Restocking your holiday spirits: A guide to seasonal booze buying
Vodka: While premium vodkas often claim to have "a good nose," "hints of caramel," or other flavor components, the simple fact is that the quality of vodka is usually measured by its lack of flavor. With that in mind, it might be worthwhile to reconsider the joys of Smirnoff. Not only does it get great street cred from its relationship to James Bond (Smirnoff was his favorite tipple), but the $14 price tag puts it well below the price of lesser brands (including the utterly foul Absolut).
If you're in the mood for something a little more upscale, you might try Svedka, a smooth Swedish vodka that is also relatively inexpensive. Alternately, my favorite top notch vodka with a great (lack of) taste is Luksusowa. It's a lesser-known Polish potato-based spirit that most liquor stores carry for somewhere between $10 and $15 a fifth. For that modest outlay, you get a delicious tipple that, as far as I'm concerned, gives Chopin and Belvedere a run for their money. It tastes particularly good right out of the freezer.
Scotch: When it comes to scotch, the big boy on the block is Johnny Walker Blue Label, a blended whiskey that runs a whopping $175 a bottle. If you're looking for something a lot cheaper that has an equal or superior flavor, you might want to try Laphroaig or Macallan, two outstanding single malts that are in the low $30 range. If you're on a serious budget, give a peek to Auchentoshan or Bowmore, two single malts that are decent and criminally underpriced at $17 each. For that matter, Johnny Walker Black costs a fraction of the price of its blue cousin and has an outstanding flavor.
American Whiskey: If you're a fan of the milder taste of "Canadian" whiskeys, you might try rye. Old Overholt Rye, which only costs $14 for a fifth, is smooth and sweet, while Rittenhouse Rye, at $15 is an award-winning spirit. Alternately, if your heart belongs to bourbon, you might put down the Jack Daniels and explore some other choices. For example, Old Grand-Dad is a lesser-known, yet very tasty bourbon. Alternately, Old Crow is a fine sipping bourbon, America's oldest sour-mash whiskey, and the favored drink of Ulysses S. Grant. Best of all, it only runs $17 for a 1.75 Liter bottle.
Gin: When it comes to gin, price really does translate into quality. That having been said, save the Tanqueray ($23) and Bombay Sapphire ($22) for martinis. For the ubiquitous G&T, a good tonic and a couple of lime slices can cover a host of sins, not to mention a solid lower-priced brand like Gordon's ($13).
Rum: My tastes run toward dark rums, for which Myers's ($23) is the standard. However, at $14, Cruzan Black Strap Navy Rum makes a very credible alternative. In terms of golden rums, Appleton Gold ($14) and Mount Gay Eclipse ($16) are outstanding.
Bruce Watson is a freelance writer, blogger, and all-around cheapskate. Unfortunately, he has yet to find a bargain-priced absinthe. He is, however, still looking.