If you're buying just one bottle of cheap booze and don't have a predetermined style in mind, choose vodka. It's the most versatile spirit on the market — just like The Lifetime Channel's original programming, it's designed to be tasteless. That means it can be mixed with anything from soda to juice to a half-empty bottle of vitamin water forgotten in the refrigerator door since last Yom Kippur. It's the white t-shirt of liquor: it goes with everything.
That being said, bottom shelf vodka is a minefield. Because it can be produced more cheaply than any other spirit, there are more dogshit vodka brands on the market than Taylor Swift songs about break-ups. But luckily for you, I've navigated this territory more often than I'd care for my family members to know about, and thus can guide you to safety.
When bargain shopping for Russia's finest, depending on your priorities, these are the three bottles you want:
So Bad, It's Good
Popov – $13.99 (1.75 LTR) at Bevmo
You know when the dementors from Harry Potter kiss their enemies? And then suck they soul out of their face? Popov is like that.
It tastes like equal parts nail polish and shame. The smell makes Smaug weep. You can't possibly sleep at night knowing you've been seen buying this bottle in public .
But you can't dismiss the achievement of being the cheapest product on the shelf. If you're simply looking to fill a trash bag-lined recycling bin with jungle juice, taste and smoothness mean nothing. I'll even give it a bonus 'cool' point for being so bad, it's almost good. Like Rebecca Black, or watching bowling on TV.
It's the epitome of quantity over quality. It's cheap, has alcohol in it, and won't make you blind. Probably.
Your New Best Friend
Gordon's – $8.99 at Bevmo
If you're on a budget but still looking for a decent spirit, you need to try Gordon's. This is a company that produces several fair-quality liquors at very low prices. You lose points for not having a stylish brand, but you're going to win big on smoothness.
This is the ultimate cheap mixing vodka. It can go in anything, be it a decent cocktail you put some effort into, or a three-quarter full ICEE at the movie theatre (note that Obsev can't officially endorse you trying that…)
What you will find, however, is that the 'booze' lingers; it tastes like alcohol. It's nothing overwhelming like most other bargain brands, but it does fall short on palatability. That's the cost of saving money. Still, Gordon's will get the job done.
Worth Splurging For
Smirnoff – $11.99 at Bevmo
I would define a twelve dollar 750ml bottle of vodka outside the 'bottom shelf' zone. But Smirnoff is here because, if you're going to buy cheap vodka, you should flip your couch cushions and dig out whatever spare change you need to afford this.
There is no better liquor — of any type — for the price. Smirnoff constantly wins taste test awards all over the world because it is what vodka, at its core, is supposed to be: clean. It's the most tasteless at its price point; you have to upgrade all the way up to Grey Goose for better. It's a recognizable brand, so you don't feel shame when you pull this out in front of company. And it's got an uncanny smoothness, hitting your palette gently and leaving minimal harshness afterwards.
Smirnoff is, far and away, your best bet for cheap booze.