How much should an Old Fashioned cost? In 1936, according to a letter to the editor in The New York Times, the price was 35 to 50 cents. Adjusted for inflation, that translates to roughly $6 to $9, but the prices of whiskey and New York real estate have outpaced inflation: most Old Fashioneds in Gotham cost $12 to $14, and if you can find one for ten bucks, it’s a bargain.
Or is it? What is the real cost of liquor and labor? How cheaply can an Old Fashioned be made, and how might an egregiously expensive one justify its price? I set out to explore the opposing price poles of the market. Could I make a $2 Old Fashioned that held its own against one that cost $20?
It wouldn’t be easy. Two ounces of whiskey represents about 8 percent of a 750-mL bottle, which meant that I couldn’t spend any more than $25 on my base spirit. Having already researched the best bottom-shelf spirits, I selected a bottle of Four Roses for $23 and invited two friends, Andy and Joe, over to serve as guinea pigs.