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Posted:  |  Updated: 08/31/12 10:48 AM ET

The Best Bargain Booze

When you're planning a party -- it could be a housewarming or a frat party (don't worry we won't judge!) -- that requires you to buy some alcohol, what do you usually do? Do you buy whatever is dirt cheap on the shelf? If this sounds like you, keep reading. More often than not you're probably doing yourself and others a disservice by buying swill that's not even worth sipping. But price is not always an indicator of quality if you know what to look for. We're here to show you that it's possible to find a good-quality bargain booze that doesn't break the bank and still tastes good.

If you take the time to look around your local liquor store (or online) you'll find that there are some affordable alcohols worth your attention -- don't let the big name brands distract you. So you don't have to do all the work of taste-testing, we've done it for you. We scoured the web to see what everyone has to say about the best bottom-shelf booze. The best part is, they all come in under $20.

What's your favorite bargain booze? Vote in the slideshow below or let us know in the comments.

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  • Tequila

    If you like tequila for shots or margaritas, you've probably bought Jose Cuervo without giving it a second thought. But if you've had a bad headache after a night of revelry, it's the tequila that's to blame. Cuervo is not 100 percent agave. When you're in the market for tequila choose one that is all agave -- try <a href="" target="_hplink">el Jimador</a>, <a href="" target="_hplink">Milagro Silver</a> or <a href="" target="_hplink">Sauza Hornitos Reposado</a>. This el Jimador tequila, at around $17 for 1 liter, is a good standard reposado tequila, meaning it's rested for a period in oak barrels, giving it a smoother flavor.

  • Bourbon

    American bourbon whiskeys are much more affordable than foreign whiskeys and they offer a lot of bang for your buck. Brands like <a href="" target="_hplink">Evan Williams</a> and <a href="" target="_hplink">Jim Beam</a> are good choices. <a href="" target="_hplink">Esquire</a> calls this $12 bottle of Evan Williams "the best cheap liquor we tasted." It's 86 proof, offers a complex nose and an impressive flavor that's thick, chewy and grainy with some balanced sweetness.

  • Whiskey

    <a href="" target="_hplink">Esquire</a> calls <a href="" target="_hplink">White Horse blended whisky</a> a "light but clean and barley-sweet [whiskey], with flashes of peat smoke." At $15 for the bottle (750 ml), it's a great value for those who prefer Scotch whiskies to American whiskeys. Another brand of Scotch to try is <a href="" target="_hplink">Famous Grouse</a>, which is also great for mixing in cocktails.

  • Gin

    Like vodka, gin is great to have on hand for mixed drinks. You don't have to have the biggest names like Tanqueray or Hendrick's to make a good drink. <a href="'s+gin&myrets=" target="_hplink">Gordon's</a> (at about $15 for 1 liter) or <a href="" target="_hplink">Beefeater</a> are two good, strong brands that don't disappoint when it comes to what you'd expect from gin -- a bright and peppery flavor. Both <a href="" target="_hplink">The Kitchn</a> and <a href="" target="_hplink">Esquire</a> recommend using Gordon's as a mixer since its alcohol level, at 80 proof, is lower than most other London gins.

  • Brandy

    Cognac too expensive for your wallet? Try an American brandy, or even better go for this blend of French Cognac and American brandy created by <a href="" target="_hplink">Paul Masson</a>. <a href="" target="_hplink">Esquire</a> calls it nutty, spicy and smooth like the real French stuff. It's around $13 for 750ml.

  • Vodka

    If you're using vodka for mixed drinks, you certainly don't need the most expensive stuff. Try brands like <a href="" target="_hplink">Sobieski</a>, <a href="" target="_hplink">Svedka</a> or even <a href="" target="_hplink">Smirnoff</a>. At about $12, this bottle (750 ml) of Sobieski is very straightforward and great for all your bartending needs.

  • Rum

    Skip the Bacardi and try a rum with some age and more complex flavor, such as this Nicaraguan <a href="" target="_hplink">Flor de Cana</a> Gold ($15 for 750 ml) recommended by <a href="" target="_hplink">Chow</a>. Their white rum is also good quality. Another brand to look out for is <a href="" target="_hplink">Brugal Anejo</a> Dominican rum, which <a href="" target="_hplink">Esquire</a> called the perfect rum for pairing with a cigar. It's rich and sugarcaney in flavor.

  • White Wine

    If you're looking for an inexpensive everyday white wine or just one to have on hand for the wine drinkers at your next cocktail party, this <a href="" target="_hplink">Ironstone Obsession Symphony</a> from California offers a floral nose and a great citrusy finish. It's perfect for drinking with or without food and it only costs $9, so buy as many bottles as you'd like.

  • Red Wine

    French red wines are great, especially if you're trying to show off your knowledge of terroir (Cotes du Rhone anyone?), but American red wines are just as good if not better. <a href="" target="_hplink">Robert Mondavi Private Selection Cabernet</a> should become your mainstay red wine. At about $10 for a bottle, this Californian wine offers lots of berry aroma and dark fruit flavor. It's ideal for a large party or just to pair with your dinner for two.

  • Sparkling Wine

    Sparkling wines run the gamut from very cheap and awful to amazing and expensive, but there are a few brands that fall in the middle that offer both good value and great flavor. This bottle of <a href="" target="_hplink">Domaine Chandon Brut</a> ($20) is produced in California by the French Champagne maker Moet. It's dry with notes of apricot and citrus. Try it as an aperitif or mix it into cocktails, like a Bellini or Mimosa.

  • WATCH: The Basic Rules Of Bartending

    Thomas Bitler, a professional bartender 11 years at the Waldorf Astoria in NY, presents the magic of mixing drinks. This video teaches you the basic rules of bartending, so you can make drinks at home for family and friends.

Sources: The Kitchn, Esquire, The Awl, Chow, -- 20 Good Value Wines Under 10 Bucks and -- Champagne and Sparkling Wine Reviews and Recommendations.


Filed by Joseph Erdos  |