What Does a $100 Cocktail Taste Like?
When perusing Wink & Nod’s menu, several things stand out: Chef Jeremy Kean’s quail yakitori in a smoking mason jar, made-to-order Twinkies, a cocktail named after Kim Cattrall. The kitsch is endless. But when the South End speakeasy finally opens its doors on March 20, perhaps the most startling will be general manager Curtis McMillan’s Billionaire’s Bijou cocktail priced at a cool $100.
“I always thought that it was funny that you have these super premium products like 30-year old scotches,” says McMillan. “They’re a limbo item. The general consumer isn’t going to spend $600 for a bottle of gin. That’s the interesting thing about a bar, it give you the opportunity to partake in something without having to put all the investment in. That’s what I’ve been doing at Wink & Nod. When you look at my bar, it’s very high end premium stuff that people wouldn’t normally buy on their own. We’re giving people a location they can go and drink something like the Billionaire’s Bijou where it’s actually accessible.”
So, how do you justify charging $100 for five-ounces of cocktail? For starters, you begin with a base of master distiller Carolus Nolet, Sr.’s extremely rare [production is just a few hundred hand-signed bottles a year] Nolet’s Reserve gin, which retails around $700. Then you add the highly coveted Chartreuse VEP (Vieillissement Exceptionnellement Prolongé), a reserve selection of the French liqueur that spends additional time in oak casks. Add a dollop of Martini & Rossi’s “Gran Lusso” vermouth, which was released in honor of their 150th anniversary. Finally, stir in a dropper-full of orange saffron bitters, made exclusively for Wink & Nod at a distillery in France.
How exclusive are these bitters? McMillan just happens to know an orange grower in France who dabbles in cocktail ingredients. “I have a friend in France who sells this orange juice, but he’s a cocktail guy and he’s just started making these orange bitters that he infuses with saffron,” says McMillan. “He really can’t make that much of it. So I offered him 250 euros and he was like, ‘you’d really give me that much?’ I’m the one who set the price for it, but at the same time as much saffron as this poor guy uses, it seemed like a fair price.”
Paired with the Nolet’s Reserve gin, which also incorporates copious amounts of saffron in its distillate, the overall impression of Wink & Nod’s luxury Bijou is, in McMillan’s own word, like “a punch of a saffron.”
“It’s gimmicky and I know that I’m doing something gimmicky,” says McMillan. “But sometimes I just do things because I want to see what the outcome is going to be. More than anything, I wanted to know if I could take a classic cocktail and make it so premium that it would have the same inherent value as a 30-year old scotch. And it works. I think the drink is fantastic. I’ve served it to a bunch of people already who thought it was overwhelmingly amazing.”
McMillan explains that Boston Nightlife Ventures, the restaurant management group behind Wink & Nod has given free reign to experiment with any number of rare and super premium spirits. If the Billionaire’s Bijou takes off, and he can sell through a bottle of Nolet’s Reserve gin, McMillan intends to introduce further high-end concepts.
“My joke is that I want to do a cocktail with a 30-year old scotch and watch all the scotch aficionados just weep as I’m pouring it,” says McMillan. “The Boston Nightlife Ventures guys kind of gave me a free platform to do whatever the hell I want. That’s a very dangerous thing to do with a person like myself because I’m very innate at just breaking the rules. It’s a built-in punk rock mentality I’ve had since childhood.”