Do you have a favorite bargain spirit? Something with a lower-than-average price tag that delivers great value every time?
We recently posed this question to seven cocktail and spirits professionals — writers and bloggers, a spirits sommelier, and a store buyer — and found their responses fascinating. Here are their top picks.
We should mention first that we left the field open; any type of liquor was fair game. And because average prices within different categories of spirits range widely (for example, a basic vodka starts at around $10, while a well-aged single-malt Scotch costs upwards of $40), we didn't set an upper dollar limit for this challenge. We asked only that our recommenders select a favorite brand of spirit with a lower-than-average price tag for its type.
1. Gordon's London Dry Gin ($9 to $15 for 750 ml) Recommended by: Paul Abercrombie, author of Organic, Shaken and Stirred
Why: "You can get a liter of it for about $15 and it's surprisingly good. Not great; but good. It's also a little lower proof than most gins (80 proof as opposed to 90-something of most London Dry style gins)."
Ways to Enjoy: "It's best used in drinks where the gin doesn't take center stage. It's particularly good when you want to batch up a bunch of drinks for a party. I've used this to make big pitchers of Singapore Slings for a few dozen friends and family."
2. Canadian Club Sherry Cask Whisky ($25 to $30 for 750 ml) Recommended by: Ethan Kelley, former head spirit sommelier and beverage director for the Brandy Library
Why: "My first instinct was to go with any bottle from the Dickle family, always more and more impressive. However, I think that if you want to find some amazing bargains you just have to look outside the standard categories. For whiskies, I think it is always unfair that we overlook Canada."
Ways to Enjoy: "[Canadian] whiskies tend to be sweeter and lighter which makes them ideal candidates for mixing. Even Grandpa liked some CC in his Manhattan, and I do too. The Canadian Club Sherry Cask works amazingly well in any number of cocktails that call for bourbon, rye, or even non-smoky scotches."
3. El Dorado 3 Year White Rum ($13 to $16 for 750 ml) Recommended by: Stephanie Moreno, sales manager/spirits buyer, Astor Wines & Spirits
Why: "El Dorado 3 Year is full of aromatics, which is something you usually don't expect from a white rum: milk chocolate, creamy coconut, vanilla and citrus. A real steal at this price. It'll take your white rum-based drinks to a whole new level."
Ways to Enjoy:"I use this for all my white rum needs, particularly Daiquiris."
4. Sobieski Vodka ($12 to $ 16 for 750 ml) Recommended by: James Mulcahy, blogger, NYbarfly
Why: "Why pay more for premium vodka when the base spirit is essentially the same? It's about $16 a bottle (compared to, say, $25+ for something like Grey Goose) and it's absolutely just as good. I think you can get a whole liter for around $20."
Ways to Enjoy: "I use Sobieski for my base in home cocktails, and I've used it when I've had parties to mix batches of Cosmos and other drinks. It's cheap and tasty. The only thing I wouldn't use it for is a straight up Martini, but that's because I'm picky about those things."
5. Sauza Hornitos Reposado Tequila ($25 to $30 for 750 ml) Recommended by: Kara Newman, spirits reviewer for Wine Enthusiast magazine, and author of Spice & Ice: 60 Tongue-Tickling Cocktails
Why: "Reposado ("aged," or "rested") tequila is often pricier than its unaged counterpart, Silver or Blanco. But this aged, 100 percent agave tequila is definitely a bargain — it's even less expensive than many silvers on the market. And yet, it's no firewater: aging mellows the rough edges, leaving a smooth, medium-bodied spirit with a hint of vanilla in the aroma. Excellent for mixing bold-flavored Margaritas."
Ways to Enjoy: Blood Orange-Jalapeño Margaritas (you can find our review of Kara's spiced-up recipe here).
6. New Amsterdam Gin ($12 to $14 for 750 ml) Recommended by: Selena Ricks, blogger, The Dizzy Fizz
Why: "New Amsterdam Gin is a great value because it has none of the juniper heat that you would expect for a gin at its price point. It's soft on the palate with bright citrus and floral notes. I wouldn't use it in a martini, but it mixes well in fruit-based cocktails and is perfect for summer."
Ways to Enjoy: "My favorite way to use it just so happened to win me their recent cocktail competition, in my "Greenmarket Smash": 1 1/2 oz. New Amsterdam gin, 1/2 oz. liquified honey, 1/2 oz. elderflower liqueur, 1 oz. fresh orange juice, 1 oz. cranberry juice, and muddled basil."
7. W.L. Weller 12-Year-Old Bourbon ($25 to $30 for 750 ml) Recommended by: Liza Weisstuch, spirits writer
Why: "Distilled at the much celebrated Buffalo Trace distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky, this wheated bourbon is named for the distiller who, as legend has it, inspired Bill Samuels, founder of Maker's Mark, to create his iconic brand. The sweetness here is discernible, but this is no flaccid, smooth whiskey. You get that no-nonsense, fiery yet clean finish that evokes older bourbon."
Ways to Enjoy: "It's best appreciated over ice, but use it to mix a bourbon smash and you'll get a drink that's got a bit more backbone than if you used a lesser bourbon."
Nora Maynard is a longtime home mixologist and an occasional instructor at NYC's Astor Center. She is a contributor to The Business of Food: Encyclopedia of the Food and Drink Industries and is the recipient of the American Egg Board Fellowship in culinary writing at the Writers' Colony at Dairy Hollow. She previously covered food and drink in film at Kitchn in her weekly column, The Celluloid Pantry.
Do you have a go-to budget bottle of booze? Tell us about it in the comments!