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While there are plenty of ultra-premium bottles of liquor out there, you don’t have to pay a fortune for high-quality spirits these days. Don’t take our word for it—listen to the advice of experts in the bar industry who often reach for options under $30 to make cocktails or simple neat pours. Here are the best cheap bottles of alcohol that don’t skimp on flavor.
Best Bourbon: Evan Williams Black Label
Region: Kentucky | ABV: 43% | Tasting Notes: Oak, Brown Sugar, Caramel
"I love using Evan Williams Black Label as my go-to bourbon when I'm thinking of cost," says Darnell Holguin, the co-founder of The Silver Sun Group and beverage partner of Las' Lap. This bourbon is produced by Heaven Hill Distillery. "It's sweet and smooth, while being [a bit higher in alcohol content] at 86 proof," he says.
Related: The Best Bourbons
Best White Rum: Bacardi Superior White Rum
Region: Puerto Rico | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Almonds, Vanilla, Oak
Bacardi is one of the most popular rum brands in the world, with a variety of expressions available. However, the classic charcoal-filtered white rum is a bartender’s favorite. "It's very good quality for the price and great name recognition," says Nestor Marchand, the director of food and beverage at Plunge Beach Resort, who uses it in many cocktails on his menus.
Related: The Best Cheap Rums
Best Vodka: St. George Spirits All Purpose Vodka
Region: California | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Floral
"California’s St. George Spirits is one of my favorite domestic producers," says Shannon Tebay, the head bartender at Death & Co in New York. "Their All Purpose Vodka uses unaged pear brandy as its base and rectifies it to over 95% ABV." She adds, "While this may cause it to lose most of its pear character, what’s left is a beautifully plump, juicy texture, making it something that’s quite dynamic to work with in a category that tends to be more utilitarian."
Related: The Best Vodkas
Best Tequila: Cimarron Blanco Tequila
Region: Mexico | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Bright Agave, Pineapple, Papaya
"My pick for an under-$30 tequila of late has been Cimarron Blanco," says Matthew Belanger, the head bartender at Death & Co in Los Angeles. “Produced at the prolific Tequilena distillery in Jalisco, home to a ton of other premium tequila brands, it's peppery and agave-forward enough to enjoy on its own, with enough grassy, fruity character to mix well in a cocktail. We use it in a lot of our shaken tequila drinks around the bar currently."
Related: The Best Tequilas
Best Amaro: Meletti Amaro
Region: Italy | ABV: 32% | Tasting Notes: Citrus, Spice, Cloves
"A less expensive bottle I always keep in my home bar is Meletti Amaro," says Mike Vacheresse, the owner of Travel Bar in Brooklyn, N.Y. "Meletti is such a versatile bottle to have on your bar. I enjoy this amaro neat after a meal, I drink it on hot days with fresh lime juice and club soda over ice, and Meletti makes a very fine Manhattan."
Best Liqueur: Rockey’s Milk Punch
Region: New York | ABV: 12% | Tasting Notes: Fruit, Citrus, Floral, Tart
"This punch is really versatile, and also you can drink it by itself," says David Libespere, the general manager of 67 Orange Street in Harlem, N.Y. "Rockey’s has been on the market for some time now, but the possibilities with it are limitless, from an Old Fashioned to a tiki drink." He notes, "What is important for me is to be able to have a product affordable enough that I can use in a lot of different variations."
Best Single Barrel Whiskey: Evan Williams Bourbon
Region: Kentucky | ABV: 43% | Tasting Notes: Vanilla, Cinnamon, Oak
Single barrel whiskeys are unique in that each barrel will have different characteristics. But for Pablo Guerrero, the F&B manager of Plan Do See America in Miami Beach, the Evan Williams Single Barrel stands out. "In the world of bourbons, this one is among the best,” he says. "It’s well-balanced. No one will say no to this American bourbon whiskey for its price and its smoothness."
Best Rye Whiskey: Rittenhouse Straight Rye
Region: Kentucky | ABV: 50% | Tasting Notes: Vanilla, Caramel, Rye
"An inexpensive bottle that I always have around is 4-year-old bottled-in-bond Rittenhouse Rye from the Heaven Hill Distillery," says Vacheresse. "Rittenhouse is my go-to rye for a Manhattan or an Old Fashioned. The 100 proof stands up to the melting ice and gives you a well-balanced cocktail."
Related: The Best Rye Whiskeys
Best Cachaça: Leblon Cachaça
Region: Brazil | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Fruit, Vanilla, Yeast
If you're a fan of rum, give cachaça a try as well—the Brazilian cousin that is distilled from sugarcane juice. "When I get a request for a Caipirinha, I love using Leblon Cachaça,” says Holguin. "Rested in cognac barrels, it's a great premium spirit that isn't too crazy of a price point."
Best Aged Rum: Appleton Estate Reserve Rum
Region: Jamaica | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Tobacco, Molasses
"Appleton Estate Reserve offers an incredibly well made, consistent rum that is a great introduction to the high-ester rums of Jamaica,” says Tyson Buhler, the national beverage director of Death & Co. "While there are many different styles of rum made in Jamaica, it’s most well-known for these funky, sugarcane spirits loaded with flavors of tropical fruit and spice." He adds, "At under $30, you’re getting a mature spirit that fits into all sorts of cocktails from Old Fashioneds to island favorites like Mai Tais and Daiquiris."
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Jonah Flicker is an experienced writer who has been covering spirits and traveling the world visiting distilleries for many years. His work has appeared in various national outlets reporting on trends, new releases, and the stories and innovators behind the spirits. His first love remains whiskey, but he is partial to tequila, rum, gin, cognac and all things distilled.