I recommend these spirits not only as good bases for cocktails, but also to have neat without breaking the bank. I also want to help you build up an impressive and versatile bar, without feeling like you can't share the "good stuff" with your friends.
This specific post will discuss the non-whisk(e)y base spirits that most people are familiar with. Because a large portion of my spirits knowledge was obtained through my experiences at a whiskey bar, I decided to save the world of whiskey for its own separate write-up. With that being said, let's get down to business:
Vodka: Tito's Handmade Vodka - Find out what some of the best bartenders already know, that this vodka is delicious, versatile, and shouldn't cost you over 20 bucks.
Gin: This is a tough category for me. I was turned on to gin most recently, so I feel that I have only had certain gins in certain drinks and therefore, it's harder for me to draw a conclusion. Here's a quick run-down; you can decide what fits you the best (full post on gins coming soon).
New Amsterdam - Under $15 a bottle, mix this with anything you like for a tasty gin drink, just avoid the martini.
Beefeater/Tanqueray - Pick a bottle, seriously. They both cost under 20, represent a London Dry Gin style, and work well in G&Ts or martinis.
Plymouth - My favorite all-around gin. If you are picky about your gin, spend the extra few bucks (it'll run you about $30). This will not disappoint, no matter how you serve it.
A few of the top-selling gins in the U.S.
White Rum: Rhum Barbancourt White - This is not your typical silver rum. Rhum spelled with an "h" denotes a specific type of rum made in the French Caribbean. Instead of using molasses like most rums, they use fresh-pressed sugar cane to capture the best flavor and quality. In a daiquiri or rhum & coke, the long-lasting sugar cane finish will leave any thirsty friend satisfied. Once again, you get a great spirit for under 20 buckaroos.
Aged Rum: Ron Matusalem Clasico Rum - Aged in oak barrels, this well-balanced golden rum will make the perfect match to any tropical drink you crave. With the ability to be drank neat or on the rocks, Matusalem makes a great poolside companion for any drinker at around 20 dollars a bottle.
Tequila: Tenampa Azul Reposado - F. Paul Pacult, author of The Spirit Journal, declared this as "the best value in all of tequila." Tenampa Azul comes from the Gran Centenario estate, the most awarded tequila estate in the world, with a wonderful flavor profile that has just the right amount of bite to stand out in margaritas, but the complexity to be enjoyed neat. Do the world a favor and stopped buying Jose Cuervo Gold. Buy some guacamole, because this will only set you back a twenty spot.
Don't forget to keep an eye out for the next edition of Bringing the Bar Home: World of Whisk(e)y!
I will leave you with a famous nugget of genius from W.C. Fields: "Everyone must believe in something. I believe I'll have another drink."