Today’s cocktailer has seen (and sipped) it all, from drinks made of actual trash to cannabis infusions and libations chilled with striped ice cubes. Is the next step in this augmented drinking experience, well, augmented or virtual reality?
For years, liquor brands have been using virtual reality as a high-tech marketing technique to better acquaint customers with their brands. Patrón tequila, for example, has a VR viewer that connects to an app: The app takes viewers on a virtual tour of the brand’s distillery. Beer brand Dos Equis has placed Oculus Rift headsets in bars to plunk customers into the virtual world of its mascot, The Most Interesting Man in the World.
Now, virtual reality drinks are starting to pop up at restaurants across the world. In London, for example, One Aldwych hotel serves a Dalmore whisky cocktail mixed with cherry puree, grapefruit juice, and VR goggles that transport drinkers to the Scottish Highlands. Stateside, Baptiste & Bottle restaurant at the Conrad Chicago Hotel rolled out the $95 “Macallan Rare Journey” in July. First thing’s first: While billed as a “virtual reality cocktail,” the drink itself is not virtual. It’s real liquor, enhanced with a short video that details the process by which the scotch brand gets its custom casks.
And, don’t worry: You’re not expected to sip while the goggles are blinding your vision.
The whole process starts with a mysterious gift. As soon as a patron orders the cocktail, the server presses an acorn into the palm of her hand, then disappears to gather the rest of the accouterments needed for the new wave drink. Next comes the tableside cart, loaded with VR goggles and a shallow box carpeted in moss. The woodsy box also holds a bowl of dry ice and vintage glassware filled with Oloroso sherry and Macallan Rare Cask.
Each element in the box ties back to those casks, which are made from trees in American and European forests and aged with sherry. “I tried to put that together in a tableside storybook that you’d taste along the way,” says the drink’s creator Raquel Raies, national brand ambassador for The Macallan. “The more people know about something, the more they appreciate it,” she reasons.
With all the cocktail’s tools tableside, the patron places the acorn on the miniature forest floor, then pours warm water over the dry ice to create a mirage of roiling fog. After sipping both the sherry and the whisky, it’s time to strap on the goggles for a four-minute video that travels from forest floors to vineyards, sherry bodegas, and the shores of Scotland. Look up and you’ll see the leaves crowning the giant oak trees; look left and you’ll see another cask being made at the bustling cooperage.
“People have really enjoyed watching other people try the headset—it’s fun to see them looking all around with these goggles on,” Raies says. “Sometimes, couples will both order the drink and try the headset one at a time.” Since the drink’s launch, around 10 customers have sprung for the virtual journey.
When the video wraps, it’s time to try the cocktail, which the server pours while the drinker is away in Scotland (virtually, at least). The drink—which mixes sherry with scotch—makes for a cozy, stiff welcome home after a short but foggy trip through virtual reality.