What are the best liquors for the money?
November 3, 2008 11:42 AM   Subscribe

What is your favorite price point liquor of a given style and why?

I remember when I turned 21, I set out to build up my adult liquor collection. I spent a lot of my hard earned cash on Lagavulin and aged Macallan scotch. I bought Grey Goose vodka, Don Julio and Patron tequilas, cognac and even some port wine. I was very proud of my collection until I realized that my roommates were surreptitiously mixing my scotches with Coca Cola whenever they ran out of Jim Beam.

A few years later, I've given up the pretensions of trying to impress anyone with my liquor collection. At least until a bottle doesn't amount to half of my paycheck.

So here's my question:

What do you drink when you actually enjoy liquor but don't have the cash to get the great stuff? What is your favorite good enough liquor?
posted by Telf to Food & Drink (73 answers total) 108 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: For scotch, I can get Laphroaig for $38 (as opposed to $92 for Lagavulin), but when I need to save the dough, I get the Auchentoshan for $21 and it's excellent.
posted by mattbucher at 11:48 AM on November 3, 2008

Response by poster: I've found that the best deals are usually found in liquors with little name recognition/advertising budget. I figure more of the asking price goes to ingredients than to billboards.

I personally enjoy Teacher's scotch. It's blended, but doesn't have a noticeable grain alcohol taste and I think it has a surprisingly complex yet drinkable flavor. I picked up a bottle for $21.

Polar Ice. When I buy vodka, I want it to be as clean and inoffensive as possible. Polar Ice tastes much cleaner than many more expensive brands and that about all I ask of it. I usually get it for around 15-20 per 750.

I used to go for Herradura Silver Tequila, but I just looked at the price and it's going for about 40 dollars a bottle. I'm thinking that anything over 30 a bottle break my definition of cheap.
posted by Telf at 11:52 AM on November 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

For whiskey, I've been drinking quite a bit George Dickel No. 8 recently. It's cheap enough that you won't regret the occasional Dickel and Coke, but it's quite tasty on its own.
posted by muddgirl at 11:55 AM on November 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

I like Luksusowa for vodka. It's super clean, but I'm not sure if it's more or less expensive than Polar Ice.
posted by exogenous at 11:58 AM on November 3, 2008

I think Tanqueray 10 is worth the premium over the regular stuff, but only at the liquor store, not in a bar. Still, that's only $40 US a bottle (probably less) which is still pretty reasonable. Anything more than that for gin is based on rarity and probably not anything intrinsic to the spirit (whether the same is true of whiskey is up for debate I suppose)
posted by GuyZero at 12:01 PM on November 3, 2008

for bourbon, i like Jim Beam Black. usually about $5 more than the regular stuff, but is right up there with Maker's Mark in taste.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 12:01 PM on November 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

There are some completely reasonable single malts between 20-30 bucks.

One thing I really like, that is cheap (and tends to be scorned by liquor stealers) is some Jim Beam Rye (in the yellow cap).
posted by [@I][:+:][@I] at 12:05 PM on November 3, 2008

For rye, Old Overholt is a steal at around $15 a bottle.
posted by saladin at 12:05 PM on November 3, 2008

What do you drink when you actually enjoy liquor but don't have the cash to get the great stuff? What is your favorite good enough liquor

Expensive is a regional thing to an extent - taxes on booze are varied to the extreme; so YMMV.

Glenlivet and Glenfiddich (sp ?) aren't expensive or the type of whisky that hardcore scotch fans like, but I enjoy them and don't mind putting a shot of them in a cup of coffee when the mood strikes. They run the same price as most blends, and I like them better.

For Cognac, I like Hennessy but I buy the smaller bottle to economize.
posted by Deep Dish at 12:07 PM on November 3, 2008

For wine you can go for an Italian prosecco instead of Champagne. When I want something like Vihno Verde (a Portuguese lightly sparkling wine that itself is rather inexpensive) but it's out of season or expensive I will also go for a prosecco frizzante.

For whiskey, I'll try a rye whiskey like Alberta Premium.
posted by furtive at 12:09 PM on November 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

I agree with AgentCorvid; Beam Black, is an excellent, yet affordable bourbon. If you consider Smirnoff to be in acceptable vodka, it's definitely cheapest in its class. If not, Ciroc (it's good, even if it's French vodka), is usually under 30 dollars.
posted by Jon_Evil at 12:16 PM on November 3, 2008

Olifant vodka is very smooth, and a great value for the price -- less than $15 for 750 ml. We'd never heard of it till recently (it's from Holland) until the guy at our regular liquor store recommended it.
posted by scody at 12:17 PM on November 3, 2008

Best answer: I'll spend more on bourbon or other whiskeys than I will on other liquors- mostly because I'll drink whiskey alone and rarely do that with vodka or gin. I generally max out around $25 for a bottle of bourbon. I'll stretch that a little further by jumping at whichever bottle on the top shelf is on sale.

Hell, I can make the $25 go a little further by buying a bottle whenever I drive through New Hampshire where there's no tax.

Even without getting near that limit, my favorite Bulleit Bourbon is about $20. Eagle Rare is damned good too and can often be found in the $25 range.

Rye too, as others said, is a good way to cut the cost and enjoy something damned tasty. I've always assumed that's because rye doesn't need to age as long as bourbon or other whiskeys.
posted by The Man from Lardfork at 12:21 PM on November 3, 2008 [2 favorites]

If you consider Smirnoff to be in acceptable vodka, it's definitely cheapest in its class.

I find that Svedka is usually a bit cheaper, and on my tongue it is a much cleaner taste. Recently it's been rather over-advertised, but before a few years ago it seemed to be rather unknown.
posted by muddgirl at 12:24 PM on November 3, 2008

Svedka vodka is often about the same price as Smirnoff, and way good enough. Jim Beam is certainly drinkable bourbon (and their rye is also quite drinkable). For whiskeys from the isles, though, I have to go up a price notch: Irish - Jameson; Scotch - Johnny Walker Red. For gin, Tanqueray or Bombay are ok, although I'll generally always spend the extra for 10 or Sapphire, respectively.
posted by General Malaise at 12:35 PM on November 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

I took a chance on a bottle of Dalwhinnie 15-year recently, and found it to be decent for its very low price (though it wasn't stellar).

As far as good bourbon, I like Woodford Reserve, Knob Creek, and Basil Hayden's, all of which can be had below bank-breaking prices.
posted by Prospero at 12:36 PM on November 3, 2008

It's considered to be pretty ghetto, but I really don't mind Castillo rum (Silver) when I just want some cheapo rum and coke to knock back. Seagram's gin ain't bad either when you're broke. I do draw the line at thunderbird, wild irish rose, or any other bum wines.
posted by Calloused_Foot at 12:40 PM on November 3, 2008

Maker's Mark is good bourbon, not too expensive either.
posted by electroboy at 12:41 PM on November 3, 2008

Well I personally prefer Irish whiskeys - Jamesons is my drinkin' whiskey, although Tullamore Dew is good too (a bit sweeter in my opinion). You can get either for about $20 if you look around. For vodka, if you are going to mix it, then by all means go relatively cheap. Absolut isnt bad (mixed) and that's cheap. Nothing compares to a good imported potato vodka for "straight-up" goodness though. For gin, I personally wouldnt go any cheaper than Bombay Sapphire for G'nT's or Tanqueray 10 for martinis. Again, you can find them for about $20-$22 if you look around.
posted by elendil71 at 12:45 PM on November 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm not expert, but I'll name this one just because when I found out how much a bottle costs, it really surprised me.

Hard to get a hold of actually, it kind of doesn't like to stay in stock too long, but Rittenhouse Bonded Rye is tasty and costs around an unbelievable $15 a bottle (the 80 proof is a bit cheaper than the 100 proof). So it's a price point that makes it easy for you to stock up a couple of bottles when you do run into it. Good taking a swig straight from the bottle and good in Manhattans. Several people seem to like it in mixed drinks; including Dave Wondrich and Audrey Saunders use the stuff for Whiskey Smashes and others, but I'm going to reserve judgment on how it tastes with Coke, so can't help your roommates out there.
posted by kkokkodalk at 12:47 PM on November 3, 2008

I'm a brown liquor guy, so when I can't get top-shelf stuff (which is most of the time) I get Maker's Mark. A good liquor and reasonably priced.
Jameson is good to have around, too.
posted by jonmc at 12:50 PM on November 3, 2008

I see it's already been mentioned above, but Smirnoff is my preferred everyday vodka. It's inexpensive and is perfectly suitable for mixed drinks. I'll have to give Olifant or Svedka a try, though.

As long as you're not a cowering landlubber, your liquor chest needs to include Gosling's Black Seal. It's a fantastic dark rum, with a complex character, a slow burn and a deep, rich molasses scent. If anything, it's grossly underpriced.
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:53 PM on November 3, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for the above responses, hopefully people will keep supplying more. I'm going to throw out an opinion, that I hope doesn't come off as being too dickish.

I would probably categorize Smirnoff Vodka as the exact opposite of what I'd be looking for. In my opinion, Smirnoff is very over priced. To my palette, Smirnoff has a very harsh grain alcohol flavor, which to me screams, cheap vodka. I would argue that its popularity stems mostly from its advertising. Granted we're talking vodka here, and how many people drink straight vodka for the taste?

Similarly, Johnnie Walker, while not terrible by any means, strikes me as another brand whose name recognition trumps any real quality or value. If I were going to spend so much on a Scotch, I'd want it to probably be a single malt with more distinguishing characteristics.

On the other hand, the above recommendation of Auchentoshan is intriguing. It's a single malt scotch with little name recognition that costs about $20 a bottle. I'm going to go buy some today.

Similarly, the above Rye recommendations sound like a good deal as well.
posted by Telf at 12:54 PM on November 3, 2008

What do you drink when you actually enjoy liquor but don't have the cash to get the great stuff?

Consider that rum is tasty but isn't in widespread regard as a liquor for which there are "high end" versions. The various Bacardi flavors are the most popular non-spiced rums, and there's a HUGE drop-off in popularity to whatever is in second place.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:56 PM on November 3, 2008

Best answer: I drink a lot of bourbons and scotches.

Best $20 bottle is George Dickel (yellow) which is an 8yr. It's the same price (or maybe $3-4 cheaper) than Jim or Jack. And it's way better. I also drink their 12yr. For the $35 range bourbons (Makers, Woodford, etc.), I *much* prefer Elijah Craig 18yr. It's a great bourbon at any price. You don't see it everywhere though. EC also has a 12yr that is good, but for the money, I'm back at George Dickel.

I am still trying to find decent scotches at $20, $25, and $30. Once you're above $30-35, you're in the range of a lot of nice 10 and 12yr bottles, blended and single malt. I am drinking a Speyburn 10yr that I just got which is supposed to be "poor man's Macallan." It's not *that* good (and I say that as a big fan of Macallans), but it's good. And tips the scales at $21. Which is exactly half of the 12yr Macallan. I'm still experimenting though.
posted by zpousman at 12:56 PM on November 3, 2008

Also, sangria recipes are rock-simple to make.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:57 PM on November 3, 2008

Response by poster: Maybe there's something I'm missing about the Smirnoff as the people suggesting it seem to have well informed opinions on liquor. Perhaps I'm just unfairly associating it with high school parties when it was mixed in a 1:1 ratio with red Gatorade.

I've heard excellent things about Gosling's Black Seal.
posted by Telf at 12:58 PM on November 3, 2008

Gin, inexpensive and very good brand is New Amsterdam.
Tequila, I've switched to Sauza in recent years ( horrid flash/music website). My liqueur of choice is Becherovka. Keep a bottle in the freezer, it's good for what ails you. Vodka is Nemiroff, the honey pepper product.
posted by dawson at 1:02 PM on November 3, 2008

2nd the Gosling Black Seal. Great, great rum.

Gentleman Jack is my drinking whiskey. Very smooth. Can't remember how much it is... I think right around $30 though. A bottle lasts me quite a long time so I don't care.
posted by zhivota at 1:04 PM on November 3, 2008

Whiskey - Maker's Mark, Redbreast (is a bit more expensive at $40-45 but is still my favorite at any price)
Vodka - Luksosowa, Van Gogh (unflavored only- the flavored ones are too syrupy sweet)
Rum - Flor de Cana
Tequila - Cabo Wabo, Corralejo
posted by Challahtronix at 1:07 PM on November 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

zpousman: For the $35 range bourbons (Makers, Woodford, etc.), I *much* prefer Elijah Craig 18yr. It's a great bourbon at any price. You don't see it everywhere though.

Funny--when I was staying in a hotel in midtown Manhattan last weekend, I had a drink late one night at the bar, and ended up talking to the Food and Beverage manager of the hotel while he was between errands. He saw that I was drinking bourbon, and he also raved about Elijah Craig 18 year (which I'd never heard of). I had to go to four different stores to track it down, but I finally found it (for $43). I'm going to open that bottle tonight.
posted by Prospero at 1:08 PM on November 3, 2008

I'll second Luksusowa vodka. It's cheap enough (usually under $15 where I am) that I don't mind if people pick it up to mix with juices, but good enough to be drunk straight. (Which I have done on a decadent night of smoked salmon, caviar, and vodka consumption.)

As far as Maker's Mark goes, here in Athens, a popular drink is to mix Maker's and Blenheim's spicy ginger ale. You either love it or hate it.
posted by 100watts at 1:09 PM on November 3, 2008

Dickel's been mentioned before, but I'll second it as a decent whiskey, either mixed or on its own.
posted by dunkadunc at 1:13 PM on November 3, 2008

I would probably categorize Smirnoff Vodka as the exact opposite of what I'd be looking for.

So, from the realm of second-hand knowledge... my sister worked for Seagrams. Their distilleries made exactly one product: straight alcohol. 100%. The reminder of the process is basically the same as a soda bottler: they take flavouring, add alcohol, add water and bottle it. Seagram's #1 priority is zero taste variation. Whether it tastes good or bad is besides the point. I think anything from Seagrams (now Diageio or whoever) can basically be struck from your list.
posted by GuyZero at 1:17 PM on November 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Also going to second Elijah Craig recommendations. And really, dude, you need to relax when it comes to drinking. No problem having standards, but you're making this WAY too cerebral. Maybe I'm missing something, but you gotta approach it more from a taste thing and sort of let go that whole name awareness. Sometimes, yes, a name can help. If say you know brand x usually tastes a certain way, you might go into tasting another offering from brand x knowing their distillation process and general flavor profile, but it's more used as a basic jumping off point not as a rigid frame. If you want to enjoy spirits, you're going to have to taste them and figure out for yourself if you like them or not regardless of a "name recognition trumps any real quality or value."

I'm not saying this as a dis, but just pointing out that your frame of mind is still in the same place as the one you state you're trying to get away from in your question. You're trying to run away so far from that mindset that you're almost doing a 180 and running into the opposite version of it. Just breath all that out, relax, try some stuff out. It's like if your question was "I used to have really expensive, first-print or nice special edition hardcovers of great works of literature. But then I found out my roommates were taking it into the shitter to read while they take a dump. So are there any magazines out there that aren't like an Esquire or Harper's Bazaar, but are still out-of-the-way cool enough that people who see it won't say 'Oh, so you read the NYTimes', but cheap so I won't get mad when my friends use it as bathroom reading material?" It's a question that doesn't really reflect what you are looking for taste-wise and that's troublesome if you're trying to go for building a spirits collection all your own.
posted by kkokkodalk at 1:23 PM on November 3, 2008 [3 favorites]

I'd heard about how the bottom-shelf whiskey was whiskey-flavored vodka, but that makes a lot of sense.
posted by dunkadunc at 1:25 PM on November 3, 2008

I have a 12-year single malt from Trader Joe's that's pretty tasty. I think it was $20 or so. Scotch what I drink so I can't help with anything else.
posted by small_ruminant at 1:29 PM on November 3, 2008

You can get really excellent Sotol or Mezcal for much less than comparable tequila.
posted by kickingtheground at 1:29 PM on November 3, 2008

Best answer: Boru vodka is much more neutral/smooth in taste than Smirnoff and runs cheaper locally. Someone mentioned Polar Ice vodka above, and that's what I preferred until I tried Boru. Generally it's around 25-30 for a handle (!), and I don't feel guilty mixing it with Cranberry-Grape juice. I feel the same as Telf about Smirnoff--acceptable at parties, but I otherwise avoid it. I get Stoli when I feel like having vodka neat.

George Dickel is a good Jack substitute, and depending on your mixer is smoother. Makers is much better than Jack and about the highest-range liquor I will still pour into a Coca-Cola, but my proximity to the Jack Daniels distillery makes Makers the more expensive option. If I feel like dropping the change, though, Gentleman Jack and JD Single Barrel are both great for sipping, and make delicious but guilt-inducing and expensive Jack and Cokes.

For rum, Sailor Jerry's. Higher proof, but smoother than Bacardi/other generic rum. Most rums are kick-in-the-teeth sweet to me, but Sailor Jerry's is actually one of my preferred mixers. Has a hint of cherry to me.
posted by Benjy at 1:31 PM on November 3, 2008

For bourbons, try Rip Van Winkle.
posted by dilettante at 1:34 PM on November 3, 2008

The right quality/value choice for me when making margaritas is Sauza Hornitas.
posted by mmascolino at 1:54 PM on November 3, 2008

Lots o love for George Dickel. A good straight sippin' whiskey.

Let's not forget the Canadian whiskies, too.

I like the occasional manhattan, and I've found that one place NOT to go cheap is the sweet vermouth. It's worth the slight premium to bring home the better stuff (Cinzano, M&R). Avoid like the plague the cheap-and-you'll-know-why-as-soon-as-you-drink-it Gallo sweet vermouth. Gad, that's nasty crap.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:56 PM on November 3, 2008

One of the best vodkas I've ever had was sold outside a gas station somewhere.

Moonshine is totally unbeatable when it comes to the price/quality ratio. Only problem is a lot of it is totally undrinkable. If you're lucky enough to find a good supplier you are basically set. Of course the best booze is the one you make yourself. Probably takes to much times and effort though...

Oh, and 190% proof lab booze served out of a beaker
posted by uandt at 2:16 PM on November 3, 2008

Best answer: You may want to read through some of the articles by Jason Wilson, the Washingtonpost.com "spirits writer." For example, here's his recent take on Inexpensive Bottles to Help Keep You Afloat in troubled economic times. He also recommends the essentials of a "winter bar."
posted by arco at 2:31 PM on November 3, 2008 [5 favorites]

Seconding Sailor Jerry's spiced rum. It's 92 proof, kicks like a mule, yet is smooth and eminently mixable. And it's about $16 a bottle. Cheap, tasty, gets you hammered. A+++ would drink again.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 2:33 PM on November 3, 2008 [2 favorites]

Monopolowa for Vodka (often in Seattle it's $16 a fifth). Knob Creek Bourbon is a small jump in price but a large jump in quality over Makers. And I never buy Baileys when I can find Saint Brendan's. Tequila though, it's gotta be Patron Silver, even if it's the most expensive one available. I'd rather not drink Tequila then drink a Tequila other than Patron Silver.
posted by vito90 at 2:34 PM on November 3, 2008

Luksosuwa is the shit. Best vodka ever. Never had polar whatever but generally the potato vodkas are 1) cheaper 2) better.

Seconding Elijah Craig. I got this instead of Jameson (another fave) and hated it until I read some advice to drink it on the rocks. HOLY CRAP PERFECTION. I paid around $35 in Manhattan fwiw.
posted by shownomercy at 2:42 PM on November 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: kkokkodalk,

I respectfully disagree with your assertion. My leading anecdote about the roommates drinking my liquor was probably unnecessary and I don't blame you for trying to draw an analogy about expensive leather bound books. Unfortunately, I think you are way off the mark.

One point that I think you're ignoring is that there is a definite qualitative difference between different brands that goes beyond preference. There is a difference between a tequila made with 100% agave and tequila-flavored rum sold as bottom shelf tequila. There is a difference between single malt scotch and grain alcohol that has been dyed brown. There is a difference between beer brewed with rice or corn and beer brewed with just malted barely.

The question was a very direct inquiry regarding the best price point of a specific product. People ask similar things of computer CPUs, cars, kitchen products, etc. Why spend $120 on a kitchen knife if a $20 dollar knife is made equally well? Why spend an extra $60 on one pair of jeans if they are just a rebranded version of cheaper jeans? I could ask the same question about other products that would be less specious than the comparison drawn between my original question and your book analogy.

The point of the roommate anecdote was show that there was no reason to invest in expensive things because they could disappear really easily. Sort of like how you wouldn't leave a Rolex watch lying around a methadone clinic.

Furthermore, your answer was pretty worthless. Why bother to weakly chime in with the same answer that several other people had already gone into much greater detail about?

It looks like you put a lot more thought into constructing your analogy about pretentious magazines used to impress company than in responding to my question.

My question was about what people enjoy drinking. I wanted to find good deals on a product. Askmetafilter is used to pick the brains of people in order to take advantage of their experience. Your advice about going out and trying everything is expensive and completely against the obvious intentions of this post.

In the future, please consider whether or not your answers are in any way helpful or constructive.
posted by Telf at 2:44 PM on November 3, 2008 [5 favorites]

Best answer: What the "great stuff" is will vary from person to person. I'm never going to spend large amounts of money on liquor that is going into mixed drinks. Whatever is on sale but above the bottom shelf for gin or vodka will do in a pinch for mixed drinks. It sounds like this isn't the advice you're looking for, though -- I take it you want out of the way brands, or ones that will still intrigue without breaking the budget instead of someone explaining how Paramount Rum is a decent deal if you're mixing.

As for GuyZero's mention of the "straight alcohol plus flavoring" idea, that's pretty common if you look at vodkas. There are a few stories on the web about how Grey Goose was created as a brand before they had a product, and it's really just high quality alcohol mixed with french water.

I would recommend Tito's vodka, in that it's some of the better I've had and only recently started doing national advertising so the price is still relatively low, compared to other premium vodkas. For gin, which I tend to drink more in gin & tonic form than in martinis, I'll be more likely to make sure I have a tonic water I like and decent limes than a pricey gin. Elijah Craig and George Dickel are good brands to look into. Local rye varieties are becoming popular now (Templeton Rye is a good local one where I am, there's an aged Sazerac that's supposed to be good, and some friends like Buffalo Trace for bourbon) but if you're looking for whiskeys for mixing, go with a lower-shelf one since you really want a decent taste at a drinkable quantity.

A good (home) bar isn't all premium liquors, it's what people will actually drink. Imagine being able to entertain a handful of guests for a couple different evenings, and you'll quickly dismiss the idea of only having premium drinks since, as you said, you'll end up with people using good stuff as mixers.

I'd recommend Jeffrey Morgenthaler's blog for drinking issues. I've found a few good tips there over the past few months.
posted by mikeh at 2:49 PM on November 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

Bad editing made that look like I was recommending Craig and Dickel as gin brands, which is obviously false. I don't have any gin recommendations at this time, although I've bought Tanqueray by the handle at Costco. Don't underestimate bulk purchases!
posted by mikeh at 2:51 PM on November 3, 2008

Response by poster: kkokkodalk,

I was just going through some of the better answers, and your advice on the Rye was helpful. Thanks. I stand by my assessment of your other response though.
posted by Telf at 2:57 PM on November 3, 2008

Seconding Templeton Rye because it's a) about $26 bottle at Costco; and, b) locally made with a story that's fairly true. Before they went legal again, we used to get a mason jar of the stuff delivered to the office quietly and anonymously at the holidays.

Backup is Maker's Mark bourbon (my grandmother used to drink bourbon and Ginger Ale out of a small glass with faded gold rims - whilst us kids got pancakes as a late night treat. Sometimes the pancakes were better than other times - you can guess the correlation with the bourbon. Fond memories of the good old days).
posted by webhund at 3:18 PM on November 3, 2008

Another vote for Jim Beam Black. Great taste/price ratio, and available just about everywhere I've looked for it.
posted by adamk at 3:24 PM on November 3, 2008

Seconding Auchentoshan: my scotch-loving so has a bottle of which he is inordinately fond. Apparently it's pretty smooth and less smoky than a lot of other scotch, which may or may not suit you. A wine merchant told me that it's a good buy for someone who likes Jameson whiskey (which is also smooth and tasty).
posted by tiny crocodile at 3:40 PM on November 3, 2008

If you like lemon vodka (say, for vodka-tonics), Absolut Citron is well worth getting, and not all that expensive compared to other lemon vodkas.
posted by limeonaire at 4:45 PM on November 3, 2008

Suggesting Appleton Estate for rum. On a Jamaican vacation the wife won some bottles of this in bingo and have been hooked.
posted by adoarns at 5:00 PM on November 3, 2008

Maker's Mark for Bourbon. Grew up 20 miles from the distillery.
posted by deezil at 5:39 PM on November 3, 2008

Thanks for the Scotch recommendations up thread, and thanks for pointing out the low-price status of New Amsterdam; I saw it mentioned here before but hadn't ever priced it.

Great question!
posted by paisley henosis at 5:45 PM on November 3, 2008

The first response repping Laphroaig was a good one--to be more specific, the Laphroaig Quarter Cask is about as good a cask-strength Islay whisky as you could need and it's under $50 when available. I get it in the duty-free here, but last time I was in the States it was pretty easy to find.

Caol Ila is another affordable Islay, and slightly mellower/less face-punching than the Laphroaig.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 6:00 PM on November 3, 2008

Good for the money? Cruzan rum for making daquiris and such, Plantation rum for sipping, Duggan's Dew for a cheap scotch that still has character.
posted by MrMoonPie at 6:12 PM on November 3, 2008

I have found a lot of great recommendations for different drinks. I'm actually going to pick up a bottle of Luksosowa tonight to give it a shot. I just thought I'd throw this option out there for you. Last night a friend handed me a bottle of Shakers vodka. I took a swig right from the bottle and the taste was pleasant.

Shakers is made here in Minnesota and runs 25-30 dollars for a 750ml. It was a pretty smooth taste. I thought it had a much better taste than Absolute. I'll also say the buzz I got off it from a mixed drink was very pleasant. The stuff was smooth and nice. I felt like I could sip on it all night and not feel sick.
posted by 71DegreesSouth at 7:12 PM on November 3, 2008

When drinking on-the-rocks, I'm a sucker for the Irish whiskey. I find scotch generally too intense, and bourbon often a bit blunt. For $35 or so, Knappogue Castle usually gets my money. Single malt and interesting enough to down half the bottle in a sitting. But for easy availability, you can't go wrong with Jameson.
posted by worstkidever at 7:31 PM on November 3, 2008

Cruzan, IMHO, is less sweet than Bicardi and cheaper.
posted by raildr at 10:01 PM on November 3, 2008

On the bourbon front, I'm a bit surprised to see all the recommendations for Maker's Mark. My friends and I did a big bourbon tasting, and the "knee in the curve" that you're talking about is definitely above Maker's. Try it side-by-side, blind, against something like Knob Creek. Just smell them. It's no comparison at all.

That said, for mixed whiskey drinks I've completely switched to the rye camp. Well, other than for a couple of cocktails that are really specifically about the bourbon flavor (e.g. mint julep). My friends and I have tried all the reasonably-priced ryes we could get our hands on, and the consensus is actually Wild Turkey 101.
posted by madmethods at 10:14 PM on November 3, 2008

When drinking on-the-rocks, I'm a sucker for the Irish whiskey. I find scotch generally too intense, and bourbon often a bit blunt.

Same here. The smokey flavor of both Scotch whiskey and American bourbon is a bit too much bite for me, but for me Irish whiskey has the flavor without that chemical-tasting sting. Jameson's is great, and I believe even less expensive is Bushmill's, which my friend from Cork was a big fan of.

This is an invaluable thread. Great work, everyone!
posted by zardoz at 10:51 PM on November 3, 2008

Ditto Bushmills.
posted by juv3nal at 1:19 AM on November 4, 2008

Response by poster: Wow. I just wanted to thank everyone for their suggestions. I would have marked a lot more best answers, but didn't want to look like a hussy. I've got a lot of drinking ahead of me now. I better get to it.
posted by Telf at 5:41 AM on November 4, 2008

Jamesons is a smoother drink than Bushmills. If there's not much price variation where you are, then go with the Jamesons.

Nthing Sailor Jerry, although this seems to be on of those 'love it or hate it' drinks due to the large amount of vanilla used to spice it. Personally, I'm a big fan and I'm glad it's more easily available now it's become 'cool'.

Talisker is a Skye malt which punches above its weight price-wise. Glenfidditch, Laphroag and Auchentoshan are also both reasonable and enjoyable. For bourbons, I think Bulleit has the edge on Makers Mark.

I have no idea whether you can get Welsh whiskeys where you are, but there's one called Penderyn which is well worth trying, with a distinctive taste that falls somewhere between scotch and bourbon.

Setting aside the emotional connections of your high school days, I think Smirnoff isn't as raspy and offensive as the lower end vodkas. It's fine for mixed drinks, but for shots I'd look elsewhere. (Stoli probably. I think Grey Goose is incredibly overrated.)
posted by the latin mouse at 7:08 AM on November 4, 2008

I think there are enough suggestions for bang for the buck booze here so I won't add mine.
One thing that I have found that adds to my enjoyment of any drink regardless of it's price is a good glass. A slight tulip shape for my bourbon glass makes me savor the drink more and drink less.
posted by jade east at 10:37 AM on November 4, 2008

Johnny Walker Red for scotch - definitely.
posted by john-hammond at 10:22 AM on November 5, 2008

Best answer: I find it a bit interesting that a lot of the brands that have been lauded (Smirnoff, George Dickel's, Bulleit, etc) are all brands of Diageo (the company that succeeded Seagram's).

What I will say in defense of Smirnoff is that it has placed very well on blind taste tests when compared with much more expensive vodka brands such as Grey Goose. To be fair, I'm not much of a vodka drinker and when I do have the odd vodka drink (generally a dirty martinia) it is tastiest with Grey Goose.

I'd say alcohol is unfortunately one category that really lends itself to oligopolies. Which means that in general you're going to be dealing with well-known brands and so advertising costs will always be a factor. It's especially bad in states like Pennsylvania, where there are pretty restrictive liquor laws. I haven't tried buying liquor here but back in Virginia selection was pretty limited since all of the stores were state-owned.

I notice the recommendations are thin for tequilas. I'm no expert but I'll say what I've liked. If you like margaritas I have heard that Two Fingers (Dos Dedos) Gold is a decent alternative to Jose Cuervo. The taste is decent and it's considerably cheaper. For straight tequila I only like silvers and the two I liked (which are considerably cheaper than Don Julio or Patron) are Herradura and El Jimador. Both have nice agave flavors and are relatively smooth. I never drink enough to need bottles at home, so I was a bit surprised that the price of a bottle of Herradura is that high now. It's been a while since I've drunk tequilas regularly, I have to admit (I used to live 5 minutes walk from a Tex-Mex restaurant with a good selection).
posted by Deathalicious at 1:51 PM on November 7, 2008

Whisky: Jefferson's Reserve
Vodka: Chopin
Gin: Hendricks
Tequila: Herradura Anejo
Scotch: There are so many good ones. I prefer Oban 14, but MacAllan 18 is also fantastic.
posted by plexi at 7:44 AM on November 18, 2008

Coming late to the party. Not a cheap liquor by any means, but since one of the questions asked was, "What are the best liquors for the money?", I'm going to add in Bookers cask-strength bourbon (by Jim Beam). At $55 for a 750ml of 125-proof, that's effectively a $35 bottle of "normal" bourbon, watered to realistic drinking levels*. Since it's bar-none the best bourbon I've ever had, and one of the best whiskies, I'd call that a deal.

* Don't give me any snobbish nonsense about not watering. If you don't water 125-proof booze, you're not tasting anything but dead epithelial cells.

On a budget, however, Jim Beam (white label) is just fine. The black may be worth the extra $5, but on a budget, just fine is just fine.

Burnett's gin, even in a plastic bottle, gets decent reviews, and is a damn-sight cheaper than Tanq. I find it adeqate (OK, that's no rave review, but again: adequate isn't unacceptable, by definition).

Did a tasting party with those little "airplane bottles" of vodka once. We agreed on a few points:
1. A few were NASTY. Seagrams is the only one I remember from that group.
2. Most were pretty much the same.
3. One or two stood out as better, but not to the degree that 20yo Macallan is better than Dewars. IOW, not worth the 2x, 3x, or more dollars from the blasé cheap ones.
posted by IAmBroom at 11:24 PM on April 9, 2009

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