In the bag
A shrinking liquor budget doesn't mean you have to drink rotgut at home. Stock your bar without emptying your wallet.
Thu Mar 26 2009
When it comes to brown booze, single-malt Scotch and bourbon top the list in prestige and popularity. But they are also tops in price. Solution? Try rye, the world's neglected whiskey. Though rye has recently enjoyed a resurgence, time-honored, quality brands like Old Overholt and Rittenhouse can still be had for under $20 a bottle. Either one makes a classic Manhattan.
For Southern-fried Kentucky Derby lovers who must have their precious bourbon, there's a world beyond Maker's Mark. An undersung industry standard like Elijah Craig can be found for around $20 a bottle. The even less celebrated but equally fine W.L. Weller Special Reserve is yours for roughly $17.
It's vodka's world; we just live in it. But there's both a monetary and gastronomic reward in eschewing high-price boutique vodkas for entry-level gins. The basic offerings from Beefeater, Tanqueray and Bombay (not Sapphire!) are benchmark examples of London dry gin, and run only $18 to $25 for the 750-milliliter bottle. So save money and have a real martini for once.
If it's a daiquiri you want, opt for Flor de Caa Extra Dry, a four-year-aged Nicaraguan white rum that puts Bacardi to shame in the flavor department. The floral, fruity rum is a mixologist favorite (it's the well rum at Death & Company), and it sets you back only $16.
For the budget-conscious, French brandy is basically out of the question. But New Jersey apple brandy is well within your means. (Don't laugh.) The bonded version of Laird's applejack is lauded by spirits geeks as liquid gold. (The regular Laird's is dreck.) And it costs only about $21.
If you absolutely demand that your tipple be odorless and tasteless, how about giving the costly Ketel One and Grey Goose a pass in favor of the obscure Belgian brand White Nights? (Only $13 a bottle!) Sobieski, a Polish vodka made from rye, is an even better value: $11 a bottle. Believe me: You and your Cosmo will hardly know the difference.
Hard times call for experimentation. So turn your attention to intoxicants you used to ignore, such as Pimm's No. 1, a tasty, spiced, gin-based British elixir that runs around $20; or palate-stretching Italian amari and digestifs like Cynar, Averna and Aperol (most are under $25). They may strike you as bitter at first, but you'll soon adjust. Sort of like the current economy, huh?
All spirits are available at most liquor stores, including Astor Wines & Spirits (astorwines.com).