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I remember when my friends and I first turned 21, we’d go to the liquor stores and fund our newfound legal privilege with the cheapest bottles of alcohol we could find. We would proudly come back home with tons of bottles in hand, supplying our weekend evenings with tons of booze, and it was great – minus the disgusting taste and gnarly hangovers we experienced the next morning.
We would grab bottles of Skyy Vodka, Jose Cuervo, Jack Daniels, and whatever names we were familiar with, and got bottles of Smirnoff Ice as chasers. Needless to say, we took terrible shots and mixed everything with either Coke or Sprite.
When I now go to parties filled with younger people, I always gag when I’m coerced by new drinkers to take shots of Absolut with them. Now that I’m much older, socializing over food and drink or going to bars and clubs has led me to better taste. I’ve also traded Coke and Sprite for more interesting ingredients like bitters and muddled cucumbers.
Of course, we know the better quality and popular alcohols are probably well-known brands like Grey Goose, Don Julio, Hennessey. And we’ve probably thrown enough parties to know it can be pricey to get top-shelf liquors for more than a few people. That’s why I’ve curated a few quality clear liquors at affordable prices!
Keep reading below to see my top picks, and stay tuned – I’ll be rolling out some more blogs featuring other liquors and drinks as well!
I never understood why people are so crazy about Grey Goose. Ever since I was introduced to Tito’s Vodka, I fell in love with vodka, mostly because anything before Tito’s gave me an intense hangover or was too expensive if it didn’t.
Tito’s Vodka is distilled an impressive five times, so it has fewer impurities that lead to hangovers. At $18.99 for a 750ml bottle, I was really impressed to say it was a vodka that didn’t murder my head the next morning.
However, when I went to Total Wine and tried Tower Vodka at their taste-testing booth, I found a new favorite. Tower Vodka is distilled six times, once more than Tito’s, and smells almost like nothing. A shot goes down with hardly any burn (it is still alcohol, but the burn is so slight you won’t need a chaser). And at $14.99 for 750ml, I took a bottle home right away.
Vodka Mixed Drink: Moscow Mule
- Tower Vodka (1 1/2 oz.)
- Ginger beer (1/2 cup)
- Lime Juice (1/2 oz.)
- Sliced Limes to garnish
The Moscow Mule was the first drink I ever bought myself at a club when I turned 21. I asked the bartender to make me something, and he came up with this. Although I didn’t have the full experience with the copper cup, the Mule was a great drink that was a bit spicy and not too sweet. For those who prefer to stay away from sweet drinks, this drink is for you! The Mule only requires 3 ingredients which makes for an affordable and easy-to-make cocktail, but there are plenty of other variations that can play it up for a fancier evening.
I dressed my Moscow Mules up in the image above with these adorable copper mugs from Amazon. There’s something about copper mugs that just make the Mule taste better – they’re also great for keeping your drink cold!
As much as I love Don Julio and tequila in general, I just can’t drink expensive tequila all the time. After a long day, I usually mix up a Tequila Sunrise and call it a day. Hornitos Reposado is leagues better than Jose Cuervo, and is a good mid-shelf liquor that’s probably the best one I’ve used for mixing. You can still take a shot or sip on it, though, so it is very versatile. Hornitos Reposado is my affordable go-to at the bars since it is widely available as well.
Tequila Mixed Drink: Tequila Sunrise
- Hornitos Reposado Tequila (1 1/2 oz.)
- Orange Juice (3 oz.)
- Grenadine (1/2 oz.)
The Tequila Sunrise is a nice sweet drink for those who enjoy simple citrus flavors. You can amp up the sweetness and hide the alcohol taste by adding more grenadine. The best ones I’ve made were using Simply Orange Juice because the flavor is less watered-down than Tropicana (just my opinion) – although I have seen people even use Tampico for this drink!
To be honest, I can be that girl who sometimes watches their calories. And having a Gin and Tonic with Bombay Sapphire is probably a good low-carb/low-calorie way to enjoy a night out. Bombay alone tastes almost like a blast of citrus and herbs in your mouth. It’s distinctly herbaceous and has a very memorable and clean flavor for being priced at $19.99.
Gin Mixed Drink: Gin and Tonic
- Bombay Sapphire Gin
- Tonic Water
The Gin and Tonic is a classy and timeless drink that’s great for those watching their calories (although, be careful of some tonic waters that have high-fructose corn syrup since that can add carbs!). It’s a very simple drink suitable for people who want to enjoy the flavor of gin uninterrupted, but would still like to sip on it instead of taking shots.
My friend Andrew Sia always enjoys his Gin and Tonics with muddled cucumber, which makes it even more refreshing and masks a bit of the alcoholic burn.
I tried the popular amaretto Disaronno in an Amaretto Sour and immediately fell in love with almond liqueur. If you’ve never had an almond liqueur before, be very careful with them – they tend to be really sweet and smooth and are therefore favored by many non-drinkers. Although the alcohol content of almond liqueur is much lower than spirits, the flavoring is what makes it great as a mixer, or perhaps even a gentle shot.
Although Disaronno isn’t too expensive, it does start to add up. Many amaretto cocktails are mostly amaretto mixed with a splash of something else, so a bottle gets used much faster than a spirit would. When my friend Michelle Hébert introduced me to Trader Joe’s Villa D’Aquino, I never looked back! At $6.99 for a 750ml bottle, this is a great almond liqueur for entertaining friends.
Something to consider: I’m not sure if it’s the sweetness of the almond liqueur or this brand’s quality, but I do experience a bit of a headache after a few hours of drinking this and I get “Asian glow.” However, the flavor is still spectacular and makes great “fancy” mixed drinks to serve at parties.
Villa D’Aquino is only available at Trader Joe’s.
Amaretto Mixed Drink: Amaretto Sour
- Villa D’aquino Amaretto (1 1/2 oz.)
- Sweet and Sour Mix (1-2 splashes)
- Maraschino Cherries (to garnish)
The Amaretto Sour is a very sweet and fruity drink that can sneak up on you if you keep knocking them back. A few of my friends who’ve tried my Amaretto Sours drank them extremely quickly, which is why I now serve them in small and shallow saucer glasses with no ice, or in regular glasses over a fair amount of ice to prevent people from drinking far too much.
I’m serious when I say this drink can be knocked back in a few gulps if mixed right. If you mix it with enough sweet and sour mix, you won’t even taste any alcohol. Be sure to watch your lightweight friends who don’t have palates for alcohol!
Which affordable alcohol and drinks will you be serving for your holiday parties this month? Let us know in the comments!
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