These are our personal favorite value liquors and how we keep a fully stocked and versatile bar without busting our budget. Don’t forget to class it up by using decanters. Also be sure to do blind taste tests to find new champions of your own.
Just about any bar you go to has a speed rack or well. This is where they keep their most commonly used liquors. A classic configuration is vodka, gin, rum, tequila, triple sec, whiskey, and brandy. Keep these and common mixers and you can accommodate almost any guest. Adjust your inventory based on the tastes of you and your friends. Liquor generally keeps a very long time after open (years) so don’t worry about it spoiling.
The Bottom Shelf
- Vodka – Monopolowa is an amazing value. It is a high-quality potato vodka. It is creamy when chilled. It has good flavor. It is great in cocktails and you can drink it neat. It has an interesting history and you can get a 1.75L for under $20.
- Gin – Gordon’s London Dry Gin. If you like Tanqueray, you’ll enjoy this just a little less, but your wallet will love it. You can get 1.75L of Gordon’s for less than a 750ml of Tanqueray. It’s made by the same company and has a similar flavor. It’s just a little rougher around the edges – but that also allows its flavor to show through in your cocktails a little more.
- Rum – Flor de Cana 4 Years Extra Seco is clean, versatile, and under $20 for a 1.75L. I honestly don’t have a budget champion for dark rum yet. I am not into spiced rums and I sip dark rum like I do scotch or bourbon. As of yet, I don’t even have a 750ml under $20 that I can strongly endorse. If you have a recommendation, please post it below! I would love to try it.
- Tequila – Hornitos Reposado or Sauza Blue Silver. Neither of these is especially cheap, but I have had difficulty finding equal or better tequila at a lower price. When buying tequila, be sure the label says 100% agave or you’ll likely get a blend cut with other spirits (a ticket to hangover town). Feel free to leave your own recommendations in the comments below and I’ll try them out.
- Triple Sec – O3 Orange Liqueur. Use it in anything that requires orange. It is very versatile. I even use it in my version of an old-fashioned. At 40% ABV, it won’t dilute your cocktails. Most triple secs are only 15%.
- Bourbon – I hesitate to make this recommendation because this is my staple and I don’t want the price to go up. They recently held back 1.75L bottles and there were rumors of supply issues. The 1.75L has returned to stores, so hopefully, it’s all good now. Old Grand Dad bourbon is under $25 for a 1.75L, goes great in cocktails like an old fashioned, neat, or on the rocks. It reminds me of a cross between Maker’s Mark and various rye bourbons.
- Blended Scotch – For a blend, Grant’s Scotch is a reliable middle of the road scotch that has a little of everything in it. When you drink it, it does not offend, and you think to yourself “Yup, that’s scotch.” It’s just good basic scotch. A great standby for all but the most uptight scotch drinkers. You can usually get 1.75L for $25-30 still and it is widely available.
- Single Malt Scotch – If you need a single malt that will do for a wide audience, I have had success with Glenmorangie The Original, though here you are looking at $25-35 for a 750ml. Glenmorangie is on the sweeter side which makes it approachable for less experienced scotch drinkers but won’t offend more experienced scotch drinkers. Single malts are tricky because there are so many different flavor profiles out there and variations from year to year in flavor consistency within the same brand. It really comes down to personal preference.
- Brandy – Christian Brothers or St. Remy. Christian Brothers is really the cheapest palatable brandy, best served cold. For a little extra, St. Remy is an authentic French brandy that is noticeably better and can be served neat at room temperature.
Aside from sticking to store brands, a big way to save money and improve quality is to make your own simple syrup, margarita mix, and sweet and sour mix at home. It will taste better than anything you get at the store and cost a fraction. You do need a food scale to do it precisely, but you can ballpark it with conversions on the internet. Use equal weight water and sugar.
- Use equal weight water and sugar
- Bring water to a gentle boil
- Stir in sugar until it disappears
- Remove from heat and let cool
Margarita Mix / Sweet and Sour Mix
- Juice limes (Margarita) or lemons (sweet and sour) of equal volume as your simple syrup – make sure you buy lemons and limes from a cheap store and especially in season, preferably around $1/lb.
- Mix juice with cool simple syrup
- Store in refrigerator
The Bottom Line
Find your favorite budget booze. Stick to 1.75L bottles whenever possible. Their cost per ounce is much lower. Don’t worry about the presentation of the bottle. If it tastes good but comes in plastic, just pour it into a decanter. If the 1.75L doesn’t fit in your bar area, pour it in a decanter and stash the bottle in a closet. Wow your guests with homemade mixers – and save money too.
If you have any recommendations of your own, please share below!