Name me a more iconic duo than a pilot and their cocktail. Whether it’s the 1933 movie Night Flight with the heroic pilot singing “How Dry I Am” as he stumbles into the cockpit, or the iconic bar scenes from the 1986 movie Top Gun (or the equally memorable bar scenes from it’s 2022 sequel), the trope exists for a reason. Pilots are a hard drinking folk — although nowadays, they save it until after they land and not prior to takeoff. Naturally, the Navy Pilot’s Cocktail Checklist an ideal gift for the aviator in your life (or for yourself).
Checklists are something that every pilot learns to love from the very first day of flight school. It’s a tool that helps you remember all the fiddly bits and pieces that have to be accomplished before a flight, and provides a bit of confidence that there’s nothing you missed. It helps you achieve a consistent level of performance every time you head out to the flight line. Which, honestly, is something that could be a huge help to some amateur bartenders I’ve met over the years.
I’ve never had the privilege of needing a US Navy checklist for anything I’ve flown, but the format of this book feels very familiar to civilian pilot checklists and manuals. Up front, on white colored pages, are what feels like the “Pilot’s Operating Handbook” (or POH) section, and it goes over things like general cocktail theory, tools you should have available, etc.
There are some touches in here that I really appreciate, and let you know a pilot actually wrote this. There’s a “Minimum Essential Ingredients” list, which is clearly a riff on the Minimum Equipment List (the bare minimum you need operable to legally take off in an airplane, listed in about every POH).
Also present: conversion charts. Do you need this stuff? Absolutely not — Google exists, and is much more useful than this page could ever be. But every POH ever printed still has a Fahrenheit to Celsius conversion chart in it, just in case. And this section feels very much like a homage to those theoretically useful pages.
Flip the book around and you get to the “Emergency Procedures” section of the POH — or in this case, the actual cocktail section.
This might seem a bit strange, but this is actually spot-on for how most checklists work. The idea is that these emergency procedures (usually indicated with the barber-pole-stripe caution indicator there on the spine) should be easy to find in a hurry, so they are typically printed at the back of the booklet so you can instantly turn the POH around and immediately access them. And to make it simple, they are upside down compared to the rest of the book so that once you flip it around it reads and works just like normal (starting from the new “cover” as page one).
I love the format here. The steps are clear and concise (just like in a normal pilot’s checklist) flowing from one to the next. It makes cocktails clearly understandable, and the resulting recipes have been pretty spot on and delicious. I’ve tried a bunch of their rum and whiskey recipes, especially ones I’ve never heard of before, and they’ve been great.
The absolute best part, however, is the color commentary — like the caution and warning section from the Dirty Bird cocktail in the photo above. Normally, in a POH, these kinds of callouts would tell you boring things like “don’t crank the starter for more than five seconds or it might catch fire” but here the warnings are cheeky, fun, and keep this book from being too dry.
In my opinion, this is just about the perfect gift for any cocktail-loving aviator (or even just cocktail-loving aviation fan). Not only is it an extremely functional gift that provides cocktail recipes in a format that makes sense, but there are so many in-jokes and nods to things that really only a pilot will understand that it makes you smile every time you crack it open. Absolutely worth the price.
Navy Pilot’s Cocktail Checklist
Overall Rating: * * * * *