Dram & Grain is one-upping the costly cocktail with its own $135 drink.
On the occasional Tuesday, the basement bar inside Jack Rose Dining Saloon has added a "sacred slaughter" category to its menu. "As the name suggests, we're taking unique and rare products and forming the abomination of making cocktails out of them," says bartender Lukas B. Smith.
One recent creation is the $135 Champion Elysées with L'Artisan du Cognac Grande Champagne No. 50, 1967 Green Chartreuse, and lemon. A bottle of the cognac costs about $1,500 retail or $1,100 wholesale, Smith says. Although it's pricey, he swears the Champion Elysées is a good deal: "If we were charging semi-normal markup for the drink, it would have cost about $200."
Dram & Grain has only sold one of the cocktails, but having it on the menu has inspired drinkers to ask about and order the spirits in it. The response has been positive enough that the "sacred slaughter" will become a regular part of the menu beginning this week. "The fact that we're putting it on the menu is a symbol that we're realizing that there's a market for it," Smith says.
It turns out $135 is actually chump change compared to how much Dram & Grain has tried to charge for other one-off specials. On Derby Day, a mint julep with 23-year-old Pappy Van Winkle was priced at $1,000. No one bought it, but Smith says it did generate interest in the bourbon. Another top-dollar tipple for St. Patrick's Day called Tipperary Insanity included Redbreast 21, 1967 Green Chartreuse, and Cocchi Rosso vermouth for $90—"and we sold a few of those," Smith says. Because it's too expensive to experiment extensively with the recipes in advance, the bar sticks to classic cocktails if it's going to use high-end spirits.
Smith says the whole premise of mixology is that bartenders can take so-so spirits and turn them into delicious cocktails by intelligently adding other ingredients. "If we're good enough to do that, why don't we challenge ourselves to see if we can't get even greater effects from more complex spirits and ingredients," Smith says. As for whether a drink made with a $1,000 whiskey is better than one made with a $100 whiskey, Smith argues it can be. The Tipperary Insanity, for example, "drank like an outstanding aged wine," Smith says.
So, how much is too much to charge? Smith comes from the wine world, where people are less likely to be shocked by exorbitant prices. "The discerning wine drinker won't question that a bottle of wine is worth, say, $400 or $500. When cocktails get this rarified and the ingredients are well chosen and exquisite, there's no reason that they shouldn't command the same price," Smith says.
Still, the idea of mixing a rare whiskey with anything is sacrilegious to connoisseurs. (Hence the name "sacred slaughter.") And it's no secret that Bill Thomas, the owner of Dram & Grain and Jack Rose, is one of those aficionados.
"He kind of winces sometimes... The pain is lessened by the fact that he knows we're going to try to do something really excellent. We're going to take good care of it," Smith says. "It's like a humane slaughterhouse."