So, you want to stock the home bar with a decent selection of spirits but you don't want to blow the bank. We hear you. That's why we've gone to experts to find their top picks for American whiskey, tequila, and vodka so you can have a respectable bar — and still have cash left for other important stuff.
If you're still a little leery of low-cost tequila from that time in college, never fear: It's totally possible to get a perfectly respectable budget bottle (without the regret) by keeping a couple things in mind.
"When looking for any tequila, and especially at the budget category, simplicity is best," says Paul Rabe, bartender at Lucky Rooster Kitchen & Bar in Hilton Head. "When other ingredients are added to [the distillation] process, then it is a signal that the tequila itself is poorly distilled and has poor taste. So the chili/lime/honey/flavor bottle on the shelf probably does not have quality tequila in it. Keep it simple."
While you're at it, avoid anything labeled "mixto," says Larry Rice of the Silver Dollar, Pearl, andEl Camino in Louisville. Mixto means it's not 100 percent agave and it may have other sweeteners, colorings, or flavorings.
Or make it really easy on yourself and just choose from these expert picks.
1. Coa de Jima Blanco Tequila, $16 for 750 milliliters at Mission Liquor
"Full-bodied with a clean, sweet finish that rivals many tequilas that are priced two to three times this amount. This works well as a chilled shot, but also mixes well in classic drinks like a margarita or in a refreshing Paloma." —Todd Antz, a second-generation owner of Keg Liquors in southern Indiana
2. Olmeca Altos Reposado, $20 for 750 milliliters
"I'm a fan of this brand. It's 100 percent agave and a quality produced spirit. It makes you feel kind of guilty only paying $20 for it because it certainly holds its own against the higher-priced tequila options. Okay, I don't feel that guilty." —Elliott Clark, the blogger behind Apartment Bartender
3. Lunazul, $17 for 750 milliliters
"A producer like Lunazul keeps it simple by using 100 percent blue agave that they grow, harvest, and distill themselves. We used the blanco and the reposado at the Lucky Rooster this past summer for a couple cocktails. The blanco is perfect for making a Paloma, which is basically a mixture of tequila, fresh grapefruit juice (if available), and soda, or your favorite grapefruit juice." —Paul Rabe, bartender at Lucky Rooster Kitchen & Bar in Hilton Head
This pick actually got several nominations.
Prices unless noted are from Total Wine as of September 2017 — based on a shopper in Kentucky. Your pricing may vary.
Do you have a go-to that wasn't listed here? Share it in the comments!