We love a good single malt or nine-ingredient cocktail as much as the next guys, but emptying your wallet at the liquor store or mixology spot isn’t always in the budget.
If you’re going to opt for the cheap stuff, though, know what to look for so you don’t get stuck with a bottle of harsh, barely drinkable booze. Keep an eye out for any of these safe bets that taste a lot better than their price tag would lead you to believe.
$8 for 750ml
There are so many terrific and widely available whiskeys out there, but most will run you $30 or more.
Benchmark, on the other hand, is dirt cheap and made by Buffalo Trace distillery alongside big shot bourbons like Pappy Van Winkle.
While it’s definitely not as good as other Buffalo Trace brands, it costs all of eight bucks and doesn’t have the bland notes and aggresively harsh alcohol burn of some other bottom shelf contenders. There’s plenty of honey and orange flavor, and a tolerable enough amount of rough, boozy heat that you could drink this one straight.
$12 for 1L
Want to know a secret? Top shelf vodkas like Grey Goose and Ciroc aren’t expensive because they’re good. They’re expensive because of successful marketing, despite being hardly distinguishable from the competition.
This stuff is almost as good — which, in vodka’s case, just means that it’s mostly flavorless — and costs ten bucks.
We’ll admit that it’s slightly harsh, but other than that, it's perfectly serviceable and well worth the money.
$11 for 750ml
There’s some strong juniper goodness packed in here. In fact, the stuff easily holds its own against more expensive, higher proof gins.
We will say, though, that it’s a bit less complex than the good stuff — there aren't waves of layered flavor in here like with pricier gins — but that's par for the course for cheap booze.
In any case, this will make for an excellent G&T or Tom Collins, but could stand up to drinking neat if that’s your thing.
Cruzan Aged Light Rum
$13 for 750ml
For something that’s 80 proof, this stuff sure is smooth. You'd be hard pressed to guess that this is a budget rum.
It certainly doesn’t have the richer complexity of the darker stuff, but the sweet molasses notes come through here in full force.
It’s got a little bit of leathery roughness to it, but overall this is an impressively crisp rum with an insane value.
$13 for 750ml
When you’re buying bottom shelf tequila, you’ve got to be especially careful, since bad tequila can be really bad. And mixing up a paloma or whatever other tequila-spiked drinks you enjoy shouldn't give you harrowing flashbacks to dorm room drinking.
Thankfully, Agavales is miles beyond whatever bottom-of-the-barrel tequila you drank in college, since it's made from 100% agave — meaning there’s no added junk. But lucky for you, it still clocks in at under $15.
There’s a little spiced vanilla flavor to it, along with a bit of oak from the 6 months it spends aging in Kentucky bourbon barrels.