Odds are, if you're reading this then you enjoy a good drink. But, like many of you, I also like a good value. There are thousands of products to choose from out there and finding something that's cheap but also high quality can be a pretty unpleasant endeavor if you miss. Here is a list of some of the best products out there that won't burn a hole through your wallet.
The whole point, by definition, of Vodka is to be odorless and tasteless, so when I hear people arguing about the best Super Premium Vodka, I laugh. The reality is, and I'm sure I'll get grief for saying this, is that after you get out of the diesel-fuel like bottom shelf stuff there's a diminishing return for Vodka in terms of value, and unless you're a professional Vodka taster or someone who drinks Vodka neat without shooting it (something not even the Russians understand) then you don't need to be shelling out more than $20 a bottle. After that you're just paying for marketing. Buy good, inexpensive Vodka and spend the other $20 on another bottle of Vodka.
- Wodka $12 - Easily my favorite Vodka for the price. It's cheap, smooth, and when you add Ice you might think you're actually drinking water. Easily the best value Vodka our there. It used to be our well Vodka at the bar.
- Sobieski $12 - If you're putting anything other than Ice in your Vodka, just buy this. It's a workhorse and our current well Vodka.
- Monopolowa $15 - A slight step above the others. I don't like it as much as Wodka for the cost, but it's much more easily available.
- Smirnoff $16 - If you drink Grey Goose, know this: Smirnoff regularly and consistently beats the pants off Grey Goose in blind taste testing. Don't believe me? Set up a blind test for yourself.
- Aylesbury Duck $20 - This is my favorite Vodka. It's incredibly well made and designed for cocktails. If you're a Vodka Martini Drinker, switch to this. Thank me later.
Budget Gin can be tricky. It's not like Vodka where the goal is to disappear. You want the botanicals in your Gin to shine without drowning you in an acrid, boozy musk or sharp, off flavors. I use Gin primarily for cocktails, especially if I'm going on a budget. Gin is absolutely one of those Spirits where the pricey options are just plain better by themselves, but in a Cocktail, you have a lot of room to work.
- New Amsterdam $13 - If you're a Gin and Tonic person, this is a great entry point. The botanicals are light and won't blow you over. Great Gin if you're coming over from the Vodka side.
- Gordon's $15 - There's a reason this is the best selling Gin in the world. It can be used in just about any application and it's a steal at the price. We use it in our wells and rarely stray away from it.
- Bombay $19 - This is the regular Bombay Gin, not Sapphire which is more expensive (but delicious). It's one I pick up on the regular when I want something different.
- Beefeater $25 - OK so this one isn't technically under $25, but it's quintessential. A London Dry Gin that will shine through about anything you can throw at it. It would be my favorite Gin if that position wasn't already held by...
- Ford's Gin $28 (For a Liter, not a 750ml) - This one is over $25 but it's a bigger bottle so it evens out. This Gin, made by the same people who make Aylesbury Duck, was created specifically for cocktails. It's balanced with a great body and I can't speak enough about how much I love this Gin.
At some point about 5 years ago it became almost impossible to find the really good Bourbons. The reason being is that in the 80'sand 90's, Bourbon was at an all-time low, so they weren't producing as much. Unfortunately, since Bourbon takes years to make, we should have plenty of Bourbon in a few years when everyone has forgotten that it's popular. In the meantime, here are some Bourbons that anyone can be proud to own.
- Jim Beam $12 - If you're putting Coke in your Bourbon, just get this.
- Evan Williams $15 - The Rodney Dangerfield of Bourbon, it gets no respect. Evan Williams is one of those Bourbon's you drink on the rocks and then make sure you're you got the label right. It's outstanding. Also their Single Barrel is the best Bourbon under $30, but that's a different list.
- Weller Special Reserve $20 - Wheat Bourbon's like Blantons and Pappy are basically myths these days. Weller is also a wheater and has the benefit of not only being available but cheap! It's my go-to Bourbon.
- Buffalo Trace $21 - Ok.... so this is also my go-to Bourbon. Tons of vanilla and oak, not a lot of alcohol burn, and dammit does it make a great Julep.
- Four Roses $23 - When I buy Four Roses I usually go for their Single Barrel, which is an absolute steal, but if you're looking for a great sipping Bourbon for a low price, this is you.
There are so many different types of rum that I'm just hitting the basics. Most people don't think of expensive rum but the truth is there's a huge difference between a really really great rum and an OK rum, kind of like Tequila. These are some of my favorites that you won't regret.
- Castillo $12 - The absolute lowest I'm willing to go on rum, because bad rum is just undrinkable. Thankfully it's also a bargain and perfect for Rum and Coke. They also have a few versions at the same price point.
- Flor de Cana $14 - These guys make a preposterous variety of rum, all of them good and well priced. Their 12 year is a treat, but there White rum and their 4 year both come under the price limit here and they're fantastic. We carry the 7 year at the bar.
- Plantation 3 Star $18 - The 3 Star is a white rum that you could happily drink on the rocks, but why someone would drink white rum on the rocks is beyond me. They make a Dark rum that's about the same price that will make you sing and their Pineapple dark rum (not like Malibu) is my favorite rum of all-time.
- Angostura 5 Year $18 - If I had to stock only one kind of rum it would be this one. I'm pretty sure that they don't know how much they're selling it for because I can't figure out why it's so cheap. It'd be worth it at twice the price. It goes well with everything.
- Cana Brava 3 Year $21 - This is my cocktail workhorse. It's specifically made for cocktails and when I'm making a Hemingway Daiquiri or a Mojito, I wouldn't even consider anything else.
Truthfully I don't drink a lot of Tequila outside of Margaritas. When I do I use Tequila Cabeza but, sadly, it's out of the price range for this list. Tequila, more than anything other than scotch, is a time you shouldn't cost cut, but luckily there are some Tequila's under $25 that are worth your time. The most important thing about Tequila that whatever you buy, make sure it's 100% Blue Agave. Because I don't drink a lot of Tequila I outsourced this list to a friend of mine.
- Zapopan $13 - Use me in Frozen Margaritas
- Cuervo Tradicionale $20 - Don't buy Cuervo Gold, it isn't made with 100% Agave. Unless you like hangovers.
- El Jimador $21 - Great for Margaritas on the Rocks
- Olmeca Altos $24 - I've never had it by my buddy insists on it. Trust his opinion. He loves Tequila the way I love a good pair of sweatpants.
- Epsolon $29 (Liter not 750ml) - When we can't get Tequila Cabeza at the bar we buy this. It's one of the few Tequilas that I don't mind, which is the best compliment I am capable of giving Tequila.