10 Good Cheap Liquors

Tips from the experts on the best values in booze

By Roxanne Webber

Old Overholt Straight Rye Whiskey
Old Overholt Straight Rye Whiskey

Rain Organics Vodka
Rain Organics Vodka

Milagro Silver Tequila
Milagro Silver Tequila

There are lots of times when bargain booze fits the bill, for example if you’re going to mix it into a party cocktail for a dinner party on a budget. We asked some spirits experts for suggestions on great buys. Each of their picks can be had for about 20 bucks or less, but none comes in an easy-grip plastic bottle.

1. Old Overholt Straight Rye Whiskey (about $13). Adam Lantheaume, the owner of the Boston Shaker store, says this rye is excellent, even in a spirit-forward drink like a Manhattan. He knows many mixologists who use it as their default for rye-based cocktails. Try it in a classic Manhattan.

2. Rain Organics Vodka (about $15). Rain has silly packaging, but A. J. Rathbun, author of Good Spirits, says the vodka “is clear and has a good, clean taste,” although he also says to avoid the flavored versions. Try it in the Sophisticate or our adaptation of Blue Hill at Stone Barns’ Oat and Honey Vodka.

3. Flor de Caña Black Label Rum (about $18). For nearly the same price as a bottle of Bacardi, you can pick up a bottle of aged Nicaraguan rum with much more complex flavors. This five-year-old spirit won Best in Class and Gold Medal awards at last year’s International Wine and Spirits Competition. Try it in the Passionista, our not-too-sweet riff on an umbrella drink.

4. Wild Turkey Bourbon (about $20). Daniel Hyatt, the bar manager of the Alembic in San Francisco, says this bourbon has always been a great product for the price. He says it’s “exceptionally balanced” and a “great expression of grain whiskey.” Try it in our Bourbon Sour.

5. Milagro Silver Tequila (about $20). It can be hard to find a good bargain among 100 percent agave tequilas, but Charles Joly, chief mixologist at the Drawing Room in Chicago, says that prices are dropping. He recommends this tequila from Milagro because it’s “authentic, versatile, and delicious.” Try it in a pitcher of Perfect Margaritas or a bubbly Mexican 75.

6. Beefeater London Dry Gin (about $18). The Alembic’s Daniel Hyatt says this is a classically flavored, well-made London dry gin: “They’ve been in the game a long time.” Try it in our Bramble, made with fresh summer blackberries.

7. Rittenhouse 100 Proof Rye (about $14). As well as being the star of our Perfect Sazerac video with Jonny Raglin of Absinthe, this whiskey, according to the Drawing Room’s Charles Joly, “stacks up against brands two to three times the cost.” Make sure you get the 100 proof (not the 80) because “the extra proof makes sure the flavor doesn’t get washed out,” says Joly. Try it in a Sazerac, of course.

8. W. L. Weller Special Reserve (about $16). Good Spirits author A. J. Rathbun says this seven-year-old bourbon has a smooth, full taste and is great for cocktails. The distiller swaps the rye out for wheat, which is what lends the smoothness, says Wine Enthusiast, which called it a “truly outstanding buy.” Try it in the Angel’s Share, an easy, two-ingredient cocktail.

9. Famous Grouse Finest (about $20). Hyatt calls this classic blended whisky a great Scotch that’s easy to drink on its own but “has enough malt and strength to mix a cocktail with, should you desire.” Try it in the Bobby Burns.

10. Lunazul Tequila (about $18). This 100 percent agave tequila is what Toby Malone of Chicago’s Violet Hour says he’s using at his new Nashville haunt, the Patterson House. Malone says both the blanco and reposado are good, and “for the price point I’ve never found better.” It’s a lighter tequila that works well in cocktails and isn’t too agave-forward. Try it in a refreshing summer Paloma.

See more articles