Posted by: Matt Browner Hamlin | August 19, 2011

On the $13 Cocktail

This video is in a post by Liquor.com on Huffington Post. The video shows the time, energy, craft, and care that cocktail bars like San Francisco’s Bourbon & Branch put into making their drinks and providing their service. It is this time and energy which causes some craft cocktail bars, in some cities, to have drinks that cost $13 or more.

My experience with craft cocktails started in New York City. While I was mostly a dive bar guy, I would occasionally go out with friends to trendier bars and clubs. At these loud, packed meat markets I would regularly pay $10-15 for simple Ketel & Sodas (as I said, this was prior to getting into craft cocktails). To be in New York and to be social involves a certain amount of dramatically overpaying for drinks.

When I discovered craft cocktails through a visit to Death & Company, I wasn’t struck by paying $15 for a cocktail. I was instead struck by the fact that I’d paid $15 for a cocktail and it was worth every penny. There was value and care in the drink. I was willing to pay it again and, ideally, as soon as possible.

The reality is that while a $13 cocktail is expensive for most people, a bad $6 cocktail is also expensive for most people. Wasting a dollar costs the same amount everywhere. While I’ve certainly had some overpriced craft cocktails (I’m looking at you, hotel bars with good cocktail programs!), for the most part the prices for drinks at high-end craft cocktail bars are reasonable for what you get in return.

Of course what that means is that most of us don’t get to have a bar like Bourbon & Branch or The Columbia Room as our nightly, neighborhood bar due to the cost associated with it. But as a matter of fact, that’s what made me build a bar at home. If you like those $13 cocktails, but don’t want to pay that much every time you want a killer Manhattan variation, find out the recipes, buy the ingredients and make them for yourself at home! It’s cheaper in the long run to learn how to mix these high-end cocktails yourself. The sole caveat I’d add is that home bartending doesn’t lend itself to having lots of different tinctures, custom bitters, and bizarre infusions. You can still do these things, but the time incentive is less on your side than, say, going to the store and picking up some Rittenhouse 100, Carpano Antica and Angostura bitters.

The moral of the story is this: embrace the $13 cocktail until the point where it hurts to regularly spend that $13 on a single drink, then start building your home bar and try to emulate the practices and methods which made that drink at the craft cocktail bar taste so great.

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