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

Categories: Booze

Victor Bouvier reveals that the French can make gin as well as the British.

2. Citadelle Gin

Citadelle is also easy to overlook, as it's a London Dry gin made in France, but when I walked into Spec's, Victor Bouvier from Cognac Ferrand (the maker of Citadelle) poured me a sample. It deserves the 2012 Double Gold, as Citadelle is the only gin I would drink on the rocks. The $22 gin mixes well in a Chicago South Side, and also a New York Southside.

Pour 2 ounces of Citadelle with 3 ounces of Fever-Tree Tonic over ice, with a wedge of lemon (yes, I said lemon), and you'll have a lighter and spicier alternative to Tanqueray for a superb gin and tonic.

1. Tito's Handmade Vodka

Tito Beveridge of Austin won the Double Gold way back in 2001, but he hasn't been resting on his laurels. Rather, he's been busy distilling larger amounts of this increasingly popular vodka. Sure, the bottle isn't sexy -- it looks like something to be swigged from while sitting with a blond in a cowgirl hat on the tailgate of a Ford F-150 in the scenic parking lot of Salt Lick Barbecue in Dripping Springs. Doesn't matter, because Tito's wins out on taste, beating all other vodkas in just about every test I've seen, held or read about.

Yes, Tito's is the best vodka in the world.

The odd design works both ways, though, as it stands out from the fancier liquor around it, and no bar is complete without a bottle of Tito's. $18 Tony K's

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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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