Belt-Tightening in the Liquor Store

Cocktails and Spirits with Paul Clarke

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

"When you're trying to buy a bottle for less than what you used to spend on coffee every day, there are some things you need to be prepared to live without."

Oh, those heady, innocent days of early 2008. Sure, the economy was losing parts as it wheezed down the road and the real estate market was looking pretty sour, but how bad could it really get, right?

Around last year's tax day I put up a post called Cheap(er) Drinks: Tips for Enjoyable Drinking Without Going Broke. Well, compared to now, April '08 was downright rosy, and in this post-Madoff era, "drink cheap" has become the imbiber's new mantra.

The most recent round of the Mixology Monday drink-blog event focused on Hard Drinks for Hard Times, a theme made all the more significant by the revelation that at least two of the participants, including the event host, had extra time to blog, thanks to the prevalence of the pink slip.

And in the February issue of Esquire, drinks writer David Wondrich skips over my overly optimistic folderol from last April--when I suggested decamping from a $50 bottle to a mere $30 bottle--and heads straight for the economy shelf in the liquor store.

Considering the frightfulness of the economic news nowadays, it's time to get serious about decent, affordable drinks. As Wondrich points out, when you're trying to buy a bottle for less than what you used to spend on coffee every day, there are some things you need to be prepared to live without--a 100 percent agave tequila, for example, or a decent single-malt scotch. But while recession spending means you may not be able to spring for that bottle of Bowmore or Booker's you've always enjoyed, there are still some very good spirits that, for one reason or another, dwell in reasonably priced territory.


Bourbons are a good example--while super-premiums have received the most exposure in recent years, whiskies such as Evan Williams, Jim Beam Black Label and Elijah Craig are sturdy workhorses in the bourbon category that are perfectly fine sipping and mixing whiskies, but all can be found for around $20 or less (depending on where you live).

Rye Whiskey

Expand your search to rye whiskey, and you can lay in a bottle of the remarkable Rittenhouse 100-proof whiskey for even less: $15 in many markets.


Shift over to rum and you're in similar luck; rum has long been one of the best categories in the liquor store for getting more bang for your buck, and good mixing and so-so sipping rums can be picked up for around $20 or less: Wondrich recommends Brugal Anejo, which is a fine choice; I'm partial to Mount Gay Eclipse, which makes a very enjoyable rum and soda, as well as Bacardi 8, a rich, vanilla-toned aged rum that has a quality that outstrips its price.


Gin can be tricky--no cheap booze sucks quite as badly as cheap gin--but as Wondrich notes, Gordon's ain't too shabby, and you can usually find it for around $12; it may not be your best bet in a martini, but in a gin and tonic or something else that introduces citrus into the equation? Go for it.

Mixing a decent drink with cheap spirits can not only make your entertainment dollar go further, but can provide that little comfort-food moment that helps take the edge off of one more stressful day. Those are a few suggestions; what are yours? What spirits do you find work well, or at least reasonably well, that you can pick up for a very reasonable price?