A stiff drink these days can come with equally stiff prices.
A check with eight cocktail bars here headed by a trained mixologist showed that bespoke cocktails - premium drinks concocted upon request - can cost up to $38 a pop, about double the price of a regular cocktail, which usually starts from $18.
No wonder some bar-goers are shocked.
Copywriter Daniel Foo, 29, who sometimes visits The Butter Factory's art bar at One Fullerton for cocktails, says: "I pay $10 a cocktail there if I drink before midnight. I'd pay $15 for a cocktail, but that's if I'm feeling generous. A $30 cocktail is more expensive than the chicken rice in a high-class hotel, which, by the way, is also a rip-off."
Architect Luke Tan, 30, thinks anything above $30 is too much to pay for a cocktail. "When I lived in London a year ago, I used to have fancy cocktails in Soho for less than 10 pounds. You can eat mee pok for two weeks with more than $30," he reasons.
Such high-end tipple has been gaining popularity here in the past two years, following a boom in the number of bespoke cocktail bars.
Bartenders say those who ask for such cocktails are usually affluent professionals in their late 20s to 40s, who are well-travelled and have been exposed to cocktail culture in cities such as London and New York.
But what exactly are people paying for?
Time, technique and top-grade ingredients, say bartenders.
Prices for customised cocktails made using more premium spirits, for example, generally start from about $24.
Chi chi items, such as artisanal spirits distilled in small batches, top-of-the-line champagne and spirits such as gin or whisky infused with items such as seasonal Italian black truffles, bacon, shiitake mushrooms and yuzu citrus fruit, are what mixologists use to whip up pricey drinks.
And forget about artificial flavours and preserved juices - only fresh herbs, fruit and homemade syrups make the grade.
Mr Jeff Ho, 36, co-owner and head bartender of cocktail bar Jekyll & Hyde in Tras Street, says the ingredients used constitute half the cost of such drinks, while the degree of difficulty or time needed to whip them up justifies the rest of the cost.
His bar has a fixed menu that charges an average of $23 to $25 for a cocktail, and some of his bespoke drinks can cost up to $35.
Mr Ho says he usually gets requests for such cocktails from regular customers during off-peak periods, when he has more time to make them.
He adds: "We use good liquor and good spirits and it takes a long time to concoct a cocktail. A flambe cocktail, for example, can take 10 minutes to make."
It takes time to "froth up and assemble the various ingredients" using methods such as pan- frying or using a blowtorch to caramelise fruit, or double-straining the mixture.
Mr Ethan Leslie Leong, 36, veteran mixologist and head of bar operations at cocktail bar Maison Ikkoku in Kandahar Street, charges between $30 and $38 for some of his bespoke cocktails.
The average price of cocktails served at his bar ranges between $28 and $32.
Some of these fancy cocktails include the classic Bloody Mary, which is made with tomatoes imported from Italy or France and juiced using a hand-presser, and an Earl Grey Grin Negroni, a modern take on the classic negroni cocktail using gin infused with Earl Grey tea.
The price range is a little higher than at other bars, but that has not deterred some patrons. Mr Leong says he can sell about 5,000 fancy cocktails in a week.
Explaining the higher prices, he says: "We serve using a 14oz (400ml) martini glass, pouring a minimum of 60ml to 120ml of alcohol in our cocktails. Some bars use a 7oz (200ml) mini martini glass and pour 30ml or 45ml of spirits in their cocktails and also sell them for between $30 and $40."
Mr Satoshi Iwai, 33, mixologist at cocktail bar Orgo at the Esplanade, says the ingredients for some of his more expensive cocktails, priced between $24 and $28, can take up to 24 hours to prepare, such as infusing spirits with the flavour of herbs, fruit or spices.
Time is also needed to produce unique garnishes that require baking, such as apples and pineapples.
"Some premium items such as Hendrick's Gin, Grey Goose vodka or Monkey 47 gin can cost more than double the regular spirits, but they are necessary to bring out the cocktail's character," he adds.
Customers are also paying for the "performance" in crafting such cocktails, say bartenders.
Mr Ho says he creates such custom cocktails only for customers who sit at the bar counter, as they will be able to appreciate the amount of time, effort and technique that go into the process.
At Pidgin Kitchen & Bar at Dempsey Road, cocktails are priced between $18 and $28. Its owner Adrian Ling, 38, says: "We do not have any regular cocktails in the $30 to $40 range unless the guest asks for a premium liquor to be mixed into his cocktail, such as a rare premium whiskey with soda."
The bar receives about two to three such requests each week, usually from male guests who are knowledgeable about their drinks.
Mr Ling adds that his bar uses artisanal and premium liquor for its cocktails, and even mixers such as tonic and soda are from artisanal brands such as Fever Tree Tonic.
Some bargoers do not mind forking out more money for quality drinks.
Pilot Gerald Teo, 33, who has paid more than $30 for a smoked bourbon drink at Maison Ikkoku, says: "If you're talking about something easy like a screwdriver, there is no way I would pay that much.
"But if it's a great drink that is also unique, then I would feel like I'm paying for the craftmanship."
Still, several bars, such as cocktail bar The Cufflink Club in Jiak Chuan Road, restaurant-bar Tippling Club in Tanjong Pagar Road and cocktail bar Orgo, are consciously keeping their cocktail prices under $30 to make them more accessible.
Mr Zac de Git, 24, head bartender of Tippling Club, which charges $18 to $25 for its cocktails, says: "It is already quite expensive to go out in Singapore, with the service charge, GST and everything else. When you get a $25 cocktail, you are actually looking at paying more than $30.
"We are trying to make it accessible to all demographics rather than just the high-rollers."
Mr Joel Fraser, 30, owner-bartender of cocktail joint Cufflink Club in Jiak Chuan Road, says the most expensive cocktail served at his bar is the Porn Star ($28), which comprises vanilla vodka, passionfruit, butterscotch, pineapple, citrus and a large shot of Billecart Salmon Champagne, which he says is a "very expensive product".
He notes: " I have been charged more than $30 for a cocktail and, to be honest, I think these prices cannot be justified. Bars should not overcharge."
What do you think of $38 cocktails? Write to email@example.com
Where: Jekyll & Hyde, 49 Tras Street
Preparation time: 15 minutes
What is in the drink: Pineapple, kaya, angostura bitters, lemongrass, lemon juice, syrup, plum bitters and Corralejo Tequila Reposado.
How it is made: A whole pineapple is chopped, roasted and caramelised in a pan using a blowtorch, then hand-pressed and the juice strained.
It is mixed with the angostura bitters, lemongrass, lemon juice, homemade syrup, bottled kaya jam and Corralejo Tequila Reposado.
The bartender then sets plum bitters alight to infuse the drink with flavour and aroma, then serves it in a Japanese-inspired tea cup.
Freshly chopped pineapple marinated in soy sauce is served on the side, garnished with edible cornflowers. This drink is available only if you are seated at the bar counter.
Where: Maison Ikkoku, 20 Kandahar Street
Price: $38 nett
Preparation time: Five minutes
What is in the drink: Truffle-infused Grey Goose vodka, coffee-infused Baron Otard V.S.O.P cognac and a specially made truffle-infused foam.
How it is made: Black truffle imported from Florence, Italy, is used to infuse the vodka with its flavour and aroma for 60 days. Likewise, Maison Ikkoku's in-house roasted coffee beans are used to infuse the cognac for 45 days. The spirits are shaken cold and double-strained into a glass, with the truffle-infused foam added later.
The top layer of the cocktail is then quick-frozen using liquid nitrogen before the bartender flambes the surface. The drink is garnished with fresh sliced truffle.
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