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Chosing Quality vs Bling Products

This will be a spirited post. We discussed already about quality of juices. Again I have to repeat my quote: One drink will be as good as its worst ingredient.

Identifying the quality of a distillate though might be more difficult as it seems. This is why spirit companies are spending millions and millions of dollars [much more as they are spending in R&D] into marketing. They want that customers connecting their product with a quality, which is sometimes not given...

Lets just begin.

Vodka: It still dazzles me, why people are so into vodka. It just doesn't make good drinks! And just the advantage, that you doesn't smell a lot like alcohol, is [at least in my world] not a perfect excuse to consume it...
Anyway - sometimes you need vodka and at least in this post I won't judge.
What you have to know about vodka is, that [other than the well orchestrated marketing messages] it is not hard to produce vodka. In fact it is really cheap to produce any vodka! Scientifically it doesn't even make sense to filtrate vodka through gold, diamonds or whatsoever - the only thing what matters, is the filtering through active carbon [and most modern vodkas are going through it] - activated carbon is the best filter material currently on the planet!
However you have one important choice to do, before you go out and buy vodka! Do you want to have a product, which has a character and taste [even if it is rather subtle] - this category is for the moment growing - with questionable success [however under craft bartenders these products are faved]. Or do you want to have a product which is as neutral as possible - which is the trend since around 20 years and longer. Most people will settle with the second category; so we will focus on this. The most important thing here is, to not look on the often beautiful bottles and dazzling reputation [marketing].
More or less you will be served well with any modern vodka. Brands which are especially coming to my mind are: Finlandia or Russian Standard [original] - these vodkas are very pure and you don't break the bank. Once more - the quality of these brands [other brands would be Sobriesky, Skyy and many more] is equal with your "super premium" vodkas - they are just targeted for other consumer groups and the exterior of the products are not over designed. They are as good as Belvedere, Grey Goose, Elit, Beluga and so on - there is no super-premium vodka if it comes to real quality!!!

Truth has to be told - there is another category - which sits between the unusual vodkas which have an unique character and the very modern neutral [marketing would say pure] products. It is vodka which has is not purified to the max - still has some graininess - but it is quite faint. If you like this [most people don't in blind tests - but then again it depends how you grew up and what were you first contacts with vodka], products like Smirnoff [I would go for the black], Absolut or even Stolichnaya [let it burn] would be a good choice.
But lets face it - you don't have to pay 2 or 3 times the price of a standard vodka, to get a "great" product. A lot of products are on the market in the standard category, which are absolutely as good as their premium siblings. Don't let the marketing fool you!

Gin: As gin has a recipe of botanicals, it can widely differentiate from one product to the other. Don't try gin neat: you might find a gin, which you really like, but it shows completely different, if you drink it as a Martini cocktail or as Gin & Tonic.
Despite the big differences in the botanicals one thing can be said for sure: alcohol matters!
A gin with less than 44% usually doesn't rate very well [strangely enough Hendrick's fares quite well with its 41.4% abv].
Point is, that you should know your preferences. Do you like a gin, which is heavy on juniper and coriander [the classic gin] - some of us would say, it rather taste like hospital detergents... or do you like a rather complex, floral and/or citrusy gin?
Tanqueray classic lies more towards the classic category [as the normal Beefeater does], Bombay Sapphire and Tanqueray ten are closer to the second more modern category. 
One note to Bombay Sapphire - I can only suggest it in the 47% version, which you get in the Middle East... the 40% version, which you get in Europe and I guess in the US is really not good. Funny enough, it is only the strength as only differences - but the quality is so different!
Overall: you usually get, what you are paying for. Gins like Beefeater 24 are good - not necessary so much better than their less expensive competitors - but definitely better than the standard brands with 40% alcohol! There is also vacuum distilled gin around [didn't arrived to the Middle East] like Oaxley - which is also worth to try [even though they are expensive].

Rum: There are different rums - light rums and slightly aged rums, dark rums, aged rums... Again marketing took most of the time over. Bacardi Superior is not a very bad product - but is fares more as a sugar cane based vodka - as it has little taste. I can't really advocate for very cheap white rums. They are usually really not good products or unusual in their taste [in my world a Jamaican white rum just doesn't work - except of the fantastic Wray & Nephews white overproof - which is again an oddity].
Matusalem platino is a really great product and is on the same price level as Bacardi; Elements 8 Platinum is one of my favorites - but it is also really expensive... Banks 5 - I am still eager to taste [but will be also expensive!]. Golden unfiltered rums are a bit easier. Havana Club 3 years old is slightly smoky, but works always quite well. Bacardi Carta de Oro works also quite well [a bit smoother than its Cuban counterpart]. I was never a big fan of Matusalem classico, not that it is bad, but it doesn't give me either the taste of a golden rum nor an aged variety...
Aged - if it is about aged rum, it is all about the different and unique tastes. I like a lot of them. Bacardi 8 is one of the best entry - and it is a bargain. Havana Club Selección de Maestros [which is the same as the "old" Barrel Proof] is fantastic in its own right. And we haven't talked about Ron Zacapa or Zaya or the unique Pyrat XO. Just don't go for Havana Club 15 years old or the stupidly expensive Maximo [those never could meet my expectations - and in blind tastings loosing against their much cheaper competition].
Dark rum: Old Monk 7 years is fantastic in almost all applications you need a proper dark rum and it is cheap [at least in the ME - if not: Cruzan Black Strap!]. For the more refined moments go for Gosling. The Jamaican counterparts like Myers, Captain Morgan or Coruba are not bad - but are not really great - and value for money. You don't need to drink a dark rum neat - it is not made for it.
Spiced Rum: Make it yourself. Take a good rum [Bacardi 8 for example] and add spices like cinnamon, vanilla, cloves, pepper, cardamom etc. just for a day or two and strain it after that. You will end up with a great product, which taste an eternity better, than even the best spiced rum on the market.

The post will be continued - we still have to talk whiskey and whisky and tequila and brandies and so on... stay tuned!


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