By Mike Pomranz
Updated July 27, 2015
Credit: © oliver leedham / Alamy

Can a cocktail be considered the “World’s Most Expensive” if no one actually paid to buy it? The answer, of course, should be no. This question is the crux of a controversy as the people at Guinness World Records look into whether they should strip an Australian bar of its cocktail title.

The tale begins in 2013, with Giang Nguyen sipping the now record-holding $12,500 cocktail called “The Winston” – featuring an 1858 Croizet Cuvee Leonie cognac — during a media event at Club 23 in Australia’s Crown Casino. However, according to The Age, Nguyen never actually paid for that drink: The cost was reimbursed to him from the casino. In fact, Nguyen wasn’t even supposed to be the one to drink it.

Enter James Manning, a New Zealand millionaire. He was in the middle of an extraordinary run at the Crown, racking up $32 million in winnings at the casino. Probably riding the high of his winning, Manning agreed to be the purchaser of the ridiculously-priced drink and the Crown started organizing the forthcoming media frenzy.

Small problem, though: Right before the event, the casino discovered that all of Manning’s winnings were part of a scam. Apparently, he had breached the Crown’s security systems and was using it against them to win massive bets. As a result, Manning was banned from the premises.

The Crown scrambled to find a new buyer for the cocktail, lest their media even turn into a media embarrassment. Since no one in their right mind would pay such a price, they asked Nguyen — a casino regular — to fill the part. Since it’s bad etiquette to turn down a $12,500 drink, Nguyen agreed. He signed the check, but was reimbursed the money.

“The whole thing was fake... $12,500 was repaid to Giang so he would pose for the pic,” a former Crown employee told The Sunday Age. “Giang stepped in at the last minute. He made the transaction as per Guinness rules, but he got his money back and it never came from Club 23.”

Now, Guinness is investigating the incident, which may end up with Club 23 and its ridiculous “The Winston” giving up its record. Unless someone else wants to buy one. Can I interest you in a $12,500 cocktail?