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Highballs by the Numbers: The Dollars and Cents of Your Screwdriver

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How does the cost of your favorite drink compare to past prices? Eater’s Consumer Plate Index takes a look at Consumer Price Index data to show how economic changes affect the cultural and monetary value of classic dishes over time. In this Cocktail Week special, a look at the most basic highball: the screwdriver.

If drinkers ever needed a reason to pre-game or choose BYOB restaurants, Consumer Price Index data on booze is one. People who buy drinks when going out could be spending 67 percent more than if they bought their own bottles or made their own cocktails. This gap between drinks bought over the counter and alcohol served over the bar is only widening.

Thank bars and restaurants that mark up prices to cover business expenses. Consumer Price Index data, which tracks change in prices for various consumer items, shows that alcohol purchased at restaurants instead of grocery/liquor stores has almost doubled in price since 1995. But while this kind of booze continues to skyrocket in price, the actual cost of many kinds of alcohol have barely increased over the years. Vodka is an example. The spirit has been hovering near $0.60 per serving for two decades.

Things get complicated when it comes to cocktails. Combining multiple ingredients and their economic baggage can make the cost of the drink hard to predict, especially if the drink is purchased at a restaurant or bar. Take citrusy cocktails. Not even counting the occasional shortage, drinks with oranges or limes could become more expensive by the year, whereas prices for other mixers and cocktail ingredients like milk and carbonated water are growing slower than the overall rate of inflation for food and beverages.

Consumer Plate Index set out to use Consumer Price Index data to examine the costs of common cocktails. But tracking price change for most cocktails is a challenge because the Bureau of Labor Statistics only collects prices for select products every year. Vodka prices have been collected for most years since 1995, but alcohol like whiskey, champagne, and brandy are missing, or have only been tracked for a few years.

But in order to get an understanding of the change in cost of cocktails, Eater looked at the screwdriver, the simplest of highballs. The popular drink is typically just two parts orange juice and one part vodka served over ice. (Our version also includes an orange slice for garnish, because why not.)

According to CPI data, even with high orange prices, the cost of making a screwdriver at home hasn't changed much at all over the last couple decades. In 1995, one serving of vodka, orange juice, and a whole orange cost $0.86, or $1.45 in today's money. It turns out that that is actually two cents more expensive than a homemade screwdriver today. It's a good reason to think twice about going out instead of keeping the celebration at home.