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Feb 19, 2012 01:50 PM

How To Spend Money Wisely

Hello Chowhounders, this is my first post and I've got a question or two (so bear with me):

First off, I'd like to express my gratitude toward EvergreenDan, JMF, davis_sq_pro, et al. for your contributions. I've frequently consulted the Chowhound Spirits board and your collective wealth of knowledge. Although not technically a question before, it is now: Thank you?

Secondly, does anyone know the best regional liquor stores for the Chicagoland area? I gravitate toward Binny's, but are there any other/better* stores around?
(better=wider/different selection [Peychaud's?], competitive prices)

And I guess lastly, what are your favorite bottles (that are relatively common and under $100)? Mine would be a Talisker Distiller's Edition and Sazerac 6 y.o., along with most gins.

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  1. From a guy on a budget, these are my most imbibed "house' spirits, all fantastic buys and great quality, with the prices I typcally see them at in the Boston area:

    Rye: Ritttenhouse 100 ($24)

    Bourbon: Old Weller Antique 107 ($23)

    London Dry Gin: Beefeater ($32 for 1.75L)

    There are other decent gins in the Beefeater price range, but I'd really recommend checking out the other two, which I think are underpriced relative to their competition and intrinsic worth.

    2 Replies
    1. re: tomjb27

      I've never heard of the Old Weller. What would you compare it to?

      Beefeater and Rittenhouse are both great. Beefeater is the exemplar of 'gin', and cheaper than it's well-marketed brethren (Tanqueray and Bombay). Rittenhouse, however, seems to be relatively on par with it's class, in terms of price. Although I really need to expand my rye section before I can safely pass that judgment.

      1. re: alphanumeric

        Old Weller is a wheated bourbon, like Makers Mark. I personally prefer it to Makers as well, which works out well for me, since it's cheaper.

        I picked up a bottle of Bulliet bourbon in CT for $23 this weekend. At my local store it's going for closer to $30, so I was happy to give it a try. A good bourbon with a spicy rye component. I would also throw Wild Turkey 101 bourbon and rye into the discussion for good values.

    2. Here's an excellent link to the five best according to Chicago Magazine (and I really like Vas Foremost) ....

      For under $20 [750ml], I find Bombay Original and Boodles to be my everyday London dry gin. Further, if you want something tied into the history of Chicago during prohibition and is not nationally distributed [only available in Iowa, Chicago, SF, and NYC], try Templeton Rye ($30's 750ml) ...

      2 Replies
      1. re: hawkeyeui93

        Thank you for the article. I had forgotten to mention my local Armanetti's as a suitable competitor to Binny's. Are the specific store locations mentioned better than any of the other locations? Also, would you happen to know of any similar articles focused on liquors? I'm not much of a beer guy myself.

        I plan on getting a bottle of Boodles just for kicks eventually, but Beefeater's and Gordon's currently have the 'everyday gin' category pretty well under control. I had looked at Templeton, but I was on the fence because I had read an article (possibly this one- that turned me off of them. I'll probably buy it if I can find it for $30 or less but I do prefer it when there's a bit more transparency in the marketing.

        1. re: alphanumeric

          It is unfortunate that Mr. Bush was less than transparent about where it is being distilled at present because it is otherwise an excellent rye at its price point ....

      2. Thank you so much. I really appreciate the thanks. I too have learned a lot from other contributors, and quite a few of the recipes in Kindred Cocktails came from -- or were inspired by -- other contributors here.

        If you enjoy Talkiser, you would also probably like Lagavulin. Another favorite mine is Michel Couvreur, similar in style. I see it around Boston from time-to-time, but it may be hard to find elsewhere.

        -- | Craft + Collect + Concoct + Categorize + Community

        13 Replies
        1. re: EvergreenDan

          Caol Ila is probably more similar to Talisker, a lot milder in the peat and smoke than Lagavulin but still enough to let you know in no uncertain terms it is an Islay.

          1. re: EvergreenDan

            I had never heard of Michel Couvreur. That's an impressively involved Scotch-making process.

            Thank you for showing me Kindred Cocktails! I just read the front-page article and I already feel like a better bartender. It's great to get a little (or a lot of) science into your cocktail-making. I aim for balance, but it's difficult without understanding the way ingredients and flavors harmonize.

            1. re: alphanumeric

              You're very welcome. Can I quote you? ;)

              Yes, interesting making Scotch in France. I really enjoy Michel Couvreur's entry-level expression. It is bolder and smokier than the "Single Pale". It is difficult to open, though, because it's sealed with a phenolic-like brittle seal, which is hard to remove, makes crumbs that tend to end up in the bottle, and smells. Time to saber a bottle of Scotch?

              1. re: EvergreenDan


                Thinking about this topic is a fun game to play... here's what I like:

                Vodka - Monopolowa

                Gin (Genever) - Bols regular
                Gin (London Dry) - Broker's/Tanq/Beefeater
                Gin (Old Tom) - Hayman's
                Gin (Exotic) - Hendricks, Plymouth (+ their sloe gin)
                Gin (New West) - St. George Terroir

                Rum (English) - El Dorado 5/12/15, Mount Gay XO
                Rum (Overproof) - Lemon Hart 151
                Rum (Spanish) - Havana Club (if it's not illegal)/Flor de Cana 7/12, old (entirely wicker wrapped bottle, NOT Diageo import) Zacapa 23
                Rum (French) - La Favorite Blanc, Clement VSOP, Neisson Eleve Sous Bois, Barbancourt *****
                Rum (Exotic) - Smith & Cross, Batavia Arrack van Oosten

                Scotch (Highland) - Oban
                Scotch (Speyside) - MacAllan Cask Strength (red box)
                Scotch (Islay) - Lagavulin 16
                Scotch (Islands) Highland Park 12/15/18

                Irish - Redbreast 12

                Bourbon - Buffalo Trace, Pappy 12/15, Willett

                Rye - Rittenhouse 100, Bulleit, Pappy, Willett

                Brandy/Cognac - Pierre Ferrand 10/20/1840, Germain Robin, Louis Royer Force 53 (may be hard to find)

                Calvados - Familie Dupont

                Tequila/Mezcal - Siete Leguas, Tequila Ocho, Siembra Azul (any age), and Del Maguey, but esp. Minero and Chichicapa



                1. re: ZacharyK


                  Not sure what you mean by "exotic" rum but Smith + Cross is a Jamaican style rum, like Appleton and Pusser's. Scarlet Ibis is an amazing rum at about the same price point (~$30), have you had it?

                  Have you had Los Danzantes/Nahuales Repo mezcal? I have a bottle I haven't opened yet, supposed to be heavenly, I am still cutting my teeth on my Sombra / Vida / Fidencio bottles.

                  I have read on that there is a lot of inconsistency in Ocho from year to year, given the price level.

                  1. re: ncyankee101

                    By exotic, I think he's referring to flavor. rather than origin. In terms of flavor, I think Smith & Cross has more in common with Van Oosten than it does with Appleton's or even Pusser's.

                    Bitter Mai Tai's routinely deplete my supply of good orgeat and Smith & Cross.

                    ZacharyK -- thanks for reminding me. I've been in a Scotch rut. I need to get another bottle of Oban and maybe Talisker. I've enjoyed them in the past. You have some bottles on your list that I've been wanting to find around Boston.
           | Craft + Collect + Concoct + Categorize + Community

                    1. re: EvergreenDan


                      What Dan said about Smith & Cross - it goes into its own category, and I think it's one of the essential rums available today. I like Appleton, but if I'm drinking Jamaican rum, I want the ester bomb style, and Appleton doesn't quite do it. As for the other brand you mentioned, I don't support brands who sue people frivolously for trademark infringement. I've had Scarlet Ibis, and it's very nice.

                      As for the Danzantes Repo, I think it's good. My preference is for unaged Tequila/Mezcal - if I wanted Bourbon, I'd drink Bourbon. And as for inconsistency, it's the price you pay for a handmade, small production spirit, and I'd much rather that than soulless, boring junk - there's enough of that out there in the world.



                      1. re: ZacharyK


                        I agree with you about unaged Tequila, when I am in the mood for agave I prefer it in its purest form, my favorite sippers are blancos like Casa Noble Crystal, Siete Leguas, Fortaleza and Cuervo platino.

                        I've never had van Oosten, though it does sound interesting. The rum I have had that tastes closest to Smith and Cross is Sea Wynde, but it is much pricier at $40 and getting harder to find, and has an odd phenolic burnt rubber aftertaste I find unpleasant.

                        As far as Pusser's - I have read up extensively and participated in several discussions on that subject, I would hardly call the suit frivolous, they gave the bar in question several chances over the course of a year to work out the matter and were ignored so had no choice but to pursue their copyright or it would have been rendered obsolete. IMO the bar got priceless publicity from the whole matter. In any event I love the rum and don't care about the lawsuit enough to boycott it. (I admit I did find it ironic that at one point Pusser's site had a video showing the founder making a Dark and Stormy with Pusser's.)

                        1. re: ncyankee101


                          Without rehashing the entire Painkiller (TM) vs. Pusser's debate, I don't think you can argue dilution of trademark when it's a bar versus a drink name, no more than Apple can sue growers of the fruit trees for dilution.

                          And think what would happen if everyone decided to take their marbles and go home - you could seriously argue that Martini & Rossi holds trademark rights on the Martini cocktail. It's counter to the crowdsourcing traditions of cocktail making that stretches back to Jerry Thomas, and I personally have no desire to support those with such a negative attitude, especially when there's so much good rum out there.



                      2. re: EvergreenDan

                        Hey Dan,

                        I hung out with some Scotch nuts this past weekend and they said that hands down the best selection and prices on Scotch in the Boston area are at Macy's Liquors (1826 Centre Street, West Roxbury) and Gary's Liquors (655 VFW Pkwy, Chestnut Hill).

                        Apparently they also have prices listed online (specials only for Gary's):

                        1. re: EvergreenDan

                          Dan: I believe I saw all of them at Federal Wine and Spirits downtown, and most at Brookline Liquor Mart (which has a pretty good Scotch selection).

                          (I, too, echo the kind comments from before. Yours and [what has mainly become] Fred's websites are must reads.)

                          Speaking of Scotch: any recommendations for an economy Islay with a lot of peat/iodine flavor? I'd like to recreate Sam Ross's penicillin, but I typically don't buy Laphraoig and didn't want to just for a single cocktail.

                          1. re: joshv02

                            Thanks both for the scotch tips. I think Bowmore Legend is economical and quite good for the money. It's around $30. It has plenty of smoke to mix with, and I'd happily sip a glass neat.

                            1. re: joshv02


                              I've heard good things about Black Bottle which is a mix of Islays and looks to be pretty inexpensive. Not sure where you can find it around here, though.

                2. I like Russel's Rye quite a bit. I think it is like $34.95 in St. Louis.

                  1. A few good bargains that I use a lot that are all below $20 a bottle around here.

                    Elijah Craig 12
                    Buffalo Trace
                    Old Weller
                    Evan Williams Single Barrel
                    Cruzan Aged White Rum

                    Also, as far as cheaper Scotches go, JW Black is a delicious blend. For around $33 a bottle around these parts, Glenmorangie is a wonderful sweet sipping single malt Scotch. Highland Park 12, as well as a number of Balvenie products, are frequently on sale for around $35 a bottle. Cazadores Reposado is also a pretty tasty tequila that goes for around $22 in Montgomery County, Maryland.

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: The Big Crunch

                      I wish I could find EWSB for $20, cheapest I have seen it online is $24 and around here it is $28.

                      Do you know offhand of any retailers in your area that ship out of state?

                      I would second all your recos other than Glenmorangie, I had a bottle of the original and didn't like it much, thought it was too sweet and the finish was a little sour The lasanta is great though, and I am picking up a bottle of the Quinta Rubin in an order I am working on now.

                      1. re: ncyankee101

                        Alas, Maryland does not allow shipment of liquor into, or out of, the state.

                        It's possible you got an off bottle, or you may just not like the finish. Glenmorangie was the scotch that finally got me interested in scotch, though the last time I had a bottle was over Christmas vacation. Tastes can be pretty subjective. I know a lot of folks (including Ralfy) sing the praises of Old Pulteney, but I've always thought the finish was overly astringent, at least based on the bottle I have. I have a small sample bottle of the Lasanta at home that I haven't drank yet. The same sample pack also had a single serve bottle of the Quinta Rubin and I'll heartily agree with you that it was terrific and made me wish I'd had a full bottle on hand to pour another dram or three.

                        1. re: The Big Crunch

                          I haven't had the Quinta Rubin yet, but I did like Lasanta, I thought it was a much better sherry-forward Scotch than Macallan 12 year. Same goes for Balvenie doublewood. I find Macallan 12 to be a little overrated.

                          I doubt I had an off bottle, I just prefer Scotches that are a little more flavorful, opinions seem to be split on the Glenmorangie Original. . I also did not like the lowland Auchentoshan classic, which many people like. I found the same flavors I didn't like in the Glenmo. Never had Old Pulteney, though the reviews I have seen of that one have been mixed.

                          1. re: ncyankee101

                            Here are my notes on the Quinta Rubin. As you can see, I was really quite taken by it :)

                            Appearance – Noticeably darker than standard Glenmorangie 10. Much closer to light bourbon or a dark rum. Light ruddy amber. Legs are thick and clinging when giving it a swirl and hold for a while.

                            Nose – Yep…you can smell the port. This is a very rich and sweet nose, with a lot of fruit. I’m picking up hints of banana and apple with subtle coconut as well as floral honey. No smoke, hard to smell any malt or wood, but if you concentrate you can pick up a slight hint of peat. Also noticing almond…or the smell I get from almond extract. It’s got a heady aroma but is in no way painfully over-powering to the nose – I can stick my nose right down into the glencairn, inhale, and not feel overwhelmed or nasally pummeled. A bit of water really brings out the port in a major way.

                            Taste – Very smooth and very sweet. Quite easy on the mouth – at 92 proof it really doesn’t need any water. Knowing the relationship this Scotch has to port, I can taste it if I try, but it’s not something that I think I would immediately pick out. Instead, there is almost a mead-like quality at first. Like the nose there is really very little in the way of smoke, peat, or wood. Flavors of cognac and apple…sweet, cooked apple, not a tart Granny Smith. Hints of cherry and perhaps vanilla as well. Maple syrup comes right after the swallow. Just a tiny amount of water tames this so much that it almost tastes like a liqueur rather than a 92 proof whiskey.

                            Finish – Actually, the wood comes out a bit in the finish with mild tannins, and the tastes linger for a while producing a respectably long finish.

                            Mouthfeel – Slightly viscous and a bit oily.

                            Overall – Delicious. This might be the perfect after dinner Scotch if you want something on the sweet end that is also complex and would be acceptable to the non-Scotch drinker. Highly recommended.

                            The original Glenmorangie is a fairly light scotch, so if you're expecting a big dose of flavor, it's not going to be very impressive. I do think it's a really good entryway to scotch; hell, I'm living proof of that :) It's not very deep, but it's an easy sipper with some good qualities. I've never bothered with Macallan because I just read so many people saying it's overrated. Ralfy's review turned into a bit of a diatribe about how the distillery has let quality slip for quite a while even as their marketing has grown more successful and sales have grown consistently higher. I suppose someday I should order a glass at a bar just to try the stuff since it's so ubiquitous. I do, however, like the Doublewood. Actually, I've enjoyed everything I've had by Balvenie.

                            1. re: The Big Crunch

                              Macallan isn't bad it's just nothing special, a very straightforward sherried Scotch .I've had it several times in a bar, in generous "double" pours that were probably 4-5 ounces. I have nearly bought a bottle online a couple times at around $40 ($55 here in NC) but just always settle on something else, usually the doublewood which I find similar but a little more interesting and complex.

                              I have also had minis of the Balvenie 15 yr and 21 yr, both were excellent. I see the 15 yr is creeping up in price, I got a bottle for a friend last year for $50 at merwin's and now it is $70 there, and over $60 everywhere else I see. Same for the doublewood, not long ago I often saw it in the mid-high 30's now mid-40's seems to be the lowest.

                              I went through a whole 750 of Glenmorangie original, and I kept trying to like it, I just didn't. Same for the Auchentoshan. I like the strong taste of Islays but there are several milder Scotches I do like - Aberfeldy, Glen Garioch, Glenlivet, Lismore.