Bartenders Love These 12 Cheap Bottles of Liquor

Bartenders know better than anyone that price doesn’t always reflect quality. In fact, many of their favorite bottles clock in under $30. We asked nine veteran bartenders to share their best bang-for-the-buck bottles. Their answers may surprise you.


Very Old Barton Bonded 100 Proof Bourbon ($20): “This bourbon is at least six years old and from the Very Old Barton Distillery in Bardstown, Kentucky. It’s one of the best value bourbons available. I like its stone fruit quality versus the peanut-y quality you get in some of the other bourbons in its price range." —Morgan Weber, Eight Row Flint in Houston, TX

Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon ($27): “Whether you're drinking it neat, on the rocks or in a cocktail, the toasty flavor of this bourbon comes through and keeps on giving—it's not heavy handed, so it mixes well with herbaceous vermouths and bitters.” — Gates Otsuji, The Standard Grill in NYC

Irish Whiskey

Clontarf 1014 Classic Blend Irish Whiskey ($23): “This light blend is what we use in our Irish Coffee at Dead Rabbit. The vanilla richness and light lemongrass tones make for a strong base, all while maintaining true grain qualities and not overpowering the coffee and fresh cream.” —Jillian Vose, The Dead Rabbit in NYC

Rye Whiskey

Rittenhouse Rye 100 Proof Whiskey ($24): “A little 100-proof whiskey doesn't hurt when the weather gets cold.” That extra dose of ABV also helps the rye stand out when mixed in Highballs and Sazeracs. —Brett Esler, Whistler's in Austin, TX


Bombay Sapphire East Gin ($25): “Two Eastern flavors—Thai lemongrass and Vietnamese black peppercorn—make it more unique than any other gin available in the market. I’m always trying to bring more Asian flavors to the Junoon cocktail program and it’s very versatile in cocktails.” —Hemant Pathak of Junoon in NYC

Citadelle Gin ($25): “Citadelle is one of my all-time favorite gins. It is designed specifically for cocktail making and has a cost way below its value. It works well in both shaken and stirred drinks and packs a tremendous amount of flavor.” —Ezra Star, Drink in Boston


Ketel One ($23): “In my opinion, this is one of the top three vodkas in the world. It has character, texture and flavor that work really well however you enjoy it. It makes a great Vodka Martini and stands up well in cocktails.” —Moses Laboy of Bottle & Bine in NYC


Milagro Silver Tequila ($23): “They say agave a day keeps the doctor away. It's never a bad idea having this stuff around. It's a simple, clean spirit with plenty of the grassy agave character a silver tequila needs, making it a great addition to Margaritas, Palomas and Bloody Marias. —Brett Esler


Del Maguey Vida Mezcal ($35): “This is one of the best values on the market. Even as more companies try to get involved and produce new mezcals, Vida—one of the first mezcals designed for cocktails—is still at the top in terms of quality and consistency. It should be a staple in any home bar.” —Ezra Star


Lustau Brandy de Jerez Solera Reserva ($24): “This Spanish brandy is aged for three years in Amontillado barrels. It's rich, full of fruit and great to mix with cocktails.” It’s versatile enough to be used in a Brandy Alexander or a Champs-Elysses. —Jillian Vose


Amaro Montenegro ($27): “You can find a few great amaro under $30. For instance, a bottle of Montenegro—which I always keep stocked at home—is usually in the mid-$20s. It is great on its own and can be used in a number of cocktails. It’s also great to keep at the ready to spike a cup of coffee when I feel the need.” —Nick Bennett of Porchlight in NYC


Tio Pepe Fino Sherry ($16): “This is my favorite Fino sherry. Lots of green apple, toasted almond and a slight brininess. It’s great for anyone just wanting something to sip on while having some charcuterie and cheese.” —Brian Means, Michael Mina Restaurant Group in San Francisco