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50 Value Spirits

Each year, when the pre-holiday buying season rolls around and it comes time to evaluate Value Spirits, I marvel at the plethora of liqueurs, white spirits, brandies and whiskeys that provide not only keen drinking enjoyment, but genuine value, as well. Being thrifty at heart (I argue that it’s a genetic trait over which I have no control), I take hand-rubbing pleasure in pointing imbibers in the direction of terrific deals where the price/value ratios are as high as Mount Everest. In addition to reasonable pricing and extraordinary value, the other delicious element is that these 50 items are widely available in the U.S. Quality, value, customer satisfaction and availability all work for me.

With sales revenues up 7.5 percent in 2005 for spirits and at least that percentage of growth predicted for 2006, we are the fortunate residents and beneficiaries of the Golden Age for spirits and cocktails. Buy. Drink in moderation at all times because it’s good for everyone. And be merry.


Chauffe Coeur Blanc Rhum Agricole (Martinique; C.C. Spirits, Lakeville, MA); 54% abv, $28.

Marti Coco Suave Licor de Ron Rum with Natural Coconut Flavor (USA; Chatham Imports, New York, NY); 41.4% abv, $13.
Mount Gay Vanilla Flavored Rum (Barbados; Remy Cointreau U.S., New York, NY); 32% abv, $16.

Bacardi Big Apple Original Apple Rum, (USA/Puerto Rico; Bacardi & Company, Miami, FL); 35% abv, $15.
Cannes Brulées Light Classic Premium Red Rum (Grenada; Laird & Company, Scobeyville, NJ); 30% abv, $19.

Inside scoop: One of the two or three most outrageous price/quality ratio items in this entire article is right here: the nothing-short-of-sinfully-fabulous Chauffe Coeur Blanc Rhum Agricole. Most rums are made from molasses; this one, from Martinique, is made from sugarcane juice. High in alcohol (54 percent), Chauffe Coeur Blanc brims with intense grassy, vegetal flavors.


Fina Estampa Blanco 100% Agave Tequila (Mexico; Oregon Parts Inc., Salem, OR); 40% abv, $35.

El Tesoro de Don Felipe Platinum 100% Agave Tequila (Mexico; Fielding & Jones, Deerfield, IL); 40% abv, $30.
Hacienda de Chihuahua Plata Sotol (Mexico; Sans Wine & Spirits, Tustin, CA); 38% abv, $30.

Inside scoop: Consumer interest in Tequila is soaring, and so are sales in this country. Regrettably, with the price of Tequila still prohibitive, there are relatively few authentic bargains to discuss. If, like yours truly, you’re always on the prowl for richly herbal silver (a k a, blanco, plata) Tequilas for margarita mixing, hunt down svelte, briny Fina Estampa Blanco or the more assertive El Tesoro de Don Felipe Platinum. I want big flavor in my margaritas, so that’s precisely why I choose unaged and still raw but highly concentrated silvers to mix with fresh-squeezed lime juice and Cointreau. If you really want to go against the grain and be cutting-edge, pick up a bottle of Hacienda de Chihuahua Plata Sotol, the lusciously peppery agave-based spirit made in the Mexican state of Chihuahua.


Old Russian Vodka (Russia; Pottsdam Import & Export, Inc., Atlanta, GA); 40% abv, $10.
Rain Vodka (USA; Sazerac Company, Frankfort, KY); 40% abv, $18.

Pinnacle Vodka (France; White Rock Distilleries, Lewiston, ME); 40% abv, $14.
Spudka Vodka (USA; Hood River Distillers, Inc., Hood River, OR); 41% abv, $18.

Inside scoop: With over 700 vodkas currently available in the marketplace (you read that correctly), there’s hardly a shortage of neutral grain spirits. The one listed here that I seriously admire is Rain Vodka, a domestic brand made from organic corn. I know that some of you are thinking, “He’s a tree-hugging, back-to-the-earth ex-hippie.” Guilty as charged. But when I serve unflavored vodka, I insist on pouring the cleanest-tasting brands. I harbor no doubt that Rain is as fresh and refreshing as vodka can be. On top of that, it mixes well. So there, bourgeois cretins.


Absolut Citron Vodka (Sweden; Absolut Spirits USA, New York, NY); 40% abv, $20.
Skyy Berry Vodka (USA; Skyy Spirits, LLC, New York, NY); 35% abv, $16.

Yazi Ginger Flavored Vodka (USA; Hood River Distillers, Inc., Hood River, OR); 35% abv, $20.

Inside scoop: On a mission to retaste products that I formally evaluated in the early to mid-1990s, I revisited ABSOLUT Citron not long ago and was struck all over again by its high-quality and compelling citrus flavor. It remains a spectacular bargain. For a few dollars less, you can purchase the best flavor that Skyy Vodka has released to date, the wonderfully ripe and juicy Skyy Berry Vodka. With each of these superbly crafted vodkas, the cocktail possibilities are endless. Yazi Ginger is just plain old fun.


Tanqueray Special Dry English Gin (England; Moet Hennessy USA, New York, NY); 47%; abv $19.

Beefeater London Dry Gin (England; Pernod Ricard USA, White Plains, NY); 47% abv; $17.

Inside scoop: The fact that these two quintessential English gins are sold for what they are begs for a moment of silence to express our supreme gratitude—that’s good enough. Now, let’s mix up some gin sours.


Bowmore “Darkest” Sherry Casked Islay Single Malt Whisky (Scotland; White Rock Distilleries, Lewiston, ME); 43% abv, $65.
The Dalmore Cigar Malt Northern Highlands Single Malt Whisky (Scotland; Fielding & Jones, Deerfield, IL); 43% abv, $35.

Caol Ila 12-Year-Old Islay Single Malt Whisky (Scotland; Diageo USA, New York, NY); 43% abv, $45.
Chivas Regal 12-Year-Old Blended Whisky (Scotland; Pernod Ricard USA, White Plains, NY); 43% abv, $28.
The Balvenie “Doublewood” 12-Year-Old Speyside Single Malt Whisky (Scotland; William Grant & Sons, New York, NY); 43% abv, $42.
The Famous Grouse 12-Year-Old Blended Malt Whisky (Scotland; Remy Cointreau USA, New York, NY); 40% abv, $35.

Inside scoop: To the uninitiated, it might seem that forking over $65 for a bottle of something called “Bowmore Darkest” is hardly thrifty shopping. But I’ve been reporting on the world’s distillates since 1989 and one of my most consistently held beliefs is that of all the great distillates produced internationally, none is more complex to ponder or more fulfilling to consume than Scotland’s island and Highland whiskies. That bottle of savory Bowmore Darkest will give pleasure for weeks, even months, if one judges by how long most bottles of Scotch whisky typically remain in a home. If you want really unbelievable value, buy The Dalmore Cigar Malt for roughly half the price of the Bowmore Darkest.


Bushmills Original Blended Irish Whiskey (Northern Ireland; Diageo USA, New York, NY); 40% abv, $20.

Inside scoop: Irish Whiskey is on a serious rebound and well it should be. This one from County Antrim in Northern Ireland is a gently sweet and grainy beauty that never ceases to delight.


Crown Royal Fine Deluxe Blended Canadian Whisky (Canada; Diageo USA, New York, NY); 40% abv, $26.
Pendleton 10-Year-Old Blended Canadian Whisky (Canada; Hood River Distillers, Hood River, OR); 40% abv, $26.

Inside scoop: A classic and a newcomer, Crown Royal has been around since 1939 when it was created for the royal arrival to Canada of England’s King and Queen. For the money, there is no better North American blended whiskey. Pendleton is a new, toothsome entry that has gained quite a following among whiskey cognoscenti. The price/value ratio on each is into the stratosphere.

Best Buy Spirits Page 2: American Whiskey, Brandy, Apéritif, Liqueurs