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Houston's whiskey restaurant offers rare $38,000 bottle of Scotch: Drinking your dinner never sounded so good

Houston's whiskey restaurant offers rare $38,000 bottle of Scotch

Balvenie 50 Scotch
Cullen's will open this 50-year old, $38,000 bottle of Scotch at a dinner Saturday night.  Courtesy photo
Cullen's American Grille
Looking for something more economical? Flights of whiskey start at $15.  Photo by Justin Calhoun
Cullen's American Grille
Cullen's regularly offers tastings at the bar.  Photo by Justin Calhoun
Cullen's American Grille
Flights are always available in the spacious dining room, too. Photo by Justin Calhoun
Balvenie 50 Scotch
Cullen's American Grille
Cullen's American Grille
Cullen's American Grille

Seven-year old Cullen's American Grille has emerged as one of the most popular restaurants in Clear Lake and the surrounding suburbs. At a massive 38,000 square feet, the restaurant's 200-plus seat dining room, nightclub, and eight private rooms can accommodate almost 1,000 people.

Everything about the restaurant serves to illustrate the classic bigger is better aesthetic that Texas is known for.  

That extends to the restaurant's bar, which features over 360 American whiskeys from 12 states, as well as whisky from Scotland, Ireland, Tasmania and Japan. For general manager Ryan Roberts, the key to marketing the selection has been to offer tasting flights at prices that start at as little as $15.

 At $2,900 per person, a seat at the table is far beyond what most people will spend for a meal, but it's an appealing offer for wealthy collectors. 

"Starting at $15, you’ve got a selection of about 80 whiskeys you can choose from to get a one-ounce pour of each one of those whiskeys," Roberts says. "I can give you multiple tastes of bourbons that are just fantastic without having to break the bank . . . . We’ll sell you the full shot, but we think this is the way to experience trying different things."

Roberts believes that persistence is key when acquiring new bottles for the restaurant's ever-growing selection. "It’s about calling and saying ‘Hey, I just want a bottle. Can you get me one?’ It’s just building those relationships. I’ve been doing this for 25 years. I’ve got a lot of relationships in this city."

Currently, the restaurant's most expensive pour is Macallan Flask, which is one of 400 bottles and sells for about $400 an ounce. Cullen's also has one of the 273 bottles of Michter's Celebration bourbon that it's selling for $10,000, but they're both about to be supplanted by something far more expensive. 

On Nov. 15, Cullen's will host a dinner featuring the ultra-rare Balvenie Fifty. Only 131 bottles of this Scotch exist and just 15 are coming to America. Suggested retail price: $38,000. 

Roberts says he laughed at the representatives for distiller William Grant & Sons when they suggested he drop that kind of coin on a single bottle, but then he had a change of heart. "(I thought) if we could create an event around this, and you can bring some more value to the dinner, let’s see what we can do," he says. They responded with an offer he couldn't refuse: a one-off, 12 person dinner that would feature both the Balvenie 50 and Balvenie 40 ($5,000/bottle) and be hosted by the company's retired malt master David Stewart, who would fly in from Scotland for the event.

"(He) was their malt master from the early '70s on. For a Scotch drinker, you see a bottle of Glenfiddich or Balvenie behind pretty much every bar in the country. To have the guy whose signature is on all of those bottles — that’s just something you’re never going to see again," Roberts says.

At $2,900 per person, a seat at the table is far beyond what most people will spend for a meal, but it's an appealing offer for wealthy collectors of rare Scotch or someone looking to give a very generous gift. "This is about an experience to meet this guy and have him open these bottles and walk you through the last 50 years of his life. To talk about how these Scotches were made and aged. He put these whiskeys in the barrel," Roberts says. 

After the dinner, the Balvenie will be available for purchase in 1/4 ($490.75), 1/2 ($981.50), 3/4 ($1472.25) and one-ounce ($1,963) pours. "The secret to selling a lot of whiskey and selling it well is to give people options. You give them options to buy smaller quantities, because all people want to do is taste it," Roberts says.

Could Roberts charge people just to smell it? "I've thought about it, (but) I don't know how we'd quantify it," he says with a laugh.

A couple of seats remain available for the Balvenie Fifty dinner. Call  Michele Payne at 281-991-2010 or email for more information.