Anybody paid to break into things is interesting as it stands, but it's always a pleasant surprise to hear that people you follow share your hobbies. With respect to whiskey, this guy Ollam said something very interesting—you can basically evaluate spirits across two dimensions: how loudly they speak, and how much you care to listen to them.
Consider a scotch like Lagavulin 16. It's very bold and blasts you with a beach bonfire. There's a lot going on, and you're rewarded for your time and attention with what's literally a multisensory experience. On the other end, there are things like Jose Cuervo Gold, which are remarkably horrid and continue to get worse if you're actually trying to pay attention to nuance.
You might not want to take the seaspray peat ride every night. And, at the price of Lag16, it might not even be something you can afford to do. Meanwhile, you probably don't want to drink Jose Cuervo Gold one night out of the month, let alone three nights out of the week.
In the middle, though, are generally affable spirits that don't have too much to say, but are welcome companions while watching TV, cooking dinner, listening to music, having a few friends over to shoot the shit, or (if you're me) writing an article. I'd honestly consider trying new spirits, developing a palate, and writing about it a hobby. But, sometimes I want this hobby to take a backseat to my other hobbies, y'know?
Incidentally, what I've begun to refer to as “Give-No-Shits Bottles,” which can be identified by the following:
They’re understated enough to be enjoyable without being “loud.”
You could conceivably make it a “house” drink that you’d be comfortable drinking most nights.
They’re easily sourced and easily replaced at minimal cost.
That is, you don’t really give a shit about the context in which you have it, you’re not at all concerned about rationing the bottle, and you’re not hit with any kind of sticker shock when you put the replacement bottle into your shopping cart.
Incidentally, GNS bottles also make for great bar staples because, while good on their own, they'll support other flavors rather than lean on them to mask vicious off-flavors within the spirit. And, if you fuck up a recipe, you're not going to bemoan the two ounces of liquor that nobly sacrificed themselves to teach you something about drinkmaking.
Without further ado, let's look at a couple representative selections that have become personal mainstays.
The Give-No-Shits Bourbon
At the time of this writing, I'm just about at the tail end of summer. It's a time of the year where it's hot during the day, but you can leave your window open at night to savor the cool night air. Throughout the summer, and despite a liquor cabinet filled with much fancier stuff, I found myself reaching for a good bourbon to enjoy on the rocks more often than anything else.
Seemingly paradoxically, a good bourbon should have ample flavor to be enjoyable even with some dilution, but it should be genteel and uncomplicated enough so that there's no wrong answer as to when you should pour it. And, of course, all the better if it's less than $25 a bottle.
A pretty remarkable value, all told. Expect a great interplay of cherries, vanilla, and chocolate. You could pay more, but why bother?
Slightly less depth than Old Forester, but more genteel. Maker's is a great cocktail whiskey, so if you want to make a whiskey sour or whiskey-ginger or a Godfather if the mood strikes you, the low price of a bottle encourages you to play. Also available everywhere on the planet.
The Give-no-shits Tequila
A tequila of this ilk, let's not kid ourselves, will probably go into Margaritas. The difference is that you'll use this in a margarita because you want to, not because you have to. Like the bourbons, I found I used these bottles for screwing around. Turns out one part Midori to two parts tequila makes a very decent two ingredient cocktail!
Of course, if you were to pour these guys over the rocks to sip or take a shot with your friends who party, you might be quietly surprised by how good they are.
A good blend of minerals and fresh bell pepper that turns up in a lot of unusual places. My Trader Joe's often stocks it, which means if I'm low on tequila the bottle has a weekly opportunity to shout at me from the shelf. It makes a good margarita (especially with a salted rim), but stands on its own. Use it with abandon, then buy more.
$23 bucks for an Anejo? “What's wrong with it?” Not all that much! For someone looking for a tequila to slot into essentially the same slot as a bourbon, the senior Espolon is good value with some nice caramelization and vanilla.
The Give-No-Shits Gin
The good news about gin is that since it's an unaged spirit that doesn't depend on any fancy production methods, there are no shortage of excellent choices in the $20 range, and one of the reasons why exploring the category is such a joy. I mean, really, you’re spoiled for choice.
If you like cocktails and experimenting with them, you'll very quickly find that gin isn't just the biggest building block of a Martini—it goes into a bewildering number of drinks and compliments sweet, herbal, fruity, savory, and bitter flavors. If you even passively think of yourself as a mixologist or feel like that term can be used without automatically eliciting a stifled chortle, you'll probably blow through gin simply by playing with recipes and screwing around.
Again, there’s a lot of excellent options here especially, but if I had to pick two right off the top of my head?
I'm absolutely a fan of Ford's simply because it's great on its own, but will not let a mixed drink down. I probably buy a bottle of Ford's for a bottle of any other gin, and the price makes it so that I absolutely never have to ration the stuff.
Sure, I like Tanqeray 10 more, but regular-ass Tanqueray is a gin stalwart for a reason, and I think far more characterful than Bombay Sapphire. Being able to purchase it at any supermarket for about twenty bucks is a perk. Commonplace though it may be, it's stellar in Gin and Tonics and Martinis.
The Give-No-Shits Rum
True, the benefit of rum having not caught on like gangbusters is that there's a lot of spectacular, high-octane, super flavorful stuff (with respectable age statements, no less!) for not very much money. But as much as I outright love El Dorado 15 or Rhum Clement, they're so characterful that it'd be a tall order to have them every night. And they'd be too costly to play with in mixed drinks.
Two varieties for your consideration, perhaps predictably: white and dark. Whether you want to make a rum old fashioned with a big 'ol ice cube, throw the stuff into a dark and stormy, make a tiki drink or whatever, there are two stalwarts I normally always have and never feel sticker shock to restock:
This might be a tough find where you are unless you've got a well-stocked store, but Atlantico is quietly gaining ground. It's remarkable in how much people have an eye-opening experience when they try this stuff straight, but I also use this as the cornerstone of a Blue Hawaiian. If you substituted this in all cases for anything calling for Bacardi, your life would be 5% better. No lie!
Plantation Dark Rum
Suspiciously cheap at $16, this stuff has value to burn. It's a little rough around the edges, but if you have a bunch of friends over and give them Plantation Dark over ice, I guarantee nobody is going to cast aspersions at this stuff, like ever. Tropical fruits, vanilla, and brown sugar in ample supply.
Or, think of it all like this:
Your very best friends have great, deep opinions that you respect. They might have shared stories about their life that you remember vividly, and they might even be formative to the person you've become. You might depend on these friends in life-or-death situations. You might in your heart of hearts count on that person to have your back when shit goes down and the world collapses around you. I'm lucky to have several such great people in my life.
That said, when I see these people, I probably won't always get into a serious conversation about morality or the meaning of life! I'm exponentially more likely to tell them jokes, bullshit about baseball or cars, show them something good on Youtube. There’s something wonderful and comforting about that.
So sure, part of a site like this is to point out the best of the best, but there’s a place on the shelf for not only the best, but also the good, so long as it’s consistent, reliable, and flexible. Any of the above bottles fit that bill to a T and will probably find a permanent spot on your home bar.