Since the days of Prohibition, when barkeeps invented mixed drinks in an effort to disguise the taste of their rotgut with fruit syrups, cocktails have exuded an air of illicit festivity. Beer is fine, and whiskey's quicker, but a cocktail — with its goofy garnishes and splendid colors — is merriment in a tumbler.
Now barkeepers are following the example of vintners and distillers, who have long charged a Rothschild's ransom for their best stuff. "There has been a significant growth in mixology, particularly with the use of fresh ingredients," says Robert Plotkin, a beverage consultant who has published numerous books on the topic.
Ambitious bartenders are developing premium repertoires that combine some of the world's finest and rarest alcohols with equally esoteric mixers. For instance: Blend a cognac that has survived two World Wars with the blackberry liqueur créme de mure, then pour over yohimbe bark, an obscure African aphrodisiac. "These ingredients have to scream the finest lineage possible," says Plotkin.
Imagine what happens to the bar tab when these combinations are embellished with tiny gold swords for skewering olives, or rubies instead of maraschino cherries.
We spoke with noted beverage experts, as well as keepers from the finest bars, restaurants, casinos and resorts across the world, to assemble a list of the most expensive cocktails on the planet.
To satisfy purists who are strictly interested in the potables, we made sure to include drinks that aren't enhanced by jewelry. Three of the list's most spectacular drinks are the Ritz Side Car from Paris, the Diamond Cocktail from London, and the Platinum Passion from Duvet in New York.
Topping our list is the holder of the Guinness Record for the world's most expensive cocktail, and perhaps the most elegant mixed drink to be found anywhere: the Ritz Side Car served at Bar Hemingway in the Paris Ritz. In reviving the classic that César Ritz himself served in the 1920s, the hotel's head bartender, Colin P. Field, follows the classic side car recipe: cognac, Cointreau and a drop of freshly squeezed lemon juice, shaken and served in a martini glass.
But the magic lies in the hotel's astonishing store of cognac, the 1830 Ritz Reserve. "This drink provides an opportunity to taste something that no longer exists," says Christophe Léger, assistant to Mr. Field, "the cognac of vines that predate the phylloxera plague."
In the 1860s, a pestilence of aphidlike insects from America wiped out many of France's finest grapevines, and only a handful of bottles of the Ritz Reserve remain. "So you are tasting history," Leger says, "Eighteen-thirty is Napoleon." In the past three years, roughly 60 patrons have agreed that $515 is a bargain for tasting the zenith of French glory.
Across the channel, the English are hearkening to Waterloo with their Diamond Cocktail in the Piano Bar at London's Sheraton Park Tower Hotel. The drink is a champagne cocktail featuring Charles Heidsieck Vintage 2001 champagne and Remy Martin Louis XIII cognac (a blend of cognacs — some of which are more than 125 years old — that retails for $1,750 per bottle) mixed with three drops of angostura bitters and poured over a sugar cube and your choice of diamonds or rubies. Selecting a 0.6 carat diamond will produce a £2,300 ($4,350) drink, "but we could go up to £10,000 if a customer would like to choose such a gemstone" says the bar's assistant manager, Theodore Garcia.
Of course, the United States is perfectly capable of mixing a rich drink. At Mezz, an "ultralounge" at Foxwoods Resort Casino in Ledyard, Connecticut, the premium drinks menu arrives in a leather-bound necklace case. Topping the list at $3,000 is the Sapphire Martini, which Donna Wing, the casino's director of beverage operations, describes as "a classic martini made with Bombay Sapphire gin (or the client's choice of premium vodka), blue curaçao and a dash of dry vermouth." The glass is rimmed with blue sugar and a garnish that consists of a sterling-silver pick holding a pair of platinum-mounted diamond and sapphire earrings.
No word on the vintage of the olive.
© 2012 Forbes.com