I recently saw this post from the Seattle Weekly about the cost of craft cocktails in Washington. Here is my response:
Dear Bar Code,
Before I sincerely ask you to go fuck yourself with a broken Chihuly sculpture, I would like to take a minute to agree with you.
Craft cocktails are too expensive when they aren’t worth it. I understand, and agree with your point. For the past 5ish years, it has basically been my job to drink $15 dollar cocktails (smallest violin sonata in the key of fuck off) and I agree, a lot of these people are robbing you- but not maliciously. They are robbing you by:
- Lack of skill
- Unreal expectations on liquor’s value
- Having the highest liquor taxes in America
Skill: Most any spirit, bereft of the stylings that make it a cocktail, would sell for $7-$12, just as components. What a consumer pays for is the (hopefully) expert assembly of those ingredients. Even a derelict alcoholic would agree that the poor assembly, thoughtless flavors or lack of balance would ruin these ingredients. This happens a lot. I sometimes want to scream after my first sip “NO ONE HAS EVER FINISHED THIS COCKTAIL, YOU ARE JUST TRYING TO BE CLEVER AND YOU ARE NOT.” Problematically, this is a post spending $15 revelation. However, when the inverse occurs, a bartender serves up their craft for nothing but a foolish desire to do things the hard way.
How can you tell which twisty mustache is true to craft and which is someone that just wants to sleep in and chug fernet at night? Well, it costs $15 to find out.
Expectations: America has unrealistic expectations on what alcohol is worth. And we do so because we compare the scalability of Goliath to David’s desire to hire a second employee. Consumers, we are told, want small, handcrafted, micro-nano-local-grain to glass booze these days. We read every week that those are better, well, at least they are more costly. Conversely, a $15 bottle of vodka is about 80% taxes & shipping and should really make you think twice about how they got the product so cheap. I want to be clear, zero are the fucks I give about micro distillers. I care about good and bad, integrity and shortcuts. I support quality and care, from David and from Goliath, from what they respectively have to offer.
Taxes: Washington State also has the lovely benefit of having the highest liquor taxes in America. Without getting into whose fault that is or what the trade offs of privatization are, this is the hand dealt to barfolk in Washington. And until consumers lobby against these taxes that hurt business (large and small) or decide that Washingtonians should pay income tax (political herpes) these taxes give us the highest liquor cost in America. Yet, we have far from the highest cocktail prices.
Bar Code, you should rip on craft cocktail culture. The very idea that “craft” is a modifier to cocktail culture is sad. By the same wordplay, I go to a “craft” doctor because she is good at her job. I often wish I had been critiqued more when I was a bartender— it would have made me better. But price is not the issue here, as always, it is value.
For the past decade the media has done quite well to cover the “cocktail renaissance” and I have personally benefited from this coverage on multiple occasions. I am looking forward to coverage actually giving way to critiques as “not shaking a Manhattan” ceases to be impressive and the Boulevardier becomes de rigueur. I am legitimately looking forward to reading a column in a weekly that has a sentence like “ the menu has a handful of stirred amaro drinks that use bitterness as a crutch,” or “the Aperol sour was so 2010 and it separated quickly, seriously, don’t we all know how to measure egg whites?” Critiques like this will push the industry forward. Reviews like “booooo, $15 cocktail? I’ll take my brewed in California can of Rainer instead,” are another lazy type of faux-blue-collar hackery used only to hit a quick deadline. If the drink sucks, say it, bars can’t afford to advertise with you anyway. You’ll save a restaurateur the time of reading the ensuing Chinese water torture of bad Yelp reviews that are sure to out the truth.
But worry not Bar Code, I didn’t forget my earlier promise- go fuck yourself with a broken Chihuly sculpture. Craft cocktails are worth every dime as much as a glass of “3 Dentists decide to make wine” Washington cabernet, and twice the price of the most “rip out your throat” micro brewed IPAs.
p.s. I generally like your column, I agree with you that rose is great and what not, good work on all that stuff, just this one thing got me a touch upset.