Stock Your Bar With Value: Ten Award-Winning Bottles of Booze for Under $30

Categories: Booze

The Double Gold takes the risk out of buying low-priced tequila.

5. Lunazul Tequila

This 2012 Double Gold winner is the only bottle I saw that actually had a Gold Medal on the label. A bold move, but one you'd expect for a bottle of tequila that only costs $15 at Spec's. There's no reason to fear all cheap tequila these days -- I can make a surprisingly good cheap margarita with Houston's own Agavales tequila, which is $12 per bottle. Lunazul won a Double Gold in 2012 -- not in a Cheap Tequila category, but rather the Silver Tequila category, and it was tasted straight, not in a margarita.

4. Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum

If you like your rum spiced, Sailor Jerry won the Double Gold this year in the Flavored Rum category. It's about $20 at Tony K's.

3. Eagle Rare Kentucky Straight Bourbon

I'd never heard of this bourbon before spotting it at Tony K's, but it has won five Gold medals in San Francisco. Chris Carlsson of Spirits Review declared, "Only brain-damaged frat boys or fashion victims would consider buying anything else in its $20-$30 price range." I'm related to frat boys -- none of them brain-damaged as far as I can tell -- and I'll be serving them Eagle Rare when they visit.

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Good stuff John, and good commentary Wade. Tito's has never impressed me much as other stuff, and these Gold Medals can really be a bunch of hype, and pay for play. Interesting note about GNS!


Tito's – meh... Monopolova is a great value and "tastes" a lot better that most premium vodkas

Wade Woodard
Wade Woodard

I'm primarily a bourbon guy an Weller 12 and Eagle Rare are both great choices for under $30.  If someone wants a 3rd bourbon selection, I'd add Four Roses Small Batch which sales for about $27.  

IMHO, Spirit competitions are nothing but pay for play advertising.  The largest of the bunch is the San Francisco World Spirits Competition.  The last 'award' list from them was 38 pages long and had more winners than products competing (some products entered in multiple categories).  At $475 per spirit entered, it's big business.  Plus the distillers supply the bottles to be judged; do you trust all involved not to turn in hand selected honey barrel bottles?

Tito's is still bragging in commercials about an award they 'won' back in 2001 at the San Francisco Spirits Competition. He fails to mention that 2 other Vodkas also 'won' double gold at same award show and another Vodka was named best.  Has anybody been to Tito's and seen his fermenting tanks?  If you are not fermenting your product, exactly how does one have anything to distill?


@Wade Woodard You're right, there is a pay-to-play aspect, and the list of gold winners is indeed getting larger every year. That's why I stuck with the Double Gold, which has proven to be a reliable measure of quality.

Personally, I find low-priced Sobieski to be the best for most vodka cocktails, but when vodka is prominent in a drink, such as a vodka collins or vodka & tonic, the taste of Tito's does shine through, probably because the corn base makes it slightly sweeter and smoother.  Like I said, it wins most of the taste tests from other sources, especially when tasted neat.

Wade Woodard
Wade Woodard

@JohnKiely Nothing wrong with the taste of Tito's as far as Vodkas goes and it's fairly inexpensive.  

I'll let you in on the industry's dirty little secret.  Many Vodkas are nothing more than brands that buy bulk GNS (grain neutral spirit distilled to 190 proof) cut it to 80 proof with water (and can also add a small % of sugar and citric acid). and bottle it in their brand. 

U.S. Department of the Treasury's Tax and Trade Bureau, TTB defines vodka as a neutral spirit made from any material, distilled above 95% ABV (190 proof), then treated after distillation with charcoal or other materials, as to be without distinctive character, aroma, taste, or color.

There are several very large companies that produce bulk GNS, such as Archer Daniels Midland and MGP Ingredients.  They ferment then distill in very large column still and each column has multiple plates.  Each plate is considered a distillation  so the product they sell could easily be called distilled 100 times.   If you have DSP (federal license to produce spirits) you can buy in bulk, 55 gallon drums to tanker trucks, from these producers.

The basic process of making spirits is mash the grain, ferment it, then distilling.  I believe a true craft distiller should control all 3 of these steps.  Hence why I ask the question has anybody seen the fermenting tanks at Tito's?


@Wade Woodard Thanks for the inside stuff.  What's amazing, and kind of sad, is how long the aisle has become in liquor stores for a spirit that's "without distinctive character, aroma, taste, or color."

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