocktails from famous movies and books that will help fool those who think they're not just there to drink.

While some cocktail apps out there have more than 8,000 drinks to choose from, no one, anywhere, needs that much choice. The Brookstone app offers a few hundred solid and varied choices. There are standards, such as the manhattan, as well as drinks you should be able to make without an app, or you shouldn't be allowed to drink (didn't you learn to make a Jack and coke in junior high?). Such inanities are made up for with a wide range of intriguing lesser-known quaffs, such as the blood and sand, a scotch whisky-based drink reputedly favored by Rudolph Valentino. There are also a few repulsive offerings, including two that call for "crème de violette," a (you guessed it) violet-flavored aperitif, which is fine if your idea of a good time is drinking with your grandmother and her nurse. In a world in which cotton-candy flavored vodka exists, I suppose it could be worse.

The app needs an update to fix some bugs, and for $69.99, those updates should happen weekly. Annoyingly, it repeatedly told us our scale was unbalanced when it was on a rock-solid smooth counter. Not being able to add your own recipes is a big miss. You can only adjust existing cocktails, and that process is cumbersome and kluge-y. Spelling errors abound. With so many underemployed copy editors out there, it makes a girl like me cranky. It's a cocktail app, so spell Armagnac and kirschwasser correctly, please. And the famous drink from Scotland is spelled "whisky," while its cousin from Ireland takes "whiskey." Neat.

That said, this app setup would be a welcome guest at any party, and it will save you money on a bartender (and it won't drink your booze while you aren't looking). It is a bit of a contrivance, but a clever way to improve your mixology skills. Think of the app like bartender training wheels. Some day you won't need them, but until that time, it will keep you upright and steady. Until the daiquiris kick in.