The drinks arrived in wine glasses topped with coasters. A cloud of smoke swirled in each glass. I removed mine and placed my nose to the glass to inhale the scent. Then I coughed, because I had inhaled what I definitely already knew was hickory smoke.
Once the smoke dissipated, we sampled the drinks. “This has way more layers,” said Joe, and it was an understatement. It was almost comical how much more complex the Smoking Rye Old Fashioned was compared to my amateur effort. Each of our cocktails was considerably different: Andy’s mesquite Old Fashioned had distinct, almost aggressive campfire notes; my hickory had a smoky-sweet note like the char on a beef rib; Joe’s cherrywood was more muted by comparison. All three were sublime. “It’s not often a drink surprises you,” said Andy. (My only complaint was the wine glass. With all due respect to the infusion process, part of the appeal of an Old Fashioned is the comfortable heft of a rocks glass.)
I took another sip. Deeper into the drink, the smoky notes became more intense, and I sank deeper into the dark leather couch next to the fireplace. Deeper into the lounge, a blonde chanteuse sang jazz standards with a live band. The cacophony and discomfort of Manhattan on the other side of the window felt like a hazy memory. This $20 Old Fashioned was far, far superior to the one I had made in my apartment with children’s toys stuffed into baskets under the credenza. But was it 10 times better?
“No,” said Andy, “but it’s an experience.” He drank the last of his liquid campfire. “There aren’t many drinks I’d spend $20 on, but this is on the short list.”
An Old Fashioned, like most things in our free market, should cost what you’re willing to pay for it. Two dollars and some effort can deliver everything you could want in an Old Fashioned, as long as what you want doesn’t include smoke infusions, entertainment and someone else serving you. Twenty dollars can deliver all of that. It is both an egregious overpay and something priceless: It’s an experience.