Earlier this week, Woodford Reserve bourbon announced the launch of its annual Mint Julep collectors cups, raising money this year for the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund. The vessels also honor the 50th anniversary of Diane Crump’s groundbreaking performance at the Kentucky Derby. In 1970, she became the first female to compete in the legendary horserace. Commemorating her with the event’s official drink will come at a premium— if you want to use the Woodford hardware, at least: a total of 121 silver-plated vessels are priced at $1000, and 25 more gold-plated variations will fetch a staggering $2500.
That’s a costly cocktail. It kind of got us thinking about how it stacks up, historically. Turns out, it’s a relative bargain compared to this list of the most expensive drinks ever served.
The Original Mai Tai — Merchant Hotel, Belfast, Ireland ($1,300)
Although the drink is today most commonly presented as a cloyingly sweet combination of rum and fruit juice, the Mai Tai wasn’t always this way. It was initially conceived by Victor Bergeron in 1944 at his legendary Oakland tiki outpost, Trader Vic’s. He used nothing more than a light pour of orgeat and simple syrups, along with lime juice and orange curaçao to enhance the sturdy Jamaican rum at its core. Unfortunately, the drink was so good that it actually depleted the world supply of that base spirit. A single bottle of the now extinct Wray & Nephew 17 can go for as much as $50,000 at auction. Or, you can pull up a stool at this iconic Belfast cocktail lounge and order the only Mai Tai in the world using Bergeron’s exact 1944 spec.
The Ritz Sidecar — Bar Hemingway, Paris ($1,800)
This was the first one on the list ever recognized by Guiness World Records as the most expensive drink, after head bartender Colin Peter Field concocted it back in the mid-’90s. To justify its astronomic price tag, the cocktail incorporates an 1865-vintage cognac. As a result, it was distilled from grapes grown before the infamous phylloxera scourge that decimated the French wine industry. In short: this is something that very few people in the world will ever have the privilege to taste. And if you’re sipping spirits at this former Hemingway haunt, you might just have the money to afford it. Even a ‘well’ cocktail here goes for around $30.
Sazerac — American Bar, Savoy Hotel, London ($6,600)
The Sazerac is another cocktail on this list that has ‘evolved’ through the ages. Although most bartenders today now know it as a rye drink, it was initially conceived with brandy back in mid-1800s New Orleans. The exact ingredients of yore are quite rare today. Yet that doesn’t stop the American Bar—often regarded as the world’s best—from giving it a shake. Using the original Sazerac de Forge brandy from 1857, along with a 1950s vintage Pernod Absinthe and 100-year-old Peychaud’s Bitters, they render an authentic, albeit extremely expensive, taste of history.
Winston — Crown Casino’s Club 23, Melbourne, Australia ($12,970)
In 2013, a new Guinness World Record was awarded for most expensive cocktail. This time it was an Australian taking home the honor. At Melbourne’s Club 23, bartender Joel Heffernan used two shots of 1858 Croizet cognac (about $160,000 a bottle) to substantiate the exorbitant sum. Named after Winston Churchill, the drink also uses a measure of $800 Grand Marnier Quintessence, and a pour of super rare Chartreuse. Sadly, Heffernan’s bar is now permanently closed. No word yet on if he’ll bring his record-smashing creation to wherever he ends up next.
Diamonds Are Forever Martini — The Ritz Carlton, Tokyo, Japan ($18,550)
The spendiest drink currently available on this list is a simple arrangement of chilled Absolut Elyx with a splash of lime. So how does the five-star luxury hotel in the heart of Tokyo validate a pricetag on par with an entry-level sedan? Easy. They drop in a flawlessly faceted once-karat diamond. As they do, the parlor’s live band serenades you with the memorable theme song to the 1971 James Bond film lending the drink its name.