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Recommended brands


EvergreenDan
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I often read a spirit recommendation, but later can't find the reference when I want to go to the store. So I set about re-reading threads and trusted blog posts, and combining them with my opinions into a quick reference for recommended brands for spirits.

I would very much welcome any feedback from fellow eG'ers. I realize that there can be no consensus on something like this, particularly above the budget level. Still, some reference is better than nothing for someone starting to build their bar. For many folks, it can take a looong time to drink up a mistaken purchase. I know I have a few of those bottles....

Recommended brands on Kindred Cocktails

I am also working on a survey of Amari and will start a survey of herbal liqueurs. These areas are so bewildering that I think some tasting notes and recommendations would be really useful to many folks. The Amari survey link is at the bottom of the Recommended brands page.

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Interesting and very useful.

I'm a little confused by how your defining "Budget" and "Everyday. Why, for example, is Beefeater consider "Budget" while Tanquery is "Everyday." I don't notice much of price difference between them.

Todd A. Price aka "TAPrice"

Homepage and writings; A Frolic of My Own (personal blog)

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Good point. After looking at BevMo prices, I moved all but Gordon's out of the Budget category.

I intended Budget to be the cheapest option consistent with craft cocktails.

In intended Everyday to be a step up for those that can afford it.

And premium I intended to be a better option for neat/straight use, or top-shelf cocktails, or special occasions.

The categories are fuzzy, though.

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Seems like an awkward delineation. If the goal is to include only cocktail-appropriate brands then most of the entry level stuff is going to be about the same price with a few detours for categories like rum and American Whiskey. I would think most categories aren't going to have a "budget" brand that you really want to drink regularly...Why the placement of a lot of blended Scotch at the $20ish price point as 'budget' but Bowmore Legend is 'everyday' and less than $5 more? The incremental price gaps are sort of all over the place, gin in particular is puzzling.

A more useful approach to the novice might be to just list recommended brands in approximate order of price without trying to break them down into arbitrary categories. Even better would be if each spirit brand was a link to a brief explanation of why that brand is recommended, and for what applications. Of course even that is arbitrary to some extent but maybe a better starting point.

Might also be useful to list brands that are not as useful for cocktail application. Again, very abritrary. Personally I'd be listing Bombay Sapphire and Bulleit there, though I'd face a lot of disagreement on this very board. The task you've set for yourself is considerable.

ETA: the (unique) tag seems to be rather haphazardly applied as well...Goslings and Myers's are no more unique than Tanqueray and Beefeaters. Which is not to say that they aren't, but rather that all the good brands are. If the spirit isn't unique on some level, why list it at all?

Edited by thirtyoneknots (log)

Andy Arrington

Journeyman Drinksmith

Twitter--@LoneStarBarman

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<p>Here are EvergreenDan's tables as they stand right now (posted with permission):</p><br/>

<table class="ipb_table">

<tr class='header'><th>Product</th><th>Budget</th><th>Everyday</th><th>Premium</th></tr>

<tbody>

<tr class='row1'><td><b>Absinthe</b></td><td>Herbsaint (not true absinthe)</td><td>Lucid</td><td> </td></tr>

<tr class='row2'><td><b>Aquavit</b></td><td> </td><td>Linie</td><td> </td></tr>

<tr class='row1'>

<td><b>Bourbon</b></td>

<td>Elijah Craig, Jim Beam, Ezra Brooks</td>

<td>Buffalo Trace, Evan Williams Single Barrel, Woodford Reserve, Knob Creek, Bulleit (heavy rye), Maker's Mark

</td>

<td>George T. Stagg</td>

</tr>

<tr class='row2'><td><b>Cachaca</b></td><td>Cachaca 51, Mae de Ouro</td><td> </td><td>Leblon</td></tr>

<tr class='row1'>

<td><b>Calvados</b></td>

<td>Le Compte, Morin Selection, Laird's Bonded (apple brandy)</td>

<td>Daron</td>

<td>Groult, Domaine L. Dupont</td>

</tr>

<tr class='row2'>

<td><b>Cognac</b></td>

<td>E&J XO (brandy), Camus VS, Landy VS</td>

<td> </td>

<td>Martell XO and Cordon Blue</td>

</tr>

<tr class='row1'>

<td><b>Gin, London Dry</b></td>

<td>Gordons</td>

<td>Beefeater, Tanqueray, Bombay, Bombay Sapphire, Martin Miller's</td>

<td>Hendrick's (unique)</td>

</tr>

<tr class='row2'><td><b>Gin, other</b></td><td> </td><td>Plymouth</td><td>Ransom Old Tom (unique)</td></tr>

<tr class='row1'><td><b>Irish Whiskey</b></td><td> </td><td>Clontarf black label</td><td>Redbreast</td></tr>

<tr class='row2'>

<td><b>Mezcal</b></td>

<td> </td>

<td>Del Maguey Vida, Sombra</td>

<td>Del Maguey (other), Illegal Mezcal</td>

</tr>

<tr class='row1'>

<td><b>Rum</b></td>

<td>Ron Abuelo Anejo, Gosling's Black Seal (unique), Ron del Barralito 3 star, Cruzan 2 year, Old Monk (unique), Meyers (unique), Cruzan Blackstrap (unique)

</td>

<td>Appleton, Barbancourt 5 star, Cruzan, Brugal Anejo</td>

<td>Flor de Cana, 10 Cane, Ron Zacapa Centenario (dark, sweet)</td>

</tr>

<tr class='row2'>

<td><b>Rye</b></td>

<td>Old Overholt</td>

<td>Wild Turkey, Rittenhouse 100, Sazerac 6 year,</td>

<td>Whistle Pig, Thomas Handy</td>

</tr>

<tr class='row1'>

<td><b>Scotch, blended</b></td>

<td>White Horse, William, Grant's, Teacher's, Famous Grouse, Ballentine's</td>

<td> </td>

<td> </td>

</tr>

<tr class='row2'>

<td><b>Scotch, Islay</b></td>

<td> </td>

<td>Bowmore Legend</td>

<td>Lagavulin 16, Talisker (Isle of Skye)</td>

</tr>

<tr class='row1'>

<td><b>Scotch, other single malt</b></td>

<td> </td>

<td>Glenfarclas 10 (Speyside), Auchentoshan Select (Lowland)</td>

<td>Oban, Highland Park 12</td>

</tr>

<tr class='row2'>

<td><b>Tequila</b></td>

<td>El Jimador, Lunazul, El Grito</td>

<td>Hornitos, Cazadores</td>

<td>Herradura</td>

</tr>

<tr class='row1'><td><b>Vodka</b></td><td>Smirnoff, Sobieski, Svedka, Pinnacle</td><td>Tito's</td><td> </td></tr>

</tbody>

</table>

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I like it. As was mentioned, the categories are necessarily a bit fuzzy and this is something that you'd never get 100% agreement on. Still, it's a very solid guide for those just starting to build up their bars. I particularly like the "unique" designation. That's both a sign that you're not looking at something that will work in every cocktail and a spur to get the reader to look up the drinks that go with that particular spirit.

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This thread is interesting to me for tangentially related reasons. My associates and I have recently begun double-blind tastings which we hope will become a weekly tradition. The results are pretty surprising, and often challenge a lot of what we think we know about spirits - not to mention calling into question the pricing of many products.

Many of those associates are coffee professionals and it was they who suggested a program of rigorous double-blind tasting; it is a cornerstone of the coffee world, I'm lead to understand. I am coming to believe that if opinions are not formed blind, they are essentially worthless. If you know what you're tasting, you always have bias. You might well be enjoying that particular bottle in the cabinet, but if you can't pick it out of a blind lineup........

It is my hope that double-blind tastings are a regular fixture at whatever bar I am at in the future.

Pip Hanson | Marvel Bar

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Pip, I would be keen to include your results (updating on an on-going basis).

I'd also like to include other specific feedback. (Additions, deletions, wrong category, etc.) Post 'em up and I'll get things updated.

I'm wondering if Rum should have a "dark" category as a separate line. And should I include some unique rums like Smith & Cross or Batavia Arrack "(not true rum)"?

And what about eau de vie? Should I include some of these?

Merry Christmas (to those who celebrate it)!

Edited by EvergreenDan (log)

Kindred Cocktails | Craft + Collect + Concoct + Categorize + Community

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I think the problem for me is that it divides by dollars and pretty much nothing else while being aimed at beginners. Beginners (I feel safe making this statement because I'm in the very early stages of my cocktail education) tend to think more dollars = better and, budget allowing, are going to grab from the "premium" category whenever possible. They don't want to think about having people look down their noses for having the "cheap" stuff. This is the very thing marketing thrives on and it creates items that are not always better (or even as good) but cost more and so rank further up the shelf.

It doesn't take long to discover that cost = better is not necessarily true. While better does often cost more, sometimes it doesn't. Just as a quick example, look in your budget category and find Laird's Bonded. Now spend some time browsing here and on most serious cocktal blogs and websites and discover what the experienced frequently tend to reach for when calvados is part of a recipe. I'm not saying that should move it up on your chart since it is a less expensive option, I'm just saying that many beginners will automatically write off what may be one of the best options because of where it resides on the chart. Unfortunately, I have no idea how to go about factoring real world quality into the divisions. Especially since that ventures into the "extremely subjective" territory.

It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

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I think the problem for me is that it divides by dollars and pretty much nothing else while being aimed at beginners. Beginners (I feel safe making this statement because I'm in the very early stages of my cocktail education) tend to think more dollars = better and, budget allowing, are going to grab from the "premium" category whenever possible. They don't want to think about having people look down their noses for having the "cheap" stuff. This is the very thing marketing thrives on and it creates items that are not always better (or even as good) but cost more and so rank further up the shelf.

It doesn't take long to discover that cost = better is not necessarily true. While better does often cost more, sometimes it doesn't. Just as a quick example, look in your budget category and find Laird's Bonded. Now spend some time browsing here and on most serious cocktal blogs and websites and discover what the experienced frequently tend to reach for when calvados is part of a recipe. I'm not saying that should move it up on your chart since it is a less expensive option, I'm just saying that many beginners will automatically write off what may be one of the best options because of where it resides on the chart. Unfortunately, I have no idea how to go about factoring real world quality into the divisions. Especially since that ventures into the "extremely subjective" territory.

It's simple. Lairds should be in the class of Applejack, not Calvados and more expensive reccomendations should only be made if they are strictly better than the cheaper alternatives. This takes care of both of your objections (punting the discussion of what "strictly better" means).

PS: I am a guy.

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Lairds should be in the class of Applejack, not Calvados ...

I combined them because the two products fulfill the same role in cocktails, differing only in origin/AOC and perhaps quality. I'm not a huge fan of Laird's Applejack, particularly for a beginner with few bottles, when Laird's apple brandy is available (which sometimes it isn't). It isn't that much more and, being 100% apple brandy, it has much more apple flavor. Similarly, I tried to avoid mixto tequilas.

I haven't had the Clear Creek Apple Brandy, but at under $30, I'm guessing it's worthy, too.

Of course, I don't claim to be an apple brandy/calvados expert and I'm looking for guidance from experts here, and everywhere.

and more expensive reccomendations should only be made if they are strictly better than the cheaper alternatives.

Yes. The purpose of the table is to recommend products that are good values (by definition cheaper than alternatives of the same quality).

That said, there may be a few exceptional products that should be highlighted with a * or "(great value)" or something. Laird's brandy may be one of these, not sure.

Kindred Cocktails | Craft + Collect + Concoct + Categorize + Community

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I'm wondering if Rum should have a "dark" category as a separate line. And should I include some unique rums like Smith & Cross or Batavia Arrack "(not true rum)"?

Nice list! I'd definitely like to see rum split up into more categories.

Tammy's Tastings

Creating unique food and drink experiences

eGullet Foodblogs #1 and #2
Dinner for 40

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I'm wondering if Rum should have a "dark" category as a separate line. And should I include some unique rums like Smith & Cross or Batavia Arrack "(not true rum)"?

Nice list! I'd definitely like to see rum split up into more categories.

Second. Rum is so complex and diverse a category that it requires similar treatment to the way whisk(e)y is being handled to really do it justice. Too many drink recipes call for rum only by color while ignoring the tremendous variation in styles that are independent of that aspect. I'm sure I've been guilty of this myself. Dr. Wondrich, as in so many areas, has shown us the way since at least Killer Cocktails.

Andy Arrington

Journeyman Drinksmith

Twitter--@LoneStarBarman

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Good idea on the rum. I'm not sure how to split it, though. For discussion's sake, maybe you can improve on (or comment on) this:

Rum (light)

Economy: Cruzan 2 year

Everyday: Apppleton white

Premium:

Rum (amber)

Economy: Ron del Barralito 3, Ron Abuelo Anejo, Goslings Black seal

Everyday: Appleton V/X, Barbancourt 5 star, Brugal Anejo

Special: Flor de Cana, 10 Cane

Rum (dark/special)

Economy: Old Monk, Meyers, Cruzan Blackstrap

Everyday:

Premium: Ron Zacapa Centenario (dark, sweet), Smith & Cross, Batavia Arrack Von Oosten (not true rum)

(I split it by color/age, rather than region or style. I'm not sure that a table like this is up to the job of indicating the different styles and flavors, though.)

Edited by EvergreenDan (log)

Kindred Cocktails | Craft + Collect + Concoct + Categorize + Community

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To me a review system that simply uses the presence/absence of a brand on a list to denote recommended/not is problematic for reasons already mentioned above. It also fails to justify the reviewer's opinion with a reasoned defense that can be analyzed and evaluated by readers.

Such a system also lacks context; bartenders reach for different gins for different drinks and that is not reflected here.

Numerical or star ratings are obviously flawed for their own reasons, but I find them a little more constructive than a simple binary yes/no, present/absent system, provided the reviewer defends their position or explains in some way what justified the rating.

Even "inferior" products are worth discussing if only to illustrate the ways in which they fall short when compared with "superior" products. To simply ignore them does not seem to make for a reasoned system of spirits critique.

A written appraisal of a spirit (with or without a star/number rating), followed by an open forum for members to discuss and share their own views, would be useful. To simply list recommended brands without providing any reasoning will amount to a buying guide for newbies and not much more. Which is fine if that's what you're looking to make. I think a lot of people on this board will be looking for something they can sink their teeth into a little deeper.

Pip Hanson | Marvel Bar

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I agree with much of Kohai's sentiment. Dan, perhaps I didn't articulate well what I meant, but in my opinion the problematic nature of the way most writers and recipes classify rum is precisely due to the fact that they do it the way you did, instead of paying attention to the details of individual character. Flor de Cana 4 yr gold, Mt Gay Eclipse, St. James Ambre, and Smith & Cross are all about the same color. These are extremely poor if not outright inappropriate substitutions for each other.

Andy Arrington

Journeyman Drinksmith

Twitter--@LoneStarBarman

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I think there is room for -- and need for -- critical reviews and recommendation lists / star ratings. I think they serve different needs and audiences.

For an enthusiast with a deep knowledge in an area, critical reviews are necessary to explain in detail the item(s) being reviewed, how the review was conducted, what the result are, and what conclusions may be drawn. This is a labor intensive to perform and time consuming to read and evaluation. I think most eGullet readers would appreciate this type of review.

For a person without a great deal of experience in an area, and a desire to quickly arrive at a purchase decision that isn't a dog (may not be perfect, but at least isn't a mistake), I think summary recommendation lists are very useful. If the list can provide some further guidance, that's great.

It was my intention to create a "quick reference" guide for those who would be otherwise clueless (or at least unsure) about what to buy. If this could be augmented with a simple star system, that's even better. And I think a few footnotes would be a good idea (for example to note that Smith & Cross is not a typical rum, maybe a few words about what it is like, and maybe a few words about how you might use it).

On the other hand, I don't think that Tanqueray versus Beefeater requires as much explanation. If it were available, great. But for most people both are good choices for a London dry.

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