A customer walks into a liquor store looking for … well, they’re not quite sure what they want. Something interesting, something fun to tinker with at home, and mostly, something that won’t cost them an arm and a leg. So what do you recommend when your customer just wants a cheap and cheerful bottle to play around with? We asked nine retailers around the country how they’d steer a budget-minded customer in search of something a little different this season. From aloe liqueur to a smoky amaro, here are the fun, unusual, and under-$30 products they’re feeling these days.
1. Old Overholt 100-Proof Bonded Rye Whiskey, $26
Recommended by Wesly Moore, Bar Keeper, Los Angeles
While Old Overholt 80-proof rye has been a backbar staple for years (especially for Sazerac lovers), Moore’s excited about Overholt’s new 100-proof bonded release. “I love me some rye whiskey,” Moore says. The higher-proof rye is less lean and spicy than Rittenhouse, Moore adds, but it’s rounder, deeper, arguably more complex. “Not better, just different,” he says. “Profoundly breakfasty, with lots of malty cereal and hints of brown sugar, vanilla, and maple syrup.” While some folks switch to clear spirits in the warmer months, Moore personally can’t wait to enjoy some whiskey sours with the bonded rye this summer. “And after all,” he adds, “when is a Manhattan not in season?”
2. Cappelletti Amaro Sfumato Rabarbaro, $24
Recommended by Stacey Tingstrom, Cordial Bottle Shop, San Leandro, California
Tingstrom describes this amaro as complex and smoky, even though no actual smoke is involved in its production—that flavor comes through thanks to Chinese rhubarb. “This Rabarbaro is rich, bittersweet, and strangely murky, and we love it in a low-ABV cocktail with just lime and tonic,” Tingstrom says. For fans of drinks with more backbone than a spritz, Tingstrom adds that the amaro brings brown spirit–based cocktails down to earth too.
3. Chareau Aloe Liqueur, $24.99 (375 ml)
Recommended by Kirstyn Litchfield, The Austin Shaker, Austin, Texas
“Chareau,” says Litchfield, “is a light, lovely modifier made from fresh ingredients sustainably sourced from Camarillo, California—including mint, cucumber, lemon zest, cantaloupe, and aloe vera.” While the liqueur’s flavor profile makes it a perfect fit for refreshing warm-weather drinks, it’s Chareau’s versatility that makes it a favorite recommendation for Litchfield. “It is a wonderful addition to anything from a whiskey sour to a margarita,” she says, adding that she enjoys it in soda or with Prosecco on warm afternoons.
4. Metcalfe’s Raspberry Liqueur, $24.99
Recommended by Jennifer Swiatek, Beverage Warehouse, Winooski, Vermont
Swiatek, owner of the Beverage Warehouse, says she uses this Vermont-made raspberry cordial in everything from margaritas to milkshakes. “What I really enjoy about this is that it has killer diversity,” she says. “I know that if I have guests over, this one item can morph into many creations.” She uses it to add fruit-forward brightness to her old-fashioneds, drizzles it in her sour beers, and couples it with vanilla ice cream and bourbon for grown-up dessert drinks.
5. Blue Dyer Original Dark Rum, $27.99
Recommended by Eric Rohleder, Cordial, Washington, D.C.
This dark rum comes from a Maryland distillery that goes back five generations. Rohleder describes it as a well-balanced dark sipping rum, with flavors of spiced caramel and bananas Foster. “It’s very refreshing to sip on the rocks,” he says, “and perfect for use in Dark and Stormies.”
6. Calle 23 Blanco Tequila, $27.99
Recommended by Joseph Petrolawicz, Whiskey & Wine Off 69, New York City
“This Jalisco tequila has a beautiful floral quality that adds a fun dimension to its flavor, making for a perfect light, summer sipper,” says Petrolawicz. Hold off on the margarita fixings, though—Petrolawicz says this tequila is meant for sipping. “The intricate flavors that set it apart from the pack are a bit too delicate not to be overwhelmed by most mixers,” he says, “but like all nuanced finery in life, this is just damn drinkable on its own.”
7. Uruapan Charanda, $25
Recommended by John Keife, Keife & Company, New Orleans
If you’re a fan of rum and rum-adjacent spirits like cachaça—not to mention grassy, sugarcane-distilled rhum agricole—you’ll probably enjoy Charanda. A rumlike spirit made in Mexico from cane juice, Charanda, according to its appellation of origin indication, can only be produced in the state of Michoacan. “Use it for any silver rum or cachaça cocktails,” says Keife, “and enjoy the fresh, funky aromatics and smooth richness.”
8. Cappelletti Aperitivo, $19.99
Recommended by Wesley Kirk, Amanti Vino, Montclair, New Jersey
Spritz fans, unite: This Italian red-hued aperitif is akin to Campari but a touch less bitter and just a hint more sweet. (It’s also made with wine as its base, lending it a little more depth than its grain alcohol–based counterparts.) Herbaceous and citrusy, it’s a great alternative to Aperol, says Kirk, “Pour two ounces into a highball glass,” he says, “fill with club soda and ice, and garnish with an orange rind—the best alternative to an Aperol Spritz!”
9. Old Bardstown Bottled in Bond Bourbon, $23.99
Recommended by Chris Zaborowski, Westport Whiskey & Wine, Louisville, Kentucky
No one knows bourbon like Kentuckians do. Zaborowski, the owner of a Louisville liquor store that boasts an impressive bourbon selection, says that these days he’s enjoying the Old Bardstown for its rich flavor, spicy finish, and great value. “This shows how good the quality of the bourbon off the new stills at Willett are producing,” he says, “as well as the care that Drew [Kulsveen, Willett’s master distiller] is taking to select some great barrels for his batches.” Zaborowski recommends sipping it neat or using an ice cube to open up the aromas of vanilla and baking spices.
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Gray Chapman is an Atlanta-based journalist who writes about spirits, beauty, and culture; she was formerly the managing editor of Tales of the Cocktail. Follow her on Twitter.