We Drank the First Virtual Reality Cocktail in America: The Macallan Rare Journey

VR Cocktail
Jay Gentile/Thrillist
Jay Gentile/Thrillist

You might think $95 is a lot to spend on a cocktail. Especially a cocktail that contains a grand total of two ingredients (whisky and sherry.) But there’s one essential element to a new Chicago cocktail that’s turning heads throughout the industry: virtual reality.

The Macallan and Chicago’s Baptiste & Bottle teamed up to entice guests at the high-end Conrad Hotel, where the restaurant is located on the 20th floor, to try the first VR cocktail in America. While the price tag is high, the upscale bar/restaurant is all about selling the “experience,” according to Macallan National Brand Ambassador Raquel Raies.

While she notes there another bar in London currently selling a virtual reality drink, the One Aldwych hotel, Raies says no cocktail in the world is offering a similar experience. Looking to attract a younger millennial crowd as well as those who typically aren’t big whisky drinkers, the experience combines one of the world’s oldest traditions with one of its newest. The cocktail has only been on Baptiste’s menu for a few weeks and, while it’s attracted plenty of media attention, more and more customers are flocking in to taste and “see” it for themselves.

Virtual reality Cocktail
Jay Gentile/Thrillist

So how the hell does it work? You start by sitting down at a table in the sleek high-altitude environs of Baptiste & Bottle and ordering The Macallan Rare Journey. But before you get your drink, a staff member hands you an acorn. Then, a cart is wheeled out to your table containing a shallow wooden box lined with moss, vegetation, small tree stumps, and three empty glasses. You pour water from a small teapot into a wooden bowl containing cubes of dry ice, which then activates a thick plume of white fog. And now the journey has begun.

The unique presentation is designed to symbolize the forests where Macallan sources the oak trees it uses to make its casks. Raies says she came up with the idea herself “to bring the brand to life,” sourcing the materials everywhere from eBay to Hobby Lobby. Macallan first started utilizing VR at brand launch events around the world last spring, but Raies wanted to come up with an idea that utilized the technology on a more intimate and personal scale. She says for the London VR cocktail, you get a drink and then they play some VR, but nowhere else can you get the full experience of the story behind the booze as you see each ingredient brought to life. “It’s more memorable when you get to see, get to touch,” she says. “It’s an education tool.”

The experience starts with the acorn that a staff member asks you to drop anywhere into the wooden box, which represents the virtual forest, as they start to tell you the story of Macallan. The cool thing about the Scotch you’re about to drink, Macallan Rare Cask (which on its own costs $65 a glass), is that is ain’t just any ordinary whisky -- it’s made from the “top 1%” of all casks maturing in the company’s warehouse, hand-selected by Master Whisky Maker Bob Dalgarno. So yeah, it’s pretty good shit.

But before you start sipping the fancy stuff, you are first treated to an individual tasting of the sherry -- Bodegas Tradición 30-Year Oloroso -- that is vital to the seasoning of the casks, which in turn provide the foundation of the slightly fruity, rich flavor of the liquor. Macallan owns nine out of 10 sherry casks in the world, and the ones that are used to make its Rare Cask come from distilleries that no longer exist, making it even rarer.

After you sip the sherry, an individual tasting of the Rare Cask is poured as the staff talks you through the distillation process. At this point, they highlight a decanter that‘s found in the wood box before you that symbolizes The Macallan's stills, which are some of the smallest in the Scotch whisky industry to create a spirit ideal for aging in these casks. After you sip the whisky by itself, the sherry is then mixed with the whisky and poured into a small cocktail glass. (Raies calls the blend “dangerously smooth,” and we can confirm that’s an accurate statement.)

Virtual Reality Cocktail
Jay Gentile/Thrillist

Now that your cocktail has finally been made, it’s virtual reality time. At this point you strap on a headset that plays a video that further explains the history of Macallan. “I’m seeing it in real life, then I’m seeing it in virtual reality,” Raies explains. First, you’re transported to the forests in America and Spain where the oak and sherry are sourced, the famous Jerez region of southern Spain, before you cruise up to the Scottish Highlands region and visit the Macallan distillery, where you see the stills and casks before toasting under the VR stars.

You drink the cocktail as you watch (or after, so choose), and there you have it: virtual reality cocktail, mission accomplished. So what did I learn? A few things: 1. While I’m not the type of guy who would ever pay $95 for a cocktail, I can see the appeal and am not surprised at all the hoopla and media attention. However, the VR experience plays out more like a commercial and needs to be beefed up, which I suspect will happen as this trend evolves and becomes more commonplace. 2. While I’m not a whisky guy, I did enjoy learning about it and it might make me take a second glance at a Macallan next time I see it on a menu. 3. For the whisky connoisseur with disposable income who cares about distilling and has a finer palate, this is a must-try.

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Jay Gentile is a Thrillist contributor and he now considers any drinks that don’t have virtual reality to be total wastes of time. Follow @innerviewmag