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Quality of Liquor to use in mixed drinks

I'm wondering what people's opinions are. I've heard some people say that the minute you add juice or a mixer to liquor, it doesn't matter what brand you should use. On the other hand, I've had an experienced bar tender tell me that it does make a difference to use quality liquor, especially if you are using real fruit juice. My personal observation, and I don't pretend to have a particularly distinguishing palate, is that I prefer the higher end brands even in drinks such as margaritas (made with fresh lime juice) and a vodka/pomegranate juice "martini". In the case of the latter, I use Gray Goose, and noticed, when trying out a cheaper brand, that Absolut wasn't nearly as "smooth" in the drink.

Thoughts?

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  1. I think it really depends on what you're making.

    If you're making a margarita....I don't think it matters all that much...the other mixers are so overpowering a lot of the time that its hard to tell.

    When I'm doing a Whiskey and Coke, I can totally tell the difference between Maker's Mark and if I'm doing Jim Bean or Jack Daniels. I always use Maker's....its just so much smoother and the aftertaste is fine.

    Martinis and similar drinks...same thing.

    But I don't really buy cheap liquor except maybe getting some Herradura Blanco for Margaritas.....

    1. I agree that it depends on what you're making.

      First rule: don't mix with anything that you wouldn't be able to enjoy with nothing more than some ice. If you wouldn't drink Absolut without the juice, then I'd say, don't bother with it at all.

      Second rule: if the ratio of mixer to spirits is 1:1 or higher, and I have a choice as to liquor, then I see no point in using the better liquor (e.g., I wouldn't drown an ounce of Grey Goose in six ounces of orange juice).

      Third rule: psychology is everything where taste is concerned. If you think that quality liquor is better, then it will be. Have you tried asking someone else to make the vodka/pomegranate juice concoction without telling you what they used?

      1. I would agree that adding juices etc will help mask inferior taste of cheaper liquors so it may tend to help level the playing field between cheaper and higher quality liquor in regards to taste.

        However, the real difference is going to be seen in how you feel the next day. If you are just having one drink probably won't make a difference. But more expensive liquor has higher quality ingredients, is distilled longer, and more inpurities removed. Therefore, you are less likely to feel as bad the next day after drinking higher quality spirits.

        8 Replies
          1. re: Scott M

            I honestly think this is an old wives tale. Everything gives you a hangover. I have had some of the worst hangovers while drinking the highest quality spirits.

            With spirits like vodka, it really depends on the ammount of mixer. the more mixer the less likely you are to be able to appreciate the better vodka. That said, Vodka really has no taste so if you are doing anything more than a 1:1 mixer to spirit ratio i dont think it will matter.

            1. re: MVNYC

              Not an old wives tale. I am good friends with an organic chemist who works in the distillates industry and we have spoken of this on more than one occassion. I am not saying you won't feel any effects the next day but they should be less severe and not last as long through the day.

              However, consuming a lot of sugary drinks or mixing beer, wine and liquor tends to create bad hangovers.

              1. re: Scott M

                I think there is a bit of truth to both sides. As I understand and have experienced, quality can/does affect hang-over severity. However, it does so less than quantity, and is really only noticeable (to me) with really bargain-basement stuff. As I understand the quantity and nature of impurities can affect the hang-over (but less so than the EtOH itself). So drinking white label 'Scotch' (retch) will probably make you feel worse than the same quantity of Oban - if you drink too much of either.

                On the other hand, I have to say the mixing of beer, wine and liquor creating bad hang-overs IS a myth. In my all-to-voluminous experience it simply doesn't matter. What matters is quantity of ethanol above all else (with the additional factor of drinking ultra low quality). The reason I think people believe this is in the nature of the saying "Beer before liquor, never been sicker. Liquor before beer, in the clear". Why? You are still mixing.

                In my (highly researched) opinion, if you start out drinking beer you get a little tipsy and when you start in with the hard stuff you drink much, much more than you intended since liquor comes in little, quick to devour packages and you are already de-sensitized a bit to it and your judgment is slightly impaired. On the other hand if you start with liquor and switch to beer - you can't drink enough to get hung-over. Beer comes in slow to consume big packages and by the time you get through a beer or two (after a few high balls) you really feel the affects of the liquor and slowly drink beer the rest of the night.

                In other words, if you have three beers and then start with tequila you are much, much more likely to have 7 or 8 shots. But if you start with 3 shots of tequila you are unlikely to have 7 or 8 beers.

                And, to get back on topic. I am surprised this hasn't come up, but for mixed drinks try Smirnoff. It is cheap (about $12 a liter in SoCal) and has a good clean flavor. Of course your own palate rules above all else, but if you are sceptical, Smirnoff did win a blind tasting (NYTimes) over most popular high-end brands.

                1. re: rotochicken

                  Well the mixing concept is my own from experience. I agree that the order (ie. beer before liquor) doesn't matter. But I have found on numerous occassions that if I drink a fair amount of good scotch I am not in bad shape the next day but if I start with wine and then switch to scotch and just have one dram I am feeling it more the next day. So I always felt that switching between fermented and distilled (in any order) affected me more.

                  1. re: rotochicken

                    I agree with the smirnoff for mixers. Since the vodka is obscured by the mixer(unless it is true bottom of the barrel stuff) you really cant taste the difference.

                    In my well researched opinion I also really think it is the ammount of alcohol consumed combined with ammount of h2o consumed before during and after which leads to the hangover. The order, type or quality has always been irrelevant. The above reason why the myth exists seems to make sense to me, however the beer i usually drink is high enough in alcohol content to give me a bad hangover

                2. re: MVNYC

                  That's really what I'm getting at - I understand that conceptually, Vodka "has no taste" - but I sure notice a difference between Gray Goose, Absolut etc. - what is the "taste" difference, if it's supposed to be "tasteless".

                  1. re: MMRuth

                    If you have three ounces of orange juice, and one ounce of vodka, you probably wont taste a difference. If the number is 1 to 1, you probably will.

              2. I've had this dilemma, but I side on using the better ingredients for several reasons. 1 - it does make a taste difference, even if slight. 2 - you'll have the good stuff around for other drinks or on the rocks or up 3 - if your friends care about quality then it shows you care as well.

                I've A/B tested a margarita (5 parts lime juice, 3 parts tequila, 1 part triple sec / cointreau) using standard Jose Cuervo gold and with 100% agave silver. The 100% silver had an overall brighter, fresher taste to the drink.

                We make sidecars using "Balsac" cognac, and it's truly a taste treat.

                1. If you care about flavor, use a quality of spirit that is equivalent to the quality of mixer you will use. Don't waste high quality spirits on low quality mixers, and high quality mixers deserve high quality spirits. You deserve both high quality spirits and high quality mixers and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

                  The quality of ingredients really does make a difference in the flavor. It is as true for mixed drinks as it is for food.

                  Now if all you're interested in is getting drunk....