Tomas Curras is the founder and designer of Cocktail Royale, an iPhone and Android app dedicated to the ingredients, recipes and history behind classic cocktails. A former Apple intern and employee, Curras talks to Filthy Lucre about going into business for himself and his hands-on approach to understanding the story behind every drink.
What inspired you to create Cocktail Royale?
A lot of cocktail apps are trash. They have way too many recipes and just recycle things based on different liquors. My goal of making Cocktail Royale was to provide quality photographs — because a picture is worth a thousand words — and the history and origin of every cocktail, including the original recipe. So I’ve worked really hard to go through antique books and trace the evolution of a cocktail over time. That’s what I try to supply in this app.
How does the layout of the app work?
A few different ways. You can browse by ingredients, so if you want a cocktail that contains rum or if you’re in the mood for a brandy cocktail, you can specifically go to that item and it will show you every cocktail that contains that item. You can also browse by type of cocktails. I break it down by sours, Old Fashioned style, Tiki style. If you’re in the mood for a Highball, you can then search all the Highballs available. And as you’re searching, it will not only show you everything that’s possible, but also highlight ones you are able to make based on the ingredients you have. If you don’t have an ingredient, you can make a shopping cart to add those items and buy them online.
You take the photographs yourself?
I do everything myself. I went out and bought a refurbished canon DSLR and got a special lens. I just take them by an open window. I like natural lighting. I see a lot of photos elsewhere and you can tell they’ve been put into Photoshop and they amp up the purples, reds and blues — and they turn it into something that’s not real. I wanted my photos to reflect what the drink really looks like. I play around with the brightness of them, but I don’t modify any colors.
The app leans heavily toward classic cocktails.
I include a few modern ones, but it’s primarily the classics because I feel it’s important to preserve that kind of information. All these old books that were written, a lot of the recipes are difficult to understand because standardized measurements didn’t come around until later. Some of the old books use defunct units that aren’t used anymore. They’re kind of difficult to get through.
I imagine there are some mixers that were more common years ago.
Some have actually come back that went away. Creme de violette or lavender liquor is a good example. That one was popular in the 1800s but disappeared during the Prohibition. At that point, you couldn’t make a true Aviation, you couldn’t make a true Blue Moon, you couldn’t make a lot of these vintage cocktails that had it. So people tried to substitute different items or leave it out entirely. In some books printed post-Prohibition, you see ingredients left out that dropped out of the market or disappeared. So when things come back, I try to make sure I incorporate that or add that history.
Is the app almost like a knowledgeable bartender who is telling their customer a story behind the drink that’s in front of them?
I’d say so.
After designing the software, how long did it take to put Cocktail Royale together?
I had to buy all the ingredients — it cost a lot of money because I had to buy every bottle. I had to mix every drink, take photos of everything and do all my research on every piece I put in there. So initially, I only launched with 60 cocktails and I think about 40 ingredients. Last I checked, I’m currently at 140 cocktails and maybe 70 ingredients.
Are you able to gain traction on social media with your photos?
Yes, I’m actually surprised at how quickly that’s happened. And again, people are really interested in the history behind the cocktails.
How did you develop an interest in cocktails, spirits and liquors?
From my dad. He would actually search high and low to find particular liquors. My dad would look through a book, get on the phone and call distributors trying to find certain liquors.