We’re not gonna lie: Getting to drink high-priced, rare spirits like Johnnie Walker Blue Label Scotch and Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon on a regular basis is one of the best perks of working for Liquor.com. (It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it.)
But we know that price doesn’t always equal quality. While some bottlings are, frankly, overpriced, we’ve also discovered a few low-priced brands that are not only quite drinkable but may in fact be as good as (or better than) their higher-priced alternatives.
Obviously, it takes a bit of skill and luck to ferret out these rare budget gems, since there are still many awful cheap spirits on store shelves. Thankfully, we were able to get a few of our illustrious advisory board members to divulge their favorite bottlings that all, unbelievably, cost under $25. (That’s almost the price of a single cocktail in some New York bars!)
So check out our slideshow for the full list of delicious bargain spirits and then go shopping. Cheers!
Julie Reiner, owner of Clover Club and Flatiron Lounge in New York, almost didn’t want to tell us about this spicy 100-proof rye, which goes for about $19 a bottle. “All of the cocktail bars in NYC use it in the well,” she says, “and it often goes out of stock!” Try it in a classic Manhattan or Old Fashioned.
When it comes to low-priced tequila, you need to be careful: Bad tequila is really bad. However, Reiner says this 100-percent-agave spirit, which will run you 20 to 25 bucks a bottle, is “very high quality for the price.” Use it for Margaritas next time you throw a porch party or picnic.
There aren’t many single malt bargains to be had. Instead, try this $22 blended Scotch, which actually contains two of the best single malts out there: The Macallan and Highland Park. It’s good enough to sip neat, but the low price means you don’t have to feel bad about using it in mixed drinks. In the summer, Reiner uses The Famous Grouse instead of bourbon for a sophisticated Whiskey Smash.
While Evan Williams might not have the mystique of other brands, there is a reason why it’s the second-best-selling bourbon out there. It’s “bold, hearty, mature, complex, great for Manhattans and very inexpensive,” says award-winning cocktail writer Gary Regan. We couldn’t agree with him more.
“There is no need to spend a lot on vodka,” says Aisha Sharpe, a cocktail consultant who’s worked with numerous spirits brands and created menus for watering holes all over the country. “The ingredients to make it are cheap and it doesn’t need aging.” Case in point: Luksusowa, a Polish product made from potatoes that costs around $12 a bottle. Sharpe says it can be mixed with “just about anything.”
As master distiller at the New York Distilling Company, Allen Katz is responsible for Perry’s Tot and Dorothy Parker gins. (Though delicious, they’re a bit above the price limit for this story.) So we trust his judgment when he vouches for Mathilde’s all-natural liqueurs made in France by the folks behind Pierre Ferrand Cognac. The orange, cassis (blackcurrant), framboise (raspberry), pêche (peach) and poire (pear) will set you back only $22, and each makes a great Kir Royale or French Martini.
If you don’t think you like Martinis or Manhattans, bad vermouth may be at fault. While decent vermouth is fairly cheap, really good vermouth doesn’t cost much more. Katz recommends Dolin Dry ($15) from France and Carpano’s sweet Antica Formula ($16 for 375 mL) from Italy. Either one is also tasty served over ice as a European-style aperitif.
Think you know the booze?
Let’s start with some basics.