Gulp. How’d we get to the $22 cocktail?

on 17/02/15 at 10:38 am

Booze News

indexThe deep, amber-colored drink is a looker, that much is true.

But there is no forest of mint perking up this Manhattan at Georgetown’s Rye Bar. It does not arrive in a pineapple.

It is an unfussy Manhattan. It just happens to cost $22.

If eyebrows rise and jaws drop over the price of the top drink on his menu, Angel Cervantes, the head bartender at this glossy art deco bar, isn’t showing it.

“The first-timers, they approach it, of course, with the mentality of, ‘It’s $22,’ ” he acknowledges. “Of course, they ask, ‘Is it really worth it?’ We always give people little tastings, and they decide.” Often, he says, they decide it is worth it; this mix of small-batch Dad’s Hat rye, vermouth and a splash of the port-like aperitif Byrrh has been on the menu since 2013.

Retail, not one of those bottles commands Pappy Van Winkle prices. This drink, however, is mixed six weeks before it ever sees a glass; it goes into a 55-gallon charred bourbon barrel to age, a process that mellows the Manhattan’s usual kick in the pants and results in an elixir that’s sippable, with notes of coffee, almonds, vanilla. But is it $22 mellow?

The craft cocktail movement that bore this Manhattan emphasizes fine spirits, fresh juices and even thoughtful ice selections. It casts bartenders as skilled craftsmen. And over the past decade, it has delivered vast improvement over the baby-pool-size apple martinis and mojitos that once fetched $7 or $8. But as we tip the $12 mark, the $14 mark and $20 mark, the questions increasingly on the lips of diners and bargoers are: When did what’s in our glass start making such a noticeable dent in our wallets? And why?

At Chicago’s luxe Aviary, where a kitchen of chefs turns out whimsical drinks, you can crack open spherical ice to release a $22 whiskey cocktail. At Barmini in the District, most cocktails, including the chili-honey-laced Some Like It Hot, hover at $16, but for the Big in Japan, built upon trendy Japanese whiskey, Drambuie and Japanese peach, you’ll pay $25. And for $45, the kindly bar staff at Fiola in Penn Quarter will conjure a Cocktail Bill, which, when you hear the ingredients, sounds suspiciously like a Sazerac, only with cocktail-geek favorite Thomas H. Handy rye.