Drinking Like a Big Shot...But on a Budget
These bottles are very special but are a sensible splurge.
Give me a million dollars to buy the best liquor in the world and I could do it in about an hour. Maybe even 30 minutes.
But, of course, nobody I know has that kind of money to blow on booze. In fact, the requests I get to help friends and family find a bottle usually have much more modest budgets.
While I have written about how not to over pay when you’re stocking your home bar, there are also a number of high-end bottles that are both incredibly special and are a relative deal. Hell, some of them are a downright bargain!
Nicole Austin has been master distiller of George Dickel for about a year and this is the first release that really has her stamp of approval. It’s a straight Tennessee whiskey that was distilled back in 2005 and is a robust 100-proof. For years, bottled-in-bond was practically code for “good buy” but as drinkers have once again discovered this historic designation, prices have, you guessed it, started to climb. But this bottle, given the age (13 years) and quality of the whiskey, could easily be twice or three times it’s suggested retail price of $36. (Some stores are already marking it up.) Buy it while you still can!
The price of single malt Scotch continues to go up. It makes sense, since sales of the liquor, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S. (DISCUS), is up by more than 200 percent over the last 16 years. But it’s not all bad news from Scotland. Blended Scotch—a mix of single malts from different distilleries and grain whisky—is underappreciated and a bargain. (Sales of blends, according to DISCUS, are down by more than 13 percent over the same time period.) Take for instance Compass Box’s Great King Street Glasgow and Artists Editions, which sell for $40 each. The brand, which was the epitome of craft before there was such a thing as craft spirits, created the line of Great King Street whiskies by using decades old recipes. Not only do they look like top-shelf Scotch but they drink that way, too.
For single malt drinkers, the Glenmorangie Signet is a delicious dram that even at $200 might be undervalued. Almost every aspect of the whisky is unique, starting with the rare so-called chocolate barley malt that is used to create the core of the spirit. While the label has no stated age, the distillery does say that it include some of its oldest whiskies. Signet is produced just one time a year and was named World Whisky of the Year by the IWC in 2016.
Good port tastes like opulence to me—like being chauffeured around town in a classic Rolls- Royce. And similar to a vintage Rolls, port is surprisingly affordable. Take the 20-year-old Taylor Fladgate Tawny Port and the 20-year-old Sandeman Old Tawny Port, which both sell for a suggested retail price of $55. The 40-Year-Old Sandeman Tawny Port is even a better deal at $160. If we were talking about 40-year-old Scotch the price would easily be ten times as expensive.
Forget the pirates and swashbucklers, rum is now a refined spirit complete with its own form of snobbery. Fortunately, the category is still undervalued but it won’t be for long! One of my favorite fancy rums is Ron Abuelo Centuria from Panama. The rich spirit could be used in decadent cocktails but, to be honest, it doesn’t really need any additional flavors. I like to sip it neat or in the summer with one big ice cube. It costs $140, which isn’t cheap but more than worth it given that it contains rum up to 30-years-old and is delicious. (If you called it whiskey, it would cost closer to $500.) I imagine the price will rise as more people hear about it. Yes, I realize that this article probably won’t help.
Sophisticated Champagne drinkers prize so-called vintage bottles that are only produced when the cellar master deems the grape harvest exceptional. While these special bottles are, as you can imagine, usually quite spendy, a few houses offer more reasonably priced vintage Champagnes. Look out for Moët & Chandon’s new Grand Vintage 2012 and Grand Vintage Rosé 2012, which are $75 and $85 respectively. Another great buy is G.H. Mumm’s RSRV Blanc de Blancs 2013 and its RSRV Blanc de Noir 2009, which are each $75.
Oversized bottles of bubbly also usually go for a king’s ransom. But a delicious steal is the magnum of J Cuvée 20 sparkling wine, which goes for $75. You can buy the bubbly now at the brand’s Sonoma winery and it will soon be in select retailers.
Twenty years ago, it would have seemed laughable to say that big shots drank tequila. At the time, in America the agave-based spirit usually came in a plastic bottle and lived on the bottom shelf of most liquor stores. But it’s no secret that tequila has gone haute and you can spend hundreds on a single bottle. That what makes the award-winning El Tesoro Paradiso ($130) a sensible splurge. The so-called extra añejo tequila is aged for five years in used Cognac casks, making it one of the oldest tequilas on the market. It now even comes in a deluxe gift box, which will impress any big shot.