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Staring forlornly at the dregs of my home bar the other day or recently, I realized that it’s time for my annual pre-festivity trip to the liquor store. Winter break is upon us and, with it, the sad recognition that our home liquor supplies haven’t rebounded from the gradual (in my case, precipitous) increase in consumption that accompanies this season. If, like me, your “entertainment” budget has been subsumed into wanton party-going and gift-buying, you may want some options for re-stocking that won’t cause you to perform regrettable acts for money. 

I spent a few years behind some good bars, so I know a thing or two about expensive booze. This time of year doesn’t have room in it for the really good stuff. The good-enough will have to do. In that spirit, I’m sharing my shopping list for this weekend. Everything on it should be at your local bottle shop, and most of it comes in at right around $20 a bottle. It’ll help you avoid the true rot-gut, and, for right around $100, you can pretend to be the kind of adult who can keep the basic five on the shelf and who definitely didn’t kill a bottle of apple brandy in three days at Thanksgiving.

We’ll start in my wheelhouse: whiskey. Here, options abound. There’s a mostly gone bottle of Evan Williams Bonded on my bar right now, and it’ll be replaced in kind. Evan has its detractors, and it’s not the most ethereal stuff you’ll ever drink. It’s a solid bourbon, especially if you’ll be using it to mix. I’ll also pick up a bottle of rye, probably Old Overholt or Wild Turkey Rye. Spicy and peppery, rye can do double-duty as a sipper or a fine base for classics like the Sazerac or the Vieux Carre, and finding a bottle at this price-point is easy. If Irish is your thing, Jameson, Powers, and Tullamore D.E.W. all fall into this range, albeit at the upper end – pick your poison.

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For rum, budget-minded drinkers are in luck. Finding a bottle of really good rum in the $20 range is easy. I’ll buy Appleton Estate, because I like that mildly funky, floral, spice-backed note that characterizes Jamaican rum, but I bounce around on this. Angostura 5 is also a solid bet, as is Cruzan, but I’ll have my eyes out for a bottle of Barbancourt White Rhum, since I’m planning on making daiquiris.

I’m going to stretch the budget just over that $20 mark for a bottle of tequila. There are a few in this price range, including good blancos like those from Milagro and Corralejo, but I’ve been stuck on Espolon for a while – it’s delicious for sipping, and it makes an outstanding margarita or paloma, both in heavy rotation at my house this time of year.

We don’t need to spend a lot of time on gin – a bottle of Beefeater is rarely more than $23, and I’ll gladly do what I need to do to scrounge up that extra $3. My best advice is to not overthink this decision: Buy a decent bottle of London Dry, and enjoy it however you like your gin. 

Of course, the last step in a well-stocked bar is vodka. I won’t be buying any, and I’d suggest you follow suit. You’d do much better to spend this $20 on something that actually tastes good, like Laird’s Apple Jack. Every cocktail that calls for vodka is better made with something not-vodka, so I avoid it. 

See you at the liquor store on Saturday. 

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