This story first appeared in the Nov. 23 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
At the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Las Vegas in October, they opened a bottle of scotch. Brand ambassador Lorne Cousin poured one dram (1.5 oz) of the whiskey -- which had reposed in a single hogshead for 50 years at The Balvenie Distillery in Banffshire, Scotland -- and then carefully divvied it up for each person present to taste a few drops. This is one of only 10 bottles of The Balvenie 50-year imported into the U.S., and it comes with a suggested retail price of $30,000. That's $3,400 a pour.
There's extravagance, and there's Vegas. In bars like Carta Privada in the Aria Hotel, restaurants like Delmonico's at the Venetian and the Cosmopolitan's Talon Club, purveyors are stocking up on the world's rarest spirits. Beverage directors have learned that high rollers are just as discerning about their drinks as they are about their baccarat, pai gow and roulette. "These folks are savvy," says Cosmopolitan's Scott Barthelmes. "They're looking for something they haven't had yet."
In Vegas, the highest of the high end for spirits resides primarily with cognac and scotch. Cognac's apex bottlings used to bear the letters "XO," but most major houses now offer a tête de cuvée ("best of the vintage") with an asking price of thousands, often bottled in baroque crystal. For a taste of Hennessy Paradis, expect to pay about $500 at the Venetian (where Ryan Lochte and Tim Allen recently have visited). To sample one of Hardy's five unblended Perfection cognacs -- Air, Fire, Water, Earth and Light (in Daum crystal) -- you'll pay upward of $750. Hardy's rarest cognac, its 1777, is available by bottle only at $35,000 a pop at Andre's in the Monte Carlo, restaurant of choice for Tom Selleck. Camus, Courvoisier, Delamain and Hine produce exclusive bottles, but Remy Martin's Louis XIII Black Pearl, made with 1,200-plus blending components, some more than a century old, might be the ne plus ultra. Order an ounce for $2,500 at the Cosmopolitan, where Gwyneth Paltrow, Twilight's Kellan Lutz, Dr. Dre and Vince Vaughn have been known to frolic.
But the real growth market is in single-malt scotch. In the last decade, there has been an explosion of multi-year blends composed strictly for flavor and derived from very old stock -- and Vegas might have the world's finest selection this side of a British Isle. Michael Shetler, beverages director of the Aria -- playground of Ryan Seacrest and Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen -- says he can't keep his Macallan 30-year in stock and regularly sells a '49 Macallan whose price rivals the Balvenie 50-year. The Mandarin Oriental, where Matthew McConaughey has been spotted quaffing scotch, last year launched the single-malt whiskey Glenmorangie Pride 1981 at a chef's dinner; hotel guests can taste a 2-ounce pour for a mere $450. Casa Fuente -- where Katharine Heigl and Evander Holyfield have raised a glass -- in The Forum Shops at Caesars features a Glenfiddich 50-year for $1,100 a shot or $25,000 a bottle. One of the most sought-after bottlings, The Last Drop, is a blend that went into cask in 1960, was rescued from an Auchentoshan warehouse in Glasgow and bottled in minute amounts; at least one bottle can be found at Carta Privada. If rarity is what is thirsted for, "there are six bottles of Glenglassaugh 45-year remaining in the world," says Shetler, "and Aria has four of the six on the way," costing $575 per 1.25-ounce shot or $9,500 for a 750 milliliter bottle.
Older whiskies are extremely refined; don't expect to be pounded over the head by a peat mallet. Instead, they are delicate in their mingling of peat, fruit and oak. Vegas seems an unlikely place to engage in such subtle appreciation, but in the end that's exactly what you're paying for.
Additional reporting by Melinda Sheckells
'IT' CLUB: THE ACT
New York City stage scion Simon Hammerstein, whose grandfather was one half of Rodgers & Hammerstein, has brought to Vegas the notorious dinner theater he originated in 2006 at the Lower East Side's The Box. (A typical performance was entitled "Twincest.") Just as The Box lured Jay-Z, Sean Penn and Uma Thurman with its debauched take on Gotham's vaudeville, Hammerstein unfurls his Sin City homage with cracked antique decor (think gardenscapes in grandfather clocks) and production numbers referencing The Hangover, Liberace and those dead-eyed souls forever peddling strip-joint passes. Expect an interactive experience. "We're trying to meld audience and performer together," he says, "so that everyone is part of the show." -- Gary Baum