For bartenders, choosing a favorite bottle of booze is like picking a favorite child: It’s not easy and someone is going to get their feelings hurt.
We asked 10 drinks professionals to tell us the one bottle they always have around. Then, to make things even more challenging, we requested they keep prices down and nominate the best bottle of bargain booze.
Their insights do not disappoint. Here are 10 bartenders on the one affordable spirit they cannot imagine life without.
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“Citadelle Gin ($22) is awesome! These guys know how to make great stuff. Open flame distillation and it’s composed of 19 aromatics to bring about a beautiful and complex gin. Recently, they started growing their own juniper berries to add to the mix.” — Diego Peña, Bar Manager, Eastern Standard, Boston, MA
“Our favorite, most important and reasonably priced spirits bottle is Lairds Straight Applejack 86 Proof ($20).” — Chad Solomon and Christy Pop, Co-creators, Midnight Rambler, Dallas, TX
“Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao ($26). This stuff is extraordinarily delicious and has turned into the bartender’s handshake/shift shot of downtown St. Petersburg. A wonderful balance of sweet and dry, I have yet to meet anyone who has done a shot of this and didn’t like it. It is a great replacement for Cointreau and Grand Marnier and has a kick to it, coming in at 70 proof. Not only can you drink this neat or on the rocks, but it is an essential ingredient in so many classic cocktails, including the Mai Tai, Singapore Sling, and Pegu Club.” — William Frost, Head Bartender, Blue Harbour, Tampa, FL
“Bulleit Bourbon ($28) is definitely a personal favorite of mine. Priced at around $35 Canadian, you get exceptional value for your dollar. I like how it has a higher rye content than a lot of other bourbons, giving you nice spicy bold flavor profile.” — Nick Canteenwalla, Bartender, Honey Salt Parq, Vancouver, BC
“Hands down, without a doubt, the best bang-for-your-buck booze is Rittenhouse Bonded Rye Whiskey ($26). Nice and spicy, with a clean, warm palate. Creamy with notes of baking spices and vanilla, and a pleasant, round body, without being oily. This is my favorite rye whiskey for cocktails. Rittenhouse makes my favorite Manhattan (which should always be rye, if you ask me!) or Old Fashioned. It will also knock the frost off of a cold night, neat or on the rocks, or take the edge off of the end of a long shift.” — Dominic Carullo, Bar Manager, Royal Boucherie, Philadelphia, PA
“Clement Select Barrel ($30). I have a huge affinity for the rhums of Martinique. They have this incredible aromatic quality that is green and funky and so much more interesting than their highly distilled and filtered counterparts from other parts of the Caribbean… I enjoy this spirit neat, it makes my all-time favorite Daiquiri, and it would be silly not to make a Ti’ Punch with it. It is a spirit that tastes like the place from which it comes. It is extremely versatile, interesting, and a bargain.” — Rob Ficks, Bar Manager, The Hawthorne, Boston, MA
“A good rum is always my go-to for the summer; this year my pick is Flor de Cana Aged White Rum ($12). This is the only white rum on the market that is aged for four years, and that makes it one of my favorites. It’s crystal clear and light-bodied, making it perfect for tropical drinks. At $12 for a 750 ml bottle, it’s an inexpensive everyday white rum to have on hand for your next summer cocktail party.” — Shawn Chen, Bartender, RedFarm, New York City
“Pound per pound, the best whiskey at or under $30 a bottle is Elijah Craig Small Batch. It’s finished to 94 proof, which is a perfect strength for sipping or stirring into an Old Fashioned. Small batch whiskeys built by master blenders from select barrels offer much depth and complexity, and Elijah Craig does it better than anyone.” — Patrick Williams, National Beverage Director, Punch Bowl Social
“Plantation 3 Star Rum ($20) is great for making Mojitos at home — especially if you grow mint in your garden. It’s also great for making classic Daiquiris. Try making a Banana Daiquiri if you have some old bananas on your counter.” — Matt Poli, Beverage Director, Strategic Hospitality, Nashville, TN
“Some people like their tequila to taste like nothing (Patron), whereas some like their tequila to taste like vanilla (Casamigos), but I like my tequila to taste like the plant it’s made from and the land it’s grown, which is why I’m such a fan of Tapatio Tequila Blanco ($33). Plus, it’s cheaper than either of the other tequilas mentioned, and it comes in a bigger bottle.” — Jeremy Allen, GM and Head Bartender, MiniBar, Los Angeles, CA