It’s Father’s Day this weekend and you probably haven’t done any shopping. It’s one of those “holidays” people tend to rank somewhere after President’s Day and somewhere before Casimir Pulaski Day. The good thing about most dads is that they are laid back and don’t care about this Hallmark holiday.
What dad truly wants is a stiff drink, something with teeth and layers of flavor that are reminiscent of the layers of experience he has. Most drinkers know that we bartenders call the cheapest alcohol “well liquor.” This is the stuff that’s right in front of us in the speed rack. Generally the order of the well is determined from lightest to darkest and goes vodka, gin, rum, (triple sec), tequila, and whiskey. I put triple sec in parentheses because for our purposes it doesn’t apply.
Below I’ll give you the best options under $70 for each of these categories, while also adding in Scotch, because whiskey is amazing and everyone should drink it.
I don’t know if your dad drinks vodka, but my hope is that he’s moved on to big boy drinks. I don’t want to get into an argument with anybody, but vodka is tasteless and odorless and best for diluting with cranberry juice. 1 In other words it has little to no character. When you drink you should do so not just for the enjoyment of a buzz—because that would be alcoholism—but also for how a booze tastes.
Okay. I’m finished.
If your father insists on drinking vodka, I guess I’d say to buy Grey Goose. It’s inexpensive (under $30) and it’s well-respected in the industry. But, yeah, go ahead and tell pops to ball up if he’s still sipping on vodka.
There is nothing like a gin and tonic in the summertime. The only person who loved gin more than me was Humphrey Bogart in “African Queen.” 2 I’m a whiskey guy, but the right kind of gin turns the light on for me. Gin is vodka’s big brother, a medley of spices and herbs that should taste fresh with hints of berries and subtle spices.
There are some distillers making barrel-aged gin and you get a little color with that added boost of sweetness and smoothness. FEW Spirits out of Evanston, Ill., makes a great barrel-aged gin. For me, however, I’ll stick to the more traditional blends. Not as traditional as a Genever, from which gin evolved, but anything highlighted by that clean flavor we’ve come to expect of gin.
For about $33 you can get a bottle of Hendrick’s. It doesn’t get cleaner and fresher than a hint of cucumber and citrus and Hendrick’s has it. Add a touch of tonic and you and dad can sit out on the porch and talk about how easy it is to hate the British for everything except their gin.
I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on rum or tequila, which I’ll talk about below; but I know what I like and really that’s all that matters.
The trick here is that with most rum, tequila, and whiskey it’s age that makes all the difference. And with aging comes higher prices. One of the best rums I’ve tasted—and again this is in my limited experience—is Ron Zacapa 23-year. It’ll set you back 50 bucks and that probably sounds mad. You’re probably thinking, “Hey, I can get a handle of Captain Morgan and a hooker for that much.” That’s true, but the Captain tastes like rat’s blood in comparison.
This 23-year-old on the rocks or neat is perfect for a nightcap after a large steak dinner. If you get this for your father he might finally tell you why you’ll never be as cool as him.
I want to reiterate that I’m not an expert, but I know enough about tequila to make an educated decision. The laws that govern how to make tequila are strict. One of the most important stipulations is that it is made with 100 percent agave. Anything else isn’t tequila. You can get a bottle of Fortaleza Reposado for about $70. Reposado means that the tequila has been aged for at least two months but less than a year (thus anejo means it has been aged for a minimum of a year). The taste difference between a reposado and anejo to a blanco (unaged tequila), for me, is stark. The aged tequila has layers of flavor that are missing in the blanco.
Pour it over one small rock and your father will tell you about the time he spent the night in a Mexican prison. And lived to tell about it.
The options here are unlimited, but I’m going with one of my favorites. For the cheap price of $28 you can buy W.L. Weller 12-year. You can get lots of bourbons that will cost you more. If we had unlimited funds we’d buy Pappy Van Winkle and you and dad would fly to Dubai to play golf and bid on French virgins. But this isn’t a perfect world and for less than 30 bucks you get a 12-year-old whiskey that’ll knock your socks off. Which means you’ll have to buy dad some socks, too.
I inflated the budget to $70 because I wanted to include the Balvenie 14-year. This Speyside single malt is finished in Caribbean rum casks. The sweetness left behind is truly remarkable and since I’m sometimes not looking for the peat to burn my eyebrows, this is a great Scotch for me. In fact, all of Balvenie’s line is superb. If your father has never been to Scotland it won’t matter. After two of these he’ll think he’s William Wallace.