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ARA: Help Build My Bar

March 11, 2010

Kristi and Steve seem to do this thing all the time with great success.  But here is my first experiment with the form.

Do you know Kim?  For what it’s worth I think she has a great eye.  Last month she wrote a post about stocking a liquor cabinet.  And while her liquor cabinet may be modest, her inspiration was striking.

Officially she didn’t exactly ask.  Actually I volunteered to help her select good bottles to fill her cabinet.  After all, this is a subject I know a thing or two about.  But you can see the whole exchange here.

A couple of days ago, Kim got in touch.  She wrote, “i am planning on adding to my ‘cabinet’ later this week…any suggestions will be very welcomed :)”

Specifically she says, “Next up on my list are tequila and scotch/whiskey. suggest away!” and to remember that she is “very limited by monetary restrictions.”

Before offering up my own suggestions, I want to provide a little more background on why I volunteered for this project.  In her original post, Kim linked to a dreadful page that claimed to list the essentials of a liquor cabinet.

Their basic premise was fine: find a few cocktails that you enjoy and would like to make for your friends, and start with those ingredients as the core of your cabinet.  However, I immediately bristled when I came across the dreaded sour mix in the second paragraph listed under “the essentials”.

It just gets worse from there.  Spiced rum isn’t the same as rum.  Inexpensive gold tequilas are generally nasty, and there are well made white ones that can be found at a reasonable price.  Johnnie Walker Red label isn’t suitable for anything and recommending Laphroaig without a disclaimer that most human beings can’t stand the stuff is irresponsible.  But my jaw dropped to the ground when I read, “Get Martini Rosso… it’s inexpensive and makes a great martini.”

I love Martini Rosso, but adding it to gin produces a Gin and It. To make the classic Martini cocktail one needs dry vermouth.

Kim has a great eye for color and composition, but when it comes to finding reputable sources of cocktail information, well, let’s just say I’m glad I jumped in when I did.

So, without any further ado here are my thoughts on inexpensive tequila and whiskey.

Your best bet for an inexpensive quality tequila would be to think blue and white.  Look for a silver or bianco tequila, ideally made of 100% blue agave.  Some consider the white tequilas to be a bit more unrefined, and they are.  But they are generally cheaper, since they do not require wood barrels or the time (and space) required to age the spirits.  Despite their inferior reputation, I think white tequilas are splendid and reflect more of the essence of the agave.

It is my opinion that it is worthwhile to splurge mildly on a tequila made from better ingredients.  If the bottle doesn’t say 100% Blue Agave, what you are buying can be made from only 51% Blue Agave with the remainder being anyone’s guess.

I have found Sauza Blanco Tequila to be a good, reasonably priced brand.  The lowest I have seen it for was $20 for a 1.75L bottle, but regrettably that was all the way out in Denver.  You will find no better deal on quality booze than that.

But it just goes to show, you need to shop around.

Mrs. Fussy and I are of two different minds about the wisdom of buying large bottles of base spirits.  I say it is a great way of getting better quality hooch for the same price as plonk on an ounce by ounce basis.  She says it will take many people a year or longer to go through that volume of liquor and that despite its relative value large bottles are a more significant out-0f-pocket expense.

Whiskey is an immense category.  Scotch falls squarely into the category, as do bourbon, Canadian whisky, Irish whiskey, rye and others.

I have written before about my love of White Horse blended Scotch whisky, which I recently found locally for $25 per 1.75L bottle. Mr. Sunshine doesn’t like it, but my spirit guide and I believe it to be one of the best values available in the category.  Granted, it has a bit of a smoky overtone that may not work in a few specific Scotch-based cocktails, so proceed with care.

Should you travel down to the southern regions of these United States, you may find a bottle or two of Evan Williams 1783 10-year-old bourbon.  A 750ml bottle lists for $11 and receives a full five stars, F. Paul Pacult’s highest recommendation.  Still, it comes with a tacky golden plastic screw off cap.  Perhaps if you ask very nicely some local liquor store will find a way to work with their distributor to get you some.  If you do, please count me in for a couple of bottles.

Honestly, what you get in this category truly depends on what you are going to use it for.  However, you can probably go down safely a notch in quality and consider Jim Beam or Canadian Club, both of which have had a rotation in my own liquor cabinet over the past few years.

Remember that all of the classic cocktails being revived these days were created at a time when even the good stuff was worse than our current cheap stuff.

That’s what I’ve got.  Anyone else have a suggestion or two for Kim?

7 Comments leave one →
  1. March 11, 2010 3:18 pm

    Of course Kristi has topics such as ‘Can you have too much sex?’ which is not quite the same as ‘Which tequila should I buy?’ :)

    I’m not a big spirits liquor drinker and I have Cuervo Gold in my ‘cabinet’ – I make traditional (2xlime juice/1xtriple sec/3xtequila/ice – strain – salt) margaritas with it. So I guess that disqualifies me from this discussion – although I also have Noilly Prat and wouldn’t dream of making a martini with Martini Rosso. Maybe I just need to widen my tequila horizons a bit!

  2. March 11, 2010 6:27 pm

    thanks for the suggestions & mini education. i’m also glad you jumped in when you did, because as you can probably tell, i have little to no patience when it comes to researching such matters. this post is great — dont be surprised if i throw a few more questions your way over the next couple months.

  3. Ellen Whitby permalink
    March 11, 2010 10:59 pm

    You said “recommending Laphroaig without a disclaimer that most human beings can’t stand the stuff is irresponsible”

    Could you say more about that? I tried it recently and didn’t like it much at all. The person who served it to me thought it was the bees knees.

  4. March 11, 2010 11:29 pm

    I’ve been evolving and expanding my whiskeys of late and here are some things to try:
    “George Dickels Bourbon” $20 – very smooth
    “Bulleit bourbon” $21 – also nice
    “Wild Turkey Rye” $21 – stole this from Raf – is surprisingly good neat with a little water or ice if you prefer
    “Sazerac Rye 100 proof” – makes a great sazerac!
    “Jameson Irish whiskey” – my wife’s brother came back from a semester in Ireland with about 10 whiskeys and we did blind taste tests – this won for an “every day” whiskey. Powers is not bad too.
    “Balvenie double-wood 12yr scotch” – $35-40 – best value in my opinion. Better than Macallan, better than highland park. this is for neat scotch, not blending


  5. March 12, 2010 12:36 am

    I can’t speak for the Evan Williams 1783 10 year old, but I have had the Evan Williams black and didn’t really care for it. At the lower end of the drinking straight bourbon spectrum, I’d pick Maker’s Mark. The cheapest I’ve found it locally is at BJ’s on Central. If mixing, I think dropping further down to Jim Beam would be cheaper and ok to do. I haven’t done it for awhile, but Seagram’s VO used to be my go-to mixing whisky. I haven’t tried the Whitehorse Scotch or the Ballantine’s Scotch recommended in an earlier post. I normally choose J&B as my cheaper blended Scotch.

    After the last ask the Profussor, I found myself in a liquor store looking for Whitehorse and Ballantine’s. There was no Whitehorse and I thought the 1.75 L bottle of Ballantine’s was too big for a first try. Instead, I found myself whipping out a credit card and leaving a liquor store with a bottle of Laphroaig the third Scotch discussed in the post (I got the 10 year old). So much for the “Slow down there sport” warning from the Profussor.

    I now fully understand the Laphroaig disclaimer. Wow, is that first sip smokey. I grill with lump charcoal and the smell coming out of the glass was very similar to smell of unlit Royal Oak charcoal. At first, all I tasted was smoke. The more I tasted it, the more I tasted flavors hidden behind the smoke. I can see where there are a minority of people that love the in-your-face smokey, peat flavor with some hidden complexities and a majority that tastes nothing but thick smoke and then thinks “I paid $45 for a bottle of this!?!?”

    Not my favorite $45 Scotch, but definitely one worth trying and making up your own mind. Just my 2 cents…

  6. Mr. Sunshine permalink
    March 12, 2010 10:49 am

    I was in a high-end restaurant in Gordes, France and made the mistake of asking for a martini. Being French, they didn’t know what I was talking about. Finally they brought a drink–can’t remember if it was gin or vodka–with Rosso and it was undrinkable swill.

  7. March 20, 2010 2:02 pm

    We have some unique recipes and more coming. We are actively collecting, reviewing, sharing and rating unique and exotic martini’s at The Ultimate Martini Blog. Click on my name to visit the blog, submit recipes, or review others.

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