Our society tends to associate price with quality. In some cases this is a weak association; store brand ibuprofen and Advil are identical. With alcohol, though, there is a strong correlation between price and quality. This is true for all types of alcohol from fermented to distilled drinks. However, personal taste comes more into play with fermented drinks, so this discussion will focus on distilled drinks. Cheaper spirits are distilled fewer times and have more impurities and an unpleasant taste; more expensive ones are purer and smoother. The type of alcohol you choose depends on your budget, intended use and personal preference.
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Value brands of alcohol are cheap and are not of very high quality. From gin to rum, there are value brands for any type of alcohol you want. Generally, you buy these brands if you are on a budget or if you are using the alcohol in a mixed drink. Drinking shots of a value brand liquor would leave an unpleasant aftertaste in your mouth. There is an unproven myth that value brands of liquor result in stronger hangovers than more expensive brands.
At this price point, your alcohol will be much more palatable but still very affordable. Some of the most popular brands of alcohol fall into this category including: Smirnoff, Absolut and Captain Morgan's. Middle shelf liquor is great in mixed drinks and OK neat. Middle shelf liquors offer the best taste for the value.
You will find these brands of alcohol on the top shelves of your off-licence. This price point includes brands such as Ketel One and Belvedere. If you want to take a shot or have your drink neat, you want to reach for a premium brand of alcohol. Generally, they are noticeably smoother than cheaper brands of alcohol and you will pay more for that.
The distinction between luxury and premium is largely a matter of advertising. Luxury brands of alcohol include Patron and Grey Goose. This category includes the most expensive brands of alcohol you can buy. Whether or not the taste merits the price premium is debatable. For example in a Slate.com taste test, Grey Goose, which purports itself as a luxury brand, fared worse than Ketel One, which is cheaper. If you are concerned about the taste of your liquor, choose a premium brand. If you are concerned about the image, choose a luxury brand.
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