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.
Rittenhouse Bottled-in-Bond Straight Rye Whiskey
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.
El Dorado 3-Year-Old Cask Aged Rum
If you’re looking for good value, head to the rum section of your liquor store. Even the finest rums are far more affordable than their Scotch or tequila counterparts. And Reiner loves this $16 aged bottling from Guyana. It makes a fantastic Daiquiri.
Milagro Silver Tequila
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.
The Famous Grouse Scotch Whisky
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.Continue to 5 of 9 below.
Evan Williams Black Label Bourbon
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.”
Beefeater London Dry Gin
Craft distillers are making fantastic—and costly—new gins left and right, but for fixing Martinis, Sharpe sticks with British classic Beefeater. It’ll run you $22 for a bottle and is available at just about every liquor store in America.
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.Continue to 9 of 9 below.
Dolin Dry and Carpano Antica Formula vermouths
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.