By Edward Washington
Luxury. There are definitions, portfolios and fabled verse that tell us what luxury is, what it isn’t and where it should be found. But of all things luxury would the pleasure of a cocktail be high on the list? It certainly should. A cocktail imbues one with a sense of timelessness, it shows that we are not rushed and it allows us to imbibe quality ingredients in a welcoming environment.
The environment and manner in which your drink is served can be as important, if not more important, than the drink itself.
“Luxury isn’t just about crystal decanters, expensive blended Scotch and ice diamonds,” says Keystone‘s main cocktailian Jason Williams. “The term luxury is bandied around so much by brands and bars that sometimes we lose touch with what a guest might see as attainable luxury – having a personalized experience.”
“A luxury cocktail, from my point of view, is a drink that I can’t afford.” Gary Regan.
Globe trotting drinks consultant Philip Duff thinks ‘luxury is a feeling’, so as a keynote to providing a luxurious experience you should ensure that guests are treated with care and that they are made to feel special no matter what the budget.
But what about luxury cocktails? Cocktails that for some reason are considered more luxurious than the one listed in the regular drinks section. Forgetting the gimmicks like accompanying diamond rings, or gold dusting on the glass, some cocktails demand a price and aura worth investigating.
“A luxury cocktail, from my point of view, is a drink that I can’t afford,” says Gary Regan. “It’s something that someone else has to buy for me.” If you’re particularly good at persuading others to buy your drinks then Regan suggests visiting Salvatore Calabrese’s new bar the London Playboy Club. Calabrese serves a number of cocktail concoctions with vintage and rare spirits. See Top Playboy Club Tipples*
Top Playboy Club Tipples
Calabrese reaches for a few vintage tipples when he makes his cocktails, here are a couple of bottles you might find on his back bar at the London Playboy Club.
- Old Taylor Kentucky Bourbon – c1940
- McBrayer Kentucky Bourbon – c1913
- Clos de Griffier Reserve Vieux Cognac – 1788
Lee Potter Cavanagh, bar manager at Sydney’s period styled Victoria Room, also knows a thing or two about serving cocktails in a state of luxury, so what does the concept mean to him?
“For luxury cocktails an obvious and recent phenomenon would be ageing cocktails,” he states. “Whether in wood, glass or steel the time and care that it takes to create these cocktails makes them a far more luxurious experience.” So taking your standard (albeit quality) ingredients and hand tuning their characteristics can be one way to add a touch of luxury.
When it comes to ingredients Cavanagh thinks: “A luxury spirit [could involve] unusual ageing or limited releases that makes the product special, more desirable and [therefore] more luxurious.”
Terms like ‘small batch’ and ‘hand-made’ are what bartenders crave in the current age of mass production. For Cavanagh, if a product has had the artisan touch it can be considered a more luxurious product. “If a product has been made by experienced artisans, often for generations, then the end product will often reflect this artisanship and will reflect luxury,” Cavanagh states. “Anything made with a fresh banana these days is also starting to reach the status of luxury with their price!”
Sasha Petraske (Milk & Honey) is an international industry icon who certainly knows his way around the inside of a mixing tin and serving up drinks in a luxurious environment. Petraske looks to simpler points when defining luxury. “A luxury cocktail has little to do with the quality of the spirit [it has] everything to do with factors such as; how long ago the citrus was squeezed, whether the vermouth is fresh and the quality of the ice it’s on – representatives of expensive spirit brands may disagree, but in that case they would be wrong.”
So as subjective as this month’s topic might be, there are certainly some ways to ensure that your guests have a luxurious experience when next drinking cocktails at your bar. Top notch spirits are undoubtedly required if you’re charging a premium, but you’ll also need to ensure that your bar’s environment; offers guests a comforting place to reside and imbibe; that there is some personalised attention given to each guest, and that all the ingredients used in the cocktail are as fresh as they need to be.
A spare bottle of 1929 Chateau d’Yquem might be handy too if someone wants the luxurious Sauterne Cobbler listed in the 1930 edition of Punches and Cocktails How to Mix Them.