Back in the day, they used the term, “living high on the hog”, as a measuring stick for success. These days, it may be more like, “here’s to drinking top shelf, kid!” Many people either love to flaunt success by buying the most expensive spirit to mix or they simply have bought into the hype that their favorite cocktail cannot be at its best without using the best. Quite untrue! I love cocktails! Thing is, I don’t waste money on hooch I’m going to mix. I cry a little inside every time see someone throwing Don Julio into a blender for ritas. I’ve sat next to someone, at a bar, who ordered a $25 glass of high-end whiskey and asked for a splash of coke. I had to clean my pants out.
Many people don’t seem to realize that in mixed drinks, the predominant flavor profile is coming from what you’re mixing with as opposed to the spirit used for the ‘kick’. For instance, cranberry has a strong flavor profile that dominates most anything else it comes in contact with. For fucksake, most bars have shitty mixers coming outta soda guns where water (or soda) is combined with syrup. That said, how is a Grey Goose Cape Cod (cranberry with a lime) any better than a Smirnoff based option? It isn’t! However, I’m certainly an advocate for steering clear of well liquors unless they’re quality names you recognize. Buy the next step up and save the money as opposed to going top shelf for mixed drinks.
You see, we’re currently living in a golden age for spirits (wine, beer and liquor) and you can get a whole lot more for your money and still stay off the bottom of the shelf. The point I want to make here is to spend appropriately to how you’re going to drink the product. You want a gin and soda or martini? By all means, enjoy a Hendrick’s Gin! With something like club soda, you can still taste the subtle difference of the botanicals that make Hendricks special. You want a Gin and Tonic? Buy the step up from the well and consider yourself a wise consumer. Tonic contains quinine, which is a pretty dominant flavoring, and in addition to the customary squeeze of lime, tonic trumps the minor differences from one gin to the next. Bourbon and Coke? Save the Maker’s Mark for the rocks! This advice is true for just about any other spirit you enjoy and, of course, how you like to mix it.
I can hear you thinking, “well smartass, what about the hangover factor?” Ya, there’s that, but there’s also a whole lot of margin these days between the bottom and top shelf offerings. Plug yourself squarely in the middle shelf and if you’re still getting hangovers, then maybe you need a 12 step program as opposed to a step up in money spent. You see, bottom shelf products are usually poorly distilled and thereby containing traces of methanol and other shite that will add up to a hertin’ the following day, IF, you consume it in comparable quantities to something better, yet still reasonable. Distillation does matter, but maybe not quite as much as vodka marketers would have you believe! But that is a different story.
Do a little research if you’re buying spirits for the home, or a party. You can find awesome quality at very reasonable prices if you step away from over-hyped name brands. Counting on that same research, if you find yourself at a bar, shoot mid-shelf.