Category: Vodka
Basement Bar, Brandy, Gin, reviews, Rule 4, Rum, Tequila, Vodka, Whiskey

The Best Value in Each of the Six Base Spirits

Value-Quality-puzzle-pieces I thought it would be interesting to put up a list of what I view as the single best value out there in each of the six great cocktail spirit categories. To be clear, these are hardly the best exemplars of Whiskey (North American), Rum, Gin, Brandy, Tequila, and Vodka, nor are they the cheapest. Far from it in both instances. These hit the sweet spot where the price and quality curves intersect. Prices, of course, will vary wherever you are, and in what mood the bottlers, distributors, and Chet behind the counter are in... These bottles also are Swiss Army Knife products, in that they aren't just good, they work well pretty much across the spectrum of drinks you might make with each. There might be a better gin, price to quality, if you only make Dry Martinis with it, but that gin might not be so great a value in an Alexander or a Pegu. So let's begin.

1. North American Whiskey

In the whiskey category, I immediately discarded the Scotches and Irish. (It's OK, we Scots-Irish have been discarded for centuries.) I love both, but neither is remotely a common cocktail spirit. I settled on a bourbon simply because of market share. My choice will be familiar to long-time readers: Four Roses Yellow Label Kentucky Straight Bourbon. The price wobbles a bit, but you can almost always hand over a single Andrew Jackson and get your Yellow Label back with change. Four Roses Yellow Label I've blogged quite a bit about Four Roses already, and I don't want to do anything like a full review of these six bottles anyway. Suffice to say, you can put a bit of this in a glass with some water, frozen or not, and hand it with confidence to just about anyone and know that if they turn their nose up at it, they are not a connoisseur but an ungrateful jerk. Further, it possesses enough character and polish to feature well in spirit-forward cocktails, but enough fortitude to remind you it's a bourbon drink in more... distracting recipes.

2. Gin

Among gins, I'm going with one that I've never blogged. It is also the closest call on this list. Among these six bottles, it's the only one I don't naturally reach for when looking to try a new recipe at home. (Gin is my first cocktail love, and I tend to overspend within the range. Sue me.) At about twelve bucks a bottle, it is damned hard to touch New Amsterdam Gin. New Amsterdam Gin New Amsterdam is no sipper. But much as I love gin, if you like to sip gin you either have an unlimited budget, or a drinking problem... quite possibly both. (Sorry Angus, you know I love you.) With in the two main categories of gin today, New Amsterdam was among the initial vanguard of citrus-forward, "New American" gins that have risen with the resurrection of cocktail culture. It is a solid cocktail gin that may fall short for a Martini lover, but be a super entrance drug for your juniperphobe friends. It's consistent, reliable, free from any unpleasant notes... and it is twelve damn dollars.

3. Rum

You cannot just say "this is the best rum". It would be a bit like saying "this is the best motor vehicle". Silver, Gold, dark, and Spiced rums all serve different, sometimes extraordinarily different purposes. But the rum I chose to put on this list, Plantation Grand Reserve 5-Year, is obscenely good for the price (about twenty-two bucks) and very versatile. Plantation Grand Reserve Plantation 5 Year Rum is a Barbadan gold, and as I said, quite versatile. They make great rum on that island as a rule, but this bottle has just a hair more character than most. It also far, far too good on the rocks all by itself for any low-twenties purchase. It pairs well with Jamaican pot-still in a Mai Tai, yet slips easily into a standard Daiquiri as well. It's the baritone of rums.

4. Brandy

Here's the thing about basic grape brandy: Americans are only now beginning to grasp what it takes to make it really well. For now, and a while to come, I expect, if you want a brandy to stand up with other world-class products, you go to France. But Courvoisier is in the mid thirties for just a VS, and cognacs tend to go up from there. That's tres cher if you are whipping up a round of Sidecars, or if you are curled up on the couch on a Tuesday night, catching upon NCIS and craving a snifter of something. And then Maison Rouge VSOP entered the State of Ohio, and my life, at just over twenty bucks. Maison Rouge VSOP I do not understand this product. Yes, the packaging is painfully boring. No, no one in the US has heard of this juice since Hardy spends no money on marketing, as far as I can tell. But it is a perfectly fine sipper for non-special occasions, and it is as good a mixing cognac as you will find. And it clocks in at about two-thirds of the big names' entry offerings, while Maison Rouge is a VSOP. If you can find it, buy some. You are welcome.

5. Tequila

Choosing a bottle in the tequila category was easy. Añejos and Extra Añejos, delicious as many are, are mostly too delicate (and too pricey) to mix with. Some of the best tequila cocktails I've been served were made with Reposados, but let's be honest, tequila as a category simply doesn't need wood the way whiskey does to be a legitimate, finished product. Silvers are the most versatile tequila category, as well as the best value. And the price and quality curves are so strong for Olmeca Altos Tequila Plata, I hardly buy much else from the tequila section these days. Olmeca Altos Blanco Is it special? No. Is it unique in some way? No. It is just good. You could sip it, I suppose. You can definitely shoot it, with no need to lunge afterwards for salt or lime. And you can mix the hell out of it. There's a balance in making tequila in commercial quantities between over-reliance on traditional methods, which can add taste elements here and there that can narrow the appeal of a product, and over-indulgence in industrial processing, which usually either sands so many edges off the profile it doesn't feel really like tequila... or just makes it taste like ass. Olmeca seems to have hit the sweet spot, and I hope they stay right there.

6 Vodka

The final great cocktail spirit (the youngest or the oldest, depending on how you look at it) is unique in its place for making cocktails. All the others are crafted to bring certain flavor profiles to the foundation of a cocktail. They are ingredients. Vodka is an accelerant. Yes, yes. I know. There are lots of vodkas out there that are "interesting" in one way or another. But vodka is in a cocktail to wake up and otherwise showcase the flavors of the other ingredients. (Unless the cocktail is a Vodka Martini, in which case, it's just there to get you bombed.) For making cocktails, a vodka should offer the highest purity of ethanol (with the lowest number of other complex molecules) to do its job right. Sobieski vodka does the job beautifully, and at about 12 bucks runs about a third of most vodkas of equivalent purity. Sobieski Vodka Sobieski was one of the very first product samples I was ever sent as a blogger. They still have a link to my eight year old blog post about them, right on their website. I shudder to think how much money I've saved since then, not buying other, more expensive vodkas. (Disclaimer: I've still bought a bunch of other, more expensive vodkas... just not as many as I might have) Sobieski has boring, usually plastic bottles. It's marketing is plain, cheap, and highly intelligent. And it lives in an obscure position down on the bottom shelf, low-rent district of the vodka section of your liquor store. Get some. That's the list. What do you think? I'm always open to better suggestions. abc
Beer, Funny, Stuff, Vodka

Fun With a Brita

[caption id="attachment_10909" align="aligncenter" width="550"]You are watching science in action, folks! You are watching science in action, folks![/caption] I'm continuing with my YouTube/Trivia/Humor blogging while I set up posts of a more substantive nature for Tiki Month.... This one is of a comedienne and a bicep aficionado who decide to do some practical tests about all those rumors you hear regarding what a Brita water filter will or will not do to a variety of liquids. Spoiler Alert: Several of the liquids are alcoholic, and they have a lot of time on their hands between samples while the Brita does its work. (Or doesn't, as the case may be. There are two major lessons to be learned from this video.
  1. Brita filters are very good at their job.
  2. If you want your Bud Light to taste like a premium craft brew, filter a little through a Brita, drink that, then the Bud Light will be freaking awesome in comparison!
abc
Funny, Rule 4, science, Vodka

Breakthrough Science! You Can’t Drink Through Your Feet

[caption id="attachment_10401" align="aligncenter" width="550"]Copyright: nobilior / 123RF Stock Photo Feet—You drink with the other end, people![/caption] To follow me on this, you will need to accept two fairly unbelievable things:
  1. There are people in Denmark who spread around the urban myth that if you soak your feet in booze, you will get drunk.
  2. There are scientists in Denmark who a few years back had so much free time that they conducted a scientific study to determine this myth's validity, then wrote up their findings and published them.
The world is full of urban myths. (Once upon a time, when we were less urban, we called them old wives' tales. But now we call them urban myths, because most folks live in cities, and punk kids have outstripped old wives in the too much time on their hands and wild speculation departments.) Often, urban myths spread from their nation of origin to other cities around the world, with hipsters as the primary vector, I believe. The pedal dipsomania myth seems to have remained isolated in Denmark. This isolation could be a subject of some study as well. I suspect a possible result would be a recommendation to skew national IQ tables to decrease all recorded IQs of Danes by ten.
Heck, while we're at it, let's dock everybody from Norway, Sweden, and Finland by five, just for being fellow Scandinavians.
Sorry he did that drive-by to friends, Tiare, but this is about Science™. Anyway, I think I'm far enough into this post that I won't spoil things by revealing that they found that no, you cannot get drunk through your feet. So how did Doctors Hansen, Færch, and Kristensen determine this breakthrough discovery? First, they experimented on themselves, in the grand, selfless humanitarian tradition of Jonas Salk. Our scientific heroes/guinea pigs performed their test by sitting around for three hours with their bare feet soaking in a tub of Slovakian vodka. The primary metric was BAC:
...Blood samples were taken to the laboratory for immediate analysis by the study nurse (and) measured as soon as possible in case of rapid and potentially fatal increases....
Selfless risk-takers in the name of science they may have been, but I'm glad they made sure to be as safe as possible. (Though to be fair, they appear to have been pretty cavalier about the far greater possibility of laughter-induced herniation in the nurse when he or she was told of the protocol for this experiment.) But wait, this was a rigorous study! A single measurement of drunkenness was insufficient for our intrepid trio. Perhaps this foot-ingested intoxication is undetectable in the bloodstream.
Hey, that makes as much sense as claiming that "toe chugging" will get you drunk in the first place!
The additional metrics were a mix of factual observation and self-evaluation, to wit: Self-confidence, the urge to talk, and spontaneous hugs. The results are represented in the following chart: Vodka Through the Feet Results Alas, in these measures as well, the mysterious foot-ingested, bloodstream-avoiding intoxicating effects were essentially invisible. [caption id="attachment_10404" align="aligncenter" width="550"]2011-10-busted "But I do question how it is that we haven't done a show segment on this yet...."[/caption] The discussion section of the paper outlines some conclusions of various degrees of usefulness, ranging from "Driving or leading a vessel with boots full of vodka seems to be safe", to "Importantly, students experimenting with transcutaneous alcohol absorption should move on to more relevant activities."
When you translate that last one from Faculty to English, you get "Go out to a bar, have a drink, and meet some people. You will never get laid sitting around a lab with your bare feet soaking in booze. And if your wise-ass roommate has filled your shoes with Aquavit, don't worry. It's still safe to drive." My Faculty is a bit rusty, so I just copy and pasted that directly from Google Translate....
I do want to note that this study, while new to me, is Old™. I got it from Seriously Science's Flashback Friday. I'll leave you with an expansion on the scary thought with which they finish their introduction. I'm not sure about the development-to-market time-frame in the infused spirits industry, but if anyone in the vodka biz reads this piece, we could be seeing this ad any damn day now.... [caption id="attachment_10411" align="aligncenter" width="550"]Pinnacle Fødder Vodka Sorry Pinnacle, but you deserve this for making me live in the same world as Cupcake-flavored vodka.[/caption] (Seriously, in all honesty these scientists are geniuses. They richly deserved an igNobel Prize for this. They were clearly angling for one, and it is a crime that they lost out to the guys who studied why some patients literally explode during colonoscopies.abc
Brandy, Funny, Marketing, Rule 4, Vodka

Blogger Spots Ill-Thought Out Liquor Product in Local Store

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The product development team in question here, shown servicing their car....
I was out shopping for rum the other day, and as I passed down the aisle of the liquor store, my eyes fell upon an eye-catching bottle that I didn't recognize. It was in the brandy section, so I bent down to examine closer, and my eyes beheld the following product: Twenty Grand Vodka Infused with Cognac. The shelf tag, in addition to revealing that this new item was already marked down, proclaimed it to be "Good as Money." Apparently two dollars a bottle less money than initially thought... I squatted there in the middle of aisle, stunned. My mind whirled, trying to grasp how you could make a product that, aside from its merely tacky vessel, is stupid in nearly every possible way. Let's start with the marketing stuff. The name is Twenty Grand. Um. Why? Is this some magical number that the Culture has decided is the price of class?
Well, it might be. An old guy like you would probably have missed a cultural marker like that....
Well, if so, the Culture is wrong. Unlike anyone misfortunate enough to purchase this product, I have actually had twenty grand in ready funds lying around from time to time during my long toil upon this Earth. At none of those times did the "Beautiful People", despite my culturally significant bank balance, "Hit Up" "My Digits" with invitations to go clubbing.
Hmmm... Perhaps the beautiful people are not as dumb as they look.
Further, what kind of catchphrase is "Good as Money"? Have you seen money? I'm not drinking anything like that.
CT  CT cons-save-dirty-money0001.jpg Shown above: Money—possibly after a night of drinking its alleged liquid equivalent. Photo: Chicago Tribune
I'll forgive, or at least leave aside, the bottle's stopper, which looks like a cheap doorknob and is nearly as big, because it is not totally hideous at first glance, and because I like stoppers on liquor bottles and like to encourage the practice. Instead, I will put on my Font Nazi hat and bitch about the label instead.
20-grand label Click image for full-sized detail of this mess.
What the hell is this supposed to be, with all the background engraving, faux aged border, and "anti-counterfeiting features", a bearer bond? Now, I will grant that, given the whole Good as Money theme, it is a clever conceit. But a bond like this should have little coupons that you tear off each time you consume an ounce of this fluid. Turn in a label's worth of coupons and get a pony or something. Because anyone sad enough to have drunk a bottle's worth of this is sad enough to deserve a pony. This is the frilliest main font ever devised by man. At full size, it is nearly impossible to read, and when it suddenly changes color and shrinks toward the bottom it becomes not so much illegible and practically invisible. Then we get an abrupt, pointless typeface change for the one word on the bottle that you could read from the other side of a bar, especially in bad lighting after a round or two. You are changing the typeface and color on your label in the middle of the name of your product? Or is the name simply Twenty Grand, with "vodka infused with cognac" being the product type? And what a confusing product type that is! Is 20K a vodka or a cognac? A dessert topping or a floor wax? As their website asks, "uptown or downtown"? It sure looks like they want it to be a Cognac. It is the only legible word on the label. The bottle and stopper, and the material inside all look Cognac-y. But it is worded like it is an infused vodka. Does half the team think that it has to be a "vodka" because that's all the Wall Street suits who are funding them want, while the other half think the only people who will buy it want "cognac"? Perhaps the group all met in Synergy 224 while getting their MBAs. Most likely, honesty (with some help from the FTC) compelled them to call it Vodka infused with Cognac. And now we get to the meat of the issue. The actual alcoholic beverage inside the bottle. An important disclaimer here: This is a totally unfair post, in that I have not actually consumed any Twenty Grand myself. I am not going to. Don't send me any. My liver only has so many miles left in it, and I won't waste so much as one of them on Twenty Grand Avenue. I don't actually have to taste it, because Mr. Vuitton has. Mr. Vuitton is a YouTuber who vlogs about Louis Vuitton products from his blank-walled apartment with laundry stacked on top of his Louis Vuitton bags in the background, all while wearing Ed Hardy shirts. His video review of Twenty G will either be the best or worst 11 minutes of your life you have ever spent on YouTube. Whether you watched that or not, I'll discuss it a bit as a lead back to my thoughts on Twenty Grand. First, how about that cinematography? I've never seen a clearly practiced and polished video style that consists of a continuous, unedited mirror selfie shot which keeps the phone unerringly blocking the view of his mouth. I genuinely admire his dedication to his craft. He held that phone up for eleven minutes! My arms would fall off. But then I'm old. The video tells a tale actually—the tale of a man who may not have the most extensive liquor knowledge, but who does in fact appear to have a fine and developed sense of taste and smell. It is a tale of a man who is excited by a new product, who tries it for the first time on camera, only to discover that the phrase Good as Money is true in the sense that I spoke of above. Our hero doesn't want to be mean...
You used to be like that, didn't you, Doug?
He doesn't want to be mean as the stuff assaults those excellent senses of taste and smell, or perhaps he just doesn't want to admit to himself or his viewers that he has wasted twenty seven dollars that likely tasted better than the Twenty Grand in the bottle. Some epic, revealing quotes:
It's a vodka, obviously. [Snif]Yeah. Ah...damn. Yeah. It's... of course, the smell is alcohol. [grimace] Yeah... it's, uh, it's gonna be rough, guys! Sh*t...
[Sip]Yeah. [Forced grimace] It's sweet. It's, um, really, really sweet. There's an, um, thickness to it. It's is definitely not vodka. It doesn't taste like vodka. Doesn't feel like vodka.
Yeah. I can taste the vodka. More like vodka and... syrup. You could really call this "vodka, mixed with honey" or syrup...
The earnest hope in his voice when he decides to throw in some ice is endearing.
Yeah, I'm sure this will be... This'll be definitely a lot better.
You will be shocked to watch as his hopes are dashed. I kept thinking I'd abandon the video after each new moment of pathos, but it just kept on going so hilariously I couldn't stop. Bear with the attempt to remove the plastic shrink-wrap from the stopper with one hand, while the other holds the phone, the rest is worth it. Listen, I feel for the guy. I've searched desperately a time or two to find something nice to say about a dog product, either on this blog or in person. I just think he should learn that it is wise to know what you are reviewing before you review it, especially if you are going to act as if it is live TV. As I said before, Mr. Vuitton appears to have a much better senses of taste and smell than I ever had, but I knew what he was going to taste before he ever opened that bottle, and I (again) have never experienced the stuff. Because old age and experience beat youth and talent every day. Before my brain had finished processing what I was looking at in that aisle, I knew. The words Early Times were flashing in my brain. Scores of bottles in that same store that call themselves Blended American Whiskey could just as well have labeled themselves as Vodka infused with Bourbon. They look just like Bourbon, just as 20K looks just like Cognac. The marketing theory behind blended whiskies is that they are smoother and more approachable than the full straight stuff. The truth is that vodka is cheap as hell to make, and faster than it is cheap. Twenty Grand is not vodka infused with cognac, it is cognac diluted with vodka, at somewhere between 1:1 and 6:1 vodka. But vodka is clear and flavorless, so if that's all you served up, you'd have a very pale-looking and pale-tasting product. To get the color and flavor back, blenders add colorants and flavorants, mostly caramels of one type or another, to the mix in an attempt to counterfeit the natural ones occurring in the wood-aged product of the base premium liquor. American blended whiskey makers have had decades of experience and the millions spent in the Lost Laboratories of Seagram's Gone By to perfect the mix of sugars and colorants needed to make a pleasing and visually satisfying counterfeit for a light bourbon. Twenty Grand? The color is perfect. To my knowledge, this is the first Blended French Brandy of its kind, and I doubt that the good folks at Citispiritz of Wilson, Wyoming have the kind of resources needed to reproduce the decades and millions it took to get as far as Early Times. Bravo to them for trying, I suppose. Or jeers to them for giving the Pernod-Ricards of the world ideas.... A final disclaimer: As I said, I haven't tasted the product myself. And Twenty Grand has absolutely the least informative liquor product website to be found on the web. It consists of good photography, bad recipes, and no frigging text to speak of at all! My description of what 20K is and how it is made is merely my own informed speculation. And if you can't get Twenty Grand Vodka infused with Cognac near you, perhaps you could find their new product: Twenty Grand Rosé. It is vodka infused with flat Rosé Champagne!abc
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