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This article was published 31/3/2018 (624 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
In downtown Chicago, high above the Magnificent Mile, is a sexy bourbon and whiskey bar in the Conrad Chicago Hotel named Baptiste & Bottle. Every detail, from the industrial light fixtures to the reclaimed wood walls, is meant to evoke creamy, brown liquors and the distilleries that make them.
You can order a Sazerac Flight with mini versions of the classic rye-and-cognac cocktail. Or the Curtsy and a Bow, a house favourite made of bourbon mixed with absinthe and steamy tonka fog. One cocktail, however, stands out from the rest: the Macallan Rare Journey. It costs US$95 and includes virtual reality.
The drink itself is simple: a generous shot of Macallan Rare Cask combined with 30-year-old dry Spanish sherry. The "journey" part comes when you put on an Oculus virtual-reality headset that transports you to all the places involved in the spirits’ making.
As if drunk people need more stimulation, a handful of bars are locked in an arms race to outdo one another with elaborate virtual reality-infused cocktails. As sci-fi fans stream into theatres this weekend to catch Steven Spielberg’s dystopian VR blockbuster Ready Player One, the rest of us can at least toast to the future with a glass of single malt.
Raquel Raies, national brand ambassador for Macallan who debuted the Rare Journey in July 2017, is sure her creation was the first VR cocktail in the world. "It took me seven months to perfect, but no one else was doing it," she said.
The Rare Journey takes the tippler above the treetops of an American forest from which Macallan’s whiskey casks originate, then on to southern Spain and the sherry distillery that flavours the wood. The final stop is the 390-acre distillery and a toast with its master whiskey maker. During the journey, Baptiste & Bottle bartenders bring out trays of toasted moss and vessels of smoke to heighten the sensory experience.
"It’s like playing a video game, but you get to drink in the process," said Benjamin Feldheim, a freelance writer in Chicago who tried the cocktail in July when it launched. "At one point you’re flying over this rippling lake, and you can’t help but stretch your arms out like you have wings. My advice is to do this with friends so you can laugh at them, too."
Not to be outdone, One Aldwych, a luxury hotel in London’s Covent Garden, insists that its drink, The Origin, was the first VR cocktail. It debuted in April 2017. "We extensively researched this concept before launching and, as far as we can tell, it was the only one with the VR headset and this filmed, visual journey," said Pedro Paulo, the manager of the hotel’s Lobby Bar. "We always try to stay ahead of the game."
The Origin combines Dalmore 12-year-old whisky, Merlet cherry liqueur, cherry puree, fresh grapefruit juice, chocolate bitters and Champagne. Before taking their first sip, customers watch a two-minute VR video in which they over the Scottish Highlands, down to London and finally into Covent Garden. At the exact moment when customers enter the virtual version of the Lobby Bar, a bartender serves them their cocktail.
Macallan insists its drink, though it debuted later, had been in the works long before One Aldwych’s came out. "Also they may also have you put on the goggles, but they aren’t showing the journey of the spirit," she said.
One Aldwych is so sure virtual reality cocktails are here to stay that it is putting its Origin cocktail on the permanent menu, a place usually reserved for staples like the Old Fashioned or the Dirty Martini.
Feldheim expects to see even more bars and clubs experiment with new VR technology. "If there’s a new toy, someone will want to play with it. And I include me in that statement. So long as it doesn’t come with the dystopian apocalypse that usually accompanies cinematic visions of tech," he said. "I’m game for it." Literally.
— Tribune Interactive