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Why this HK$1177 bottled old-fashioned cocktail is so expensive

Who would pay $150 or HK$1177 for a bottle of old-fashioned cocktail? We guessed “whiskey geeks with deep pockets.” Drinks industry vet Robert Haynes calls them “sophisticated sippers,” and he’s betting they’ll clear out this year’s stock by December.

Limited edition old-fashioned cocktail ready-to-drink bottle

On October 12, Chicago spirits brand Sunday’s Finest Cocktails launched the limited edition Gold Fashioned, a ready-to-drink (RTD), bottled old-fashioned that puts a hefty price tag on a classic cocktail.

The bottle has something of a pedigree: Frontman creator and co-founder Haynes is an ex-Chicago bartender, best known for his tenure at The Violet Hour, a James Beard Award-winning cocktail bar in Logan Square, where he also co-founded the acclaimed (now closed) cocktail bar, Analogue, in 2013. He then co-founded Apologue Liqueurs in 2018. And after a sell-out first batch in 2021, Sunday’s Finest Gold Fashioned’s 2022 blend elevates last year’s concept even further.

What makes this bottled cocktail, dubbed by its creators (which also includes co-founders Jordan Tepper and Damiane Amine) as the “world’s first luxury RTD,” worth the price? The production is small, topping out at just 3,000 bottlings, and the packaging design is an experience of its own. The recipe involves a bespoke blend of “vintage” Bardstown-born bourbon and Indiana rye, plus proprietary saffron bitters, crafted sustainably by the handful with ingredients from every inhabitable continent.

World-Class whiskey and bitters

A typical old-fashioned cocktail is built with bourbon, simple syrup, and in the words of David Wondrich, “a couple of splashes of bitters.” For that last part, Haynes and his team had a different idea: “What if we sourced the world’s most exquisite spices from the six inhabitable continents?”

The base is a blend of 15-year Kentucky straight bourbon, nine-year Kentucky straight bourbon, and six-year Indiana straight rye. The rye is MGP, well-known in the spirits business for producing some of the world’s best whiskeys. The bourbon is sourced from an independent barrel broker in Bardstown, and its origins are under wraps, tied up with an NDA.

Those spices (and continents) include Afghan saffron (Asia), Tahitian vanilla (Oceania), single-estate Ecuadorian cacao (South America), French gentian root and bitter Seville orange peel (Europe), and fair-trade demerara sugar from Malawi (Africa). More specifically, the saffron is hand-picked and -packaged, sourced directly from Afghan farmers, via fellow certified B Corp Rumi spice.

old fashioned cocktail
the ‘gold-fashioned’ cocktail bottle; Image Credit: Robert Haynes

For the Grade-A Tahitian vanilla, Sunday’s Finest partnered with Chicago-based Rare Tea Cellar, helmed by Rod Markus, “known for sourcing the absolute best of the best,” says Haynes — think Michelin-star restaurants and cocktail bars — “and we found great vanilla beans that were almost a foot long and fat as your finger.” The bitter Seville orange peel is, of course, from Spain. And the gentian root? “Wild-harvested from the French Alps,” says Haynes. Sweetening the deal is the fair-trade demerara sugar from Malawi, which Haynes says makes for a silky syrup that brings out the whiskey’s complexity.

Lastly, the package comes with an atomizer of orange zest to spritz your drink with, should you be missing the optional orange peel garnish.

Batches and blending

Any bottle that says “small batch” isn’t saying much. After all, size is relative. For this, we’ll make an exception: Sunday’s Finest Gold Fashioned is produced in what can only be described as one big small batch, starting with a single litre. It was a “slow and steady production process,” says Haynes. “Also, everything is very expensive, so not a lot of room for air, especially once you get to larger batch sizes.”

From litre to gallon and, finally, full-batch size, tasting and tweaking took two months’ time.

The serving suggestion is to “slowly” pour about 2 oz. (about 60ml) over ice (the bigger the cube, the better, for less watering down). Spritz once with orange zest. By these measurements, each 750 ml. bottle contains about 12 servings, which puts you at $12.50 or HK$98 per drink. For those with a slightly heavier pour, the per-drink price is on par with a bar serve.

To Haynes’ point: “If you’re going to even your great cocktail establishment in a major market, the house old-fashioned cocktail costs 15 to 17 bucks or HKD117 to 133, depending on where you are. I’m sure it’s going to be made with a nice whiskey. Chances are, it’s highly unlikely that it’s going to be made with something that has a six-, nine-, or certainly 15-year age statement on it.”

The Gold Fashioned is available to purchase online at sundaysfinest.com and ReserveBar, as well as select retailers.

This story first appeared on www.foodandwine.com

(Credit for the hero and featured image: Robert Haynes)

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Why this HK$1177 bottled old-fashioned cocktail is so expensive

Cat Wolinski

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