RCL Exclusive

The 30 Best Bottles of Booze Under $30

Price isn't always an indicator of quality.

Food and Drink By

Some days we dream about nine-figure superyachts and space vacations.

And some days, we just need an affordable bottle of booze.

For those modest occasions: our guide to great spirits $30 and under, as chosen by the finest bar professionals across the land.

Why 30 bucks? Maybe you’re going to a party. Or you’re out of a staple spirit in your home bar. Or you have to gift someone you don’t know that well. These are classic tipples that will impress on a budget for any of those occasions.

The criteria here: full-sized bottles (750mL, 1L) only. The spirit should also be readily available in most markets, recognizable to seasoned drinkers and elicit approval from casual and veteran sippers. And it should mix well in cocktails or work fine on its own.

We’re starting with the basics: gin, vodka, rum, whiskey, etc. A guide to inexpensive but more exotic spirits will follow soon. (P.S. Yes, depending on where you live, you may pay a bit over $30. Or even under the price we list.)

gin

GIN

Bombay Dry | $23
“One of the OG London dry gins. Equally versatile in a G&T, martini or gimlet.” —Adam George Fournier, Bar Manager at NoMad Los Angeles

Fords Gin | $28
A versatile spirit specifically designed to work across the widest swath of cocktails. —InsideHook

vodka

VODKA

Simple Vodka | $27
“Fantastic in cocktails, gluten free and we like the mission behind the bottle: 20 meals donated to U.S. hunger relief for every bottle produced.” —Devin Schuck, owner/mixologist at MIDNIGHTS (Brooklyn, NY)

Ketel One Family-Made Vodka (750ml) | $30
“They use high-quality ingredients, starting with 100% non-GMO grain. And the fact they can merge the history of their distillery (since the late 1600s) and produce something so well constructed and timely for modern-day culture is an incredible feat.” —Pamela Wiznitzer, Bar Consultant and President of the United States Bartender Guild, NYC sector

Beluga Noble Russian (750ml) | $28
“One of the most brilliant vodkas ever made, with different filtration systems and cut with Siberian water.” —Juyoung Kang, lead bartender at The Dorsey at The Venetian (Las Vegas)

Deep Eddy Ruby Red Vodka | $25
“Its entire production process, from the corn to real, all-natural ruby red grapefruit juice, is impressive. We use it in our Paloma, alongside blanco tequila, grapefruit juice, lime and a hint of sugar and saline.” —Danny Ronen, Principal Partner at Academia (Austin, TX)

tequila

TEQUILA

Lunazul Blanco Tequila | $20
“A peppery tequila with vanilla and agave flavors that is awesome for cocktails … or shots.” —Bonnie Wilson, mixologist and Area Manager for Don Sebastiani & Sons Winery (Dallas, TX)

Olmeca Altos Plata or Reposado | $30
“Super versatile for cocktails or to sip. It competes with tequilas twice its price, and is 50% tohona-crushed agave and 50% roller-milled.” —Jillian Carroll, Lead Bartender at Chicken Pharm (Petaluma, CA)

Cazadores Reposado | $30
“A great depth of flavor at a price point that’s amazing for a 100% agave tequila. Perfect for summer barbecues and making margaritas for friends.” —Dave Kaplan, owner of Death & Co (New York)

Espolon Reposado | $27
“The barrel-aged process adds a lot of nuance that you don’t get from a silver tequila. Great in a margarita or in fun variations of classics like the Negroni (sub for gin) or an Old Fashioned (with agave syrup and a citrus bitters).” —Bryan Galligos, il Solito (Portland, OR)

Gran Centenario Anejo | $30
“A beautiful product and a hidden gem. They are the only people I am aware of that blend different age statements to make their añejo. It’s the type of tequila that an agave snob would greet with an approving Robert De Niro face if it was found nestled among a few other quality bottles.” —Dylan Stewart, Beverage Director for The Ruin Daily (Chicago)

rum

RUM

Rhum Barbancourt 5 Star 8 Year | $23
“Distilled and aged in Haiti, this is a versatile spirit, serving equally well in a daiquiri or an Old Fashioned. Clean and rich with just a hint of grass and funk (or “hogo”); it’s more approachable than the really funky Jamaican rums, and more full of character than those from Barbados and Puerto Rico — you can really taste the terroir and it makes me happy to provide an important income stream to the people of Haiti, who have been through so much. —Don Morton, founder of Shrub District

Zaya Gran Reserva Trinidad Dark Rum (750ml) | $24
“This vanilla bomb of a rum can add a layer of complexity into an otherwise fruit-forward or sour drink.” —D’Artagnan Totora, Beverages Director at Park Winters(Winters, CA)

Bacardi Carta Blanca | $19
“Light, aromatic and ideal for mixing — think mojitos, Cuba Libres, etc.” —Carlos Arteaga, Beverage Director/GM of Halifax (Hoboken, NJ)

Denizen Aged White Rum | $19
“Three aged rums blended together, and perfect for the quintessential daiquiri.” — Cassie Hesse, Beverage Director of Ellis Adams Group

Plantation Three Star Rum | $17
“This is such a great bang-for-the-buck-rum. Blended rum from Jamaica, Trinidad and Barbados. Notes of coconut, sarsaparilla, vanilla and clove.” —Luke Andrews, mixologist and founder of BoomBox Consulting (Chicago)

Plantation Pineapple Rum | $28
“This rum is made by macerating fresh pineapples. When you drink it straight, the pineapple sits back, but when you shake it with a bit of citrus, the flavor really comes alive.” —Aaron Blakely, bartender at Yves (New York)

Casa Magdalena Rum | $25
“A Spanish style rum from Guatemala, aged in Portland, Oregon, at the House Spirits distillery. Its earthy, complex flavor, filled with grass and tropical notes, is perfect for cocktails and makes the most delicious daiquiri.” —Shel Bourdon, National Director of Bars at Two Roads Hospitality

El Dorado 8 Year | $25
“Affordable and extremely quaffable. Rich and tasty alone or in a cocktail. Dollar for bottle, I can’t think of a better rum for having around at home.”  —Kirk Estopinal, partner/mixologist at Cane & Table (New Orleans)

bourbon and rye

 

BOURBON AND RYE

Bulleit Bourbon | $28
“Smooth and simple, yet complex with rye, corn and barley malt. Use it in an Old Fashioned — you can taste the bourbon while adding just a little bit of orange zest and sweetness.” —Jennifer Raymond, Rosebrook & Cave Bar at Omni Mount Washington Resort (Bretton Woods, NH)

Old Grand Dad Bonded Bourbon | $30
“A beautiful bourbon with great caramel, vanilla, and spice notes. My go-to whiskey for a rocks pour and works great for mixing cocktails.” —Josh Novy, Beverage Director at Untitled Supper Club (Chicago)

Old Grand Dad 114 Bourbon | $30
“A full-proof high rye bourbon with so much complexity. Deep vanilla and caramel are backed up by a balancing citrus spice with lingering tobacco notes.” —Cody Fredrickson, Scotch Master at the Palms Casino Resort’s Scotch 80 Prime (Las Vegas)

Rittenhouse Bottled-In-Bond Rye | $24
“The first American whiskey. Now made in Bardstown, Kentucky, its roots are buried deep in that Pennsylvania, spice-forward style.” —Adam George Fournier, Bar Manager at Nomad Los Angeles

Stillhouse Black Bourbon | $30
“Aromatic notes of coffee and caramel. I make a Manhattan with it but replace the sweet vermouth with an amaro (Amaro Nonino). The combination was a match made in bourbon heaven.” —Joel Teknyc Martinez, Bar Manager and Head Bartender at Madame Siam (Los Angeles)

Four Roses Yellow Label | $25
“A great introduction to the distillery at the price point, with all the characteristics I love about Four Roses. And it’s perfect for an entry-level bourbon drinker.” —Meghan Balser, Cocktail Curator for Herb & Wood (San Diego, CA)

Elijah Craig Small Batch (750ml) | $28
“One of the best bourbons for versatility — great in cocktails (Old Fashioned, whiskey sours) or drinking straight-up.” —Juyoung Kang, lead bartender at The Dorsey at The Venetian (Las Vegas)

Wild Turkey 101 (750ml) | $27
“One of the best value bourbons on the market. Take it in a Manhattan or as a shot beside your beer — either way, you’re getting a top quality 6- to 8-year bourbon rich in vanilla, balanced on smoke and oak, and high proof for cocktails..” —Don Morton, founder of Shrub District

Evan Williams Single Barrel (750ml) | $27
“My go-to when I’m looking for affordable whiskey. Their Single Barrel is great in cocktails, but also pleasant enough to drink on its own.” —Bryan Schneider, Quality Eats (New York)

Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon | $30
“It’s smooth, lingers on the palate and is perfect on its own — I tend to prefer a simple pour and sip when I’m not behind the bar. I also use it a lot for infusions (figs and vanilla bean are my favorites).” —Russell Sheldon, Bar Manager, at Farmshop Marin (Larkspur, CA)

scotch, irish whiskey

SCOTCH, IRISH WHISKEY

Glen Moray Chardonnay Cask Finish | $25
“An amazing under-the-radar single malt that has notes of fresh apples, pear and key lime pie. Finish is loaded with baking spice, butterscotch and caramel.” —Cody Fredrickson, Scotch Master at the Palms Casino Resort’s Scotch 80 Prime(Las Vegas)

Chivas Regal 12 Year | $28
“We preach the gospel of single-malt scotch, but blended whisky is the true king. If Johnnie Walker sits upon the Iron Throne, Chivas Brothers is the King in the North. Their traditional 12-year blend is amazingly drinkable … and mixable, for the price.” —Adam George Fournier, Bar Manager at NoMad Los Angeles

Gordon Graham’s Black Bottle Blended Scotch Whisky | $25
“I love it for its easy drinking, sweet, lightly smoky profile. Mix it into cocktails, but delicious on its own.” —Zach Cramer, Tiny’s & The Bar Upstairs (New York)

Monkey Shoulder | $30
“Incredible value for Scotch, great for mixing cocktails or sipping on the rocks.” —Guy and Alon Ravid, Smokeyard BBQ and Chop Shop (San Diego, CA)

Jameson Irish Whiskey | $29
“Smooth to sip on over ice and doesn’t burn on the way down if you decide to take a pickleback shot with your friends.” —Monica Nickles, co-owner of The Lorenz Cafe (Pittsburgh)

Note: If you buy through the links in the article, RealClearLife may earn a small share of the profits.