Top-Quality Drinks, Bargain-Rack Prices

Cocktails and Spirits with Paul Clarke

Weekly insight into the world of drinks with Paul Clarke from the Cocktail Chronicles and Imbibe magazine.

A few weeks ago I put up a post about drinking on the cheap during tough economic times. I'm obviously not the only one giving thought to the virtues of affordable booze.

In last weekend's Wall Street Journal, Eric Felten walked through a blind tasting of six affordable bourbons. While regular readers of the WSJ aren't likely to be reaching for the rotgut shelf anytime soon, Felten wanted to step away from the boutique bourbons that typically get all the ink, and try a few brands that are available at most any bar in America. To raise the stakes (somewhat), he tasted the bourbons blind, so any prejudices against particular labels or price points would ideally be eliminated as a factor.

His top pick? The humble Evan Williams, which Felten picked up for about $10; this venerable whiskey bested more upmarket brands such as Wild Turkey and Maker's Mark, which Felten described as tasting "thin, raw and twangy."

That a $10 bottle of bourbon rated better in a blind tasting than whiskeys more than twice its price isn't surprising in itself--just as there are spirits in every category that are badly overpriced for their quality, there are likewise always a couple of sleepers that are much better than their packaging or price tag suggests. The Rittenhouse Bonded Rye Whiskey is one notable example; this $15 bottle took Double Gold at the San Francisco Spirits Competition a couple of years back, ranking higher than whiskies priced exponentially higher, and sales have taken off like a rocket ever since.

Do you have favorite brands that are underdogs in their category--tasty, but also a steal? At a time when belts are tightening, this is the kind of news we need.