Whether you’re shopping for a casual get together or stocking your home bar, your goal on the liquor aisle is usually the same: Find quality alcohol at a price that won’t break the bank.
To cut down your stress, look at the label for peace of mind when considering the quality level of spirits that fit your budget. Fancy packaging aside, the content provided on the label can be your best indication of the quality you can expect in the bottle.
Here are some tips to keep handy when navigating the booze aisle:
Tequila: The most important quality cue to look for when purchasing tequila is “100 percent agave tequila” on the label.
That’s your guarantee the tequila you are drinking is made from 100 percent pure agave with no additives, added flavor or color. Tequila labeled “Oro,” “Joven” or “Gold,” by comparison, indicates designation as a mix too; a lesser-quality tequila made with equal parts agave and cane sugar distillates that can often lead to hangovers.
There is a handful of quality, affordable 100 percent agave tequilas on the market today that sell for $20 or less. Look for Familia Camarena Tequila (www.tequilacamarena.com), a widely available, popular-priced tequila produced by the respected Camarena family of Mexico. With tequila industry experience spanning six generations, Familia Camarena makes both 100 percent agave silver tequila (unaged) and reposado tequila (slightly aged) delicious for sipping or mixing.
Vodka: Stay away from vodka made from corn and other cheap sources of starch, which often can taste harsh. Stick with vodkas made from pure, high-quality ingredients like potato, rye or wheat.
A great way to find affordable, high-quality vodka is to look for American-made vodka, which is often less expensive than higher-priced imports. Watch out for Blue Ice Vodka, a reliable and budget-friendly American potato vodka.
Whiskey: Remember that scotch, Irish whiskey and bourbon are all classified within the whiskey family, and all have great opportunities for budget-friendly bottlings.
Buy bottles at the lowest proof, or 80-proof (40 percent alcohol by volume). Distilleries often charge more for a higher proof, which can go as high as 160. Lower-proof bottles tend to be lighter and smoother in taste.
Instead of expensive single malts, pay attention to more economical blended whiskies, which blend malt whiskey with less-expensive neutral grain spirits. For superior-quality blended whiskies, look for those with a malt percentage that exceeds the grain percentage.