How many times have you said to a friend,
" let's save money and stay in this weekend," only to realize you're actually still spending quite a lot to mix up your own drinks at home? You may think you're being financially responsible by serving yourself, but in reality, good alcohol can be expensive regardless of where you get it. That doesn't mean, however, that there aren't liquor brands out there that are more affordable. And we're not talking about any of that terrible-tasting well liquor you're probably buying at the bar.
We spoke to real bartenders and beverage directors from across the country about the affordable alcohol they like most. These under-$35 liquors, liqueurs, and spirits are just right for a frugal night in or a big house party, and since they're bartender-approved, you know they don't sacrifice on flavor.
At Refinery29, we’re here to help you navigate this overwhelming world of stuff. All of our market picks are independently selected and curated by the editorial team. If you buy something we link to on our site, Refinery29 may earn commission.
"I always find myself reaching for
, which you can usually find for around $20 to $25 a bottle. It's a blended tequila made with about 80% blanco (unaged) tequila and 20% reposado (aged) tequila, so it's not super smooth like a traditional unaged tequila and has a bit more character. It's very versatile and perfect for shots but can also hold its own in a variety of cocktails. At Fish Cheeks, we use it in our Spicy Mango cocktail because it's bold enough to stand up against the sweet mango purée." —
Jeremy Downer, consulting bartender at Fish Cheeks in New York, NY CNI Brands
Libelula Tequila, $28.00
"An acronym that my friends and I have coined and use every time we're drinking or dining together is DPD or 'dollar per deliciousness,' which is effectively our way of asking each other whether what we just experienced had maximized every output of tastiness and hospitality for every dollar input. In the world of spirits — this teeters above and below the $30 mark, depending on where you purchase your liquors — but
High West Double Rye!
earns the DPD gold medal in my book.
Based in Utah, High West blends two-year-old rye from Indiana's MGP Distillery, 16-year-old rye from Kentucky's Barton 1792 Distillery, and — as of last year — its own rye, which it finishes in-house, a process that enhances Double Rye!'s unique character. It has warming notes of baking spices, dark chocolate, nuts, and herbs, and has some fruitiness and pepperiness that evolves as it travels across your tongue. It finishes longer than many rye whiskies, which allows it to hold its own in cocktails but is also balanced enough as a pleasant stand-alone sipper.
Versatility aside, it's also a sleeper hit that you can find relatively easily, even in more remote areas of the country. It was my first purchase on a trip to Alaska, where I did a nine-mile hike that took us from 70-degree temperate rainforest up 3,300 feet into a snowstorm across an ice field. We sprinted to the end — and finished the whole thing in under four hours — knowing that High West Double Rye! was at the end of it waiting for us." —
Emmeline Zhao, beverage director, general manager, and partner at Little Tong in New York, NY High West Distillery
Double Rye!, $25.99
"Even though it's nice to treat yourself to a premium spirit on a night out, there are some phenomenal options on the market that won't break the bank when you want a casual drink at home. Right now, I'm into
Espolón Reposado Tequila
. At about $28, it's perfect for mixing or neat as a smooth sipper."
— Johnny Swet, beverage director at The Skylark in New York, NY Espolòn Tequila
Reposado Tequila, $24.99
Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon
(average price is $34). It's incredibly affordable for such a good quality, small batch bourbon, and it's very versatile. It lends itself well to fruity, spicy, and bitter ingredients, making it fun to experiment with all year long."
— Adam Cornelius, director of operations at Little Beet Table in New York, NY; Chicago, IL; and Greenwich, CT Four Roses Bourbon
Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, $35.99
"My favorite affordable spirits are the
Martini & Rossi Vermouths
(Rosso, Bianco and Extra Dry). Vermouth is in a number of cocktails, and it's perfect by itself chilled. It's just a very versatile alcohol, and at the M&R price point, it's easy to have in your home bar at all times." —
Lorenzo Panella, co-owner at Antica Pesa in Brooklyn, NY Martini & Rossi
Extra Dry Vermouth, $7.99
Buy Martini & Rossi
Bianco Vermouth, $12.99
Buy Martini & Rossi
Rosso Sweet Vermouth, $13.99
Deep Eddy Vodka
is an excellent vodka under $30. It is made in Austin, Texas and is distilled from high quality corn. It is distilled ten times and filtered over charcoal four times. The vodka is cut with Texas high quality water.
I have a vodka test that I put all vodkas through before deciding to carry it at my bar. I make four to five commonly ordered vodka cocktails (martini stirred, dirty martini shaken, Moscow mule, vodka gimlet, and sometimes I will also make a cosmopolitan) with every vodka to make sure that the spirit stands up in the cocktail and offers the right texture for the drink. Deep Eddy passed my vodka test with flying colors and is unbeatable for the price!"
— Cari Hah, bartender at Big Bar in Los Angeles, CA Deep Eddy
is an amazingly versatile gin. Complex on the nose, great-tasting palate, and it's also built with a little more weight, making it perfect for that summer gin & tonic, a sturdier negroni, or a perfectly chilled martini where the body will really shine."
— Kieran Chavez, beverage director at Boqueria in New York, NY and Washington, D.C.
"This is a great cocktail gin, being a London Dry without too many botanicals that may be prone to clash with other ingredients. This means you can go with your heart and get creative with flavors. It's 90 proof so it still stands up in a properly composed drink, which is wonderful because it is a great tasting gin!"
— Olivia Duncan, bar director at Galit in Chicago, IL
"I always have a bottle in my freezer because it makes the best gin and tonic. Designed specifically with cocktails in mind, this gin works as well in a Tom Collins as it does in a martini with olives." —
Sean Hoard, beverage director at Carpenters Hall in Austin, TX Fords Gin
London Dry Gin, $24.99
"Technically not hard liquor, but
Casa Mariol Vermut Negre
is a great stand-in for a lower proof, sessionable drink on a hot summer day. There are more and more vermouths hitting the market lately, all worthy of exploring. Casa Mariol stands out as a little more modern, more herbal, and not as seemingly sweet as some. Nothing simpler or more satisfying than vermouth with club soda and a wedge of orange. And it'll quench that itch for an extra vacation to Barcelona."
— Kieran Chavez, beverage director at Boqueria in New York, NY and Washington, D.C. Casa Mariol
Vermut Negre 1L,
$23.29 $20.49 Buy
"Many perceive vodka to be neutral in odor and taste, but the spirit is actually pretty complex. Depending on the ingredients, how many times it's distilled, and how it's consumed, vodka can taste and mix very differently. As a bartender, my go-to recommendation is
, which has an SRP of $29.99. That's a great deal for a super-premium spirit since most super-premiums on the shelf go for much more than that. Grey Goose is made from only two ingredients — wheat and water — and is distilled just once for a vodka you can taste. It is also extremely versatile, so it lends itself to many different types of cocktails for any occasion.
This summer at Surf Lodge, we have two Grey Goose cocktails on-menu with very different flavor profiles. Our East Breeze cocktail is an elevated take on the vodka lemonade, made with Grey Goose, fresh lemon juice, and blackberry purée, and St-Germain liqueur. Our other is an upgrade on the classic vodka soda, made with just Grey Goose, club soda, and a blend of botanical grapefruit, pineapple, and lemongrass essences." —
Remi Shobitan, house mixologist at The Surf Lodge in Montauk, NY Grey Goose
"I'm a big single malt scotch guy. Most are pretty pricey, but one of my favorites,
, is actually really affordable. It retails for about $29 and has the same smoothness and oaky finish as some of the most expensive single malts on the shelf. It's a blended scotch, meaning it's a blend of three different small batch single malts, and the result is a nice, vibrant flavor profile. It's really approachable and perfect for those just getting into single malts. I enjoy it best neat or on the rocks." —
Adam Koelb, assistant general manager at The Fleur Room in New York, NY and creator of The Fleur Room’s signature cocktails Monkey Shoulder
Blended Scotch Whisky,
$33.00 $29.99 Buy The Botanist Gin
"When recommending a quality, affordable gin, I almost always go for
. It's made from 22 different hand-foraged botanicals, and the slow distillation process brings out a lot of vibrant citrus and floral notes. We use it in our Pretty in Pink signature cocktail at The Fleur Room. The Botanist marries the Pretty in Pink's other floral ingredients, pink peppercorn and St-Germain elderflower liqueur, really beautifully. It starts cool but grows a nice warmth and has a long finish with the perfect amount of spice. Botanist typically retails for about $35, but I think a more masterfully crafted and delicious product is always worth a few extra dollars." —
Adam Koelb, assistant general manager at The Fleur Room in New York, NY and creator of The Fleur Room’s signature cocktails The Botanist
The Botanist Islay Dry Gin, $19.99
Buy "Real McCoy 3-Year-Aged Silver Rum
is a very good universal white rum. It's a really nice pot-and-column blend from Barbados. The 92 proof is a step up from their 80 proof, and it makes a hell of a daiquiri. Master distiller and rum legend Richard Seale is behind this Foursquare Distillery creation, skillfully combining sweet candied fruit notes with creamy vanilla and tingly spice for a markedly layered and well-balanced, light option."
— Kevin Beary, beverage director at Three Dots and a Dash, The Bamboo Room in Chicago, IL Real McCoy
Rum 3-Year, $24.99
Bacardi 8 Anos Rum
was once only made for consumption by the Bacardi family, but they decided to share it with us, and we're glad they did. It's the best bang for your buck: perfect on the rocks, as an old-fashioned, and even makes a killer daiquiri. I always have a bottle at home and it's a go-to gift when visiting friends."
— Cody Henson, head bartender at The Lost Square Rooftop in Savannah, GA Bacardi
8 Anos Rum, $34.99
"There is a lot of versatility and value to be had with Agave spirits these days.
Olmeca Altos Tequila
, in particular, is great for the home bartender, as the Plata really shines in a cocktail — the tequila was started by bartenders. It can also taste lovely with soda or tequila shots with friends. It is 50% Tahona crushed, 50% milled so you still taste the depth of higher end tequilas, especially in the Reposado."
— Chris Pomrenke, bartender at Momotaro in Chicago, IL Olmeca Altos
Plata Tequila, $24.99
Buy Olmeca Altos
Reposado Tequila, $24.99
"I would definitely have to say
is my favorite affordable bottle. It is sweet and spicy, full of flavor, and a beautiful digestif. A great and traditional way to greet a fellow bartender. Try mixing it 1:1 with Green Chartreuse for a lovely Fermeuse shot."
— Marisa Marzilli, beverage manager at Dram Yard in Wilmington, NC Fratelli Branca Distillerie
Fernet-Branca Liqueur, $29.99
is sweet, slightly buttery, with a little spice. It needs no mixer or chaser; it's perfect on its own. But you could always drink it with some ginger beer if you want to take your time with it."
— Blade Moore, bartender at Percheron, Crossroads Hotel in Kansas City, MO Jameson
Irish Whiskey, $18.98
is a sugar cane-based spirit from Ecuador and is considered the 'working man's drink.' The people who pick sugar cane to turn into molasses to make into rum are the people who distill the sugar cane juice too. You get more vegetal and earthy qualities with it — it has a fun and funky aroma to it. I personally use it to make our daiquiri's more interesting, as well as other rum classics like mai tais. I love it because it has a sense of terroir. It shows where it's from, and I think that's really valuable in spirit production."
— Lee Zaremba, beverage director at Boka Restaurant Group in Chicago, IL Zhumir Latin Spirit
Zhumir Aguardiente, $17.98
"I love the complexity of
Plantation Stiggins' Fancy Pineapple Rum
that's layered with notes of tropical pineapple, banana, and a hint of smoke. It can be used in different styles of cocktails ranging from a daiquiri to something more tiki, an old fashioned, and is even lovely to sip on its own. Versatile, complex, and not a bank-breaker."
— Angie Caballero, beverage director at Bellemore in Chicago, IL Plantation Rum
Stiggins' Fancy Pineapple Rum, $28.99
"I think this spirit is so underrated. With its fresh dill, caraway seed, and juniper berry, it can add a bright, herbaceous note to just about any classic cocktail. In my experience,
pairs best with flavors you wouldn't think to try, such as fruits like strawberries or vegetal ingredients like ramps and peppers."
— Tiffany Carrier, head bartender at Tullibee at the Hewing Hotel in Minneapolis, MN Gamle Ode
Gamle Ode Dill Aquavit, $29.99
because it is a complex and delightful cocktail in a bottle. In my home, I drink it on the rocks with a little gin, and when I use it in a cocktail for guests, it is sure to wow! At Commons Club, we use Chareu in our low ABV cocktail, 'Tubular Bells.'
Chareau is an Aloe Vera Liqueur made in Camarillo, CA. Made from an Eau de Vie (un-aged brandy), it's macerated with fresh cucumber, muskmelon, spearmint, and lemon peel. Fresh Aloe Vera juice is then added as the final step in creating this wonderful expression of California agriculture in a bottle, with a kiss of raw cane sugar for balance."
— Megan Abraham, lead bartender at Commons Club at Virgin Hotels San Francisco in San Francisco, CA Chareau
Aloe Liqueur, $26.99
"Todd Hardie, the owner of the distillery, purchased his first beehive when he was just 12 years old. He later opened his own honey apiary and made that his career before purchasing a distillery and deciding to incorporate raw honey into his distillates.
Barr Hill Gin
is produced with numerous botanicals, as well as raw honey, which creates a very smooth, mouth-coating character on the palate and a beautiful array of herbaceous and floral notes. It makes a really pretty Bee's Knees, and I also like using it in an Aviation." —
Charlotte Berdensey, beverage manager at Momofuku Ssäm Bar Caledonia Spirits
Barr Hill Gin, $29.99
Buy Cimarron Tequila
"My personal favorite is
It's made with real agave and is incredibly tasty." —
Tara Rizzi, beverage director at Seaworthy at Ace Hotel New Orleans in New Orleans, LA Haas Brothers
Cimarron Tequila Blanco, $26.99
Rittenhouse Straight Rye
is my go-to for Manhattans or Old-Fashioned cocktails!"
— Anthony Baker, beverage director at Wayla in New York, NY Heaven Hill Distillery
Rittenhouse Straight Rye Whiskey, $27.99
"This is really great as a sipping rum, as it has tons of funky, earthy flavors. My favorite way to enjoy
Smith & Cross
, however, is a Negroni riff I was introduced to at
Death & Co.
called 'Kingston Negroni' with Campari and Carpano Antica Vermouth. Talk about a flavor bomb!"
— Josh Strom, beverage manager at Momofuku Nishi in New York, NY Haus Alpenza
Smith & Cross Traditional Jamaica Rum, $28.99
"One of the best dollar for dollar values in American whiskey,
Evan Williams Bottled in Bond
is emblematic of the category, sturdy enough to stand up to other bold flavors in a cocktail, and most importantly, delicious." —
Sean Hoard, beverage director at Carpenters Hall in Austin, TX Evan Williams
Bottled-in-Bond White Label Bourbon, $16.98
"Here in New York, I really love
and everything they do. For a small craft distillery, it's incredible that they take their spirits from fresh New York grain all the way to bottle (hand-dipped in wax) in their small warehouse space. Their Glorious Gin is an awesome achievement, blending five botanicals, all distilled separately, into a bright citrus-driven juniper ginger delight of gin."
Glorious Gin, $34.99
is a great counterpart to Aperol, for all those spritz people. It's a Gentiane Liqueur, a yellow, vegetal liqueur, and it works great with sparkling wine, sodas, and more."
— William Elliott, beverage director at Maison Premiere in Brooklyn, NY La Martiniquaise
Aveze Gentiane Liqueur, $31.50