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Spirits: What Virginians should be drinking


As Gov. McDonnell considers privatizing Virginia's liquor monopoly, the Post's Metro section published a fascinating infographic yesterday that looks at how and what Virginians drink. The hard fact the governor faces, of course, is that booze means big money to state coffers. Consider what the state earns on each bottle of Jack Daniels, which is the Virginia's biggest-selling spirit:

"Virginia buys the bottle directly from the distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee, paying $11.48 for it. The state adds a $1 fee per 12-bottle case for warehouse processing, marks up the price by 69 percent and then applies a 20 percent excise tax, one of the nation's highest. After paying the state's standard sales tax, customers plunk down $24.68, no matter where they live in the state." That means a state revenue of 53.5 percent on each bottle of Jack Daniels. Consider that gross sales of Jack Daniels were $22.8 million in 2009, and it's no wonder privatization is a hand-wringing choice for the state.

For me, it was perhaps even more interesting to see the top 10-selling bottles in Virginia. It was all of the usual big-brand suspects, from Grey Goose to Crown Royal to Jim Beam to Bacardi white rum to Jose Cuervo Gold tequila. Actually, to be honest, seeing that list was kind of a letdown. They are exactly the kinds of mass-market spirits that I usually steer people away from in my column. Now, before I get a bunch of comments and emails calling me a snob, let me clarify: There is nothing wrong with drinking this stuff. If you love Jack Daniels or Cuervo Gold, knock yourself out.

But these spirits are generally overrated, and often there are much better values on better-quality spirits. In fact, I will go through the top 10 list here and suggest a better value, higher-quality alternative for each of the entries, straight from the price list of the Virginia Department of Alcohol Beverage Control:

  1. Jack Daniels Tennesee whiskey ($24.68). Alternative: Buffalo Trace bourbon ($23.95). Upgrading from a dull whiskey like Jack to a bourbon like Buffalo Trace is something I've suggested many times in the past.
  2. Grey Goose vodka. ($33.90). Alternative: Stolichnaya vodka ($19.95). Seriously, there is no need in the world to spend almost $34 on a vodka. Trust me. You could even upgrade to the 100-proof Stoli for about $5 more.
  3. Jim Beam bourbon ($14.95). Alternative: Ancient Age bourbon ($9.90). Jim Beam is actually tough to beat at that price point, but you could still save a little money with Ancient Age.
  4. Crown Royal Canadian whisky ($25.90). Alternative: Bushmill's Irish whiskey ($25.95). Ok, it's 5 cents higher, but probably in Virginia it's boxed with glasses. In any case, Irish whiskey is one of the best value whiskeys in the liquor store and far superior.
  5. Absolut vodka ($19.95). Alternative: Svedka vodka ($14.95). Again, if you're fishing in this end of the vodka pool, you should be looking for value.
  6. Bacardi Superior white rum ($15.90). Alternative: Flor de CaƱa Gold 4 year ($14.95). For about the same price, try a slightly more complex aged rum in your cocktails.
  7. Aristocrat vodka ($8.95). Alternative: Beer. Or a jug of cheap wine. Or water. Or just pound yourself in the head with a hammer. Anything else.
  8. Captain Morgan's Spiced Rum ($19.95). Alternative: Appleton VX ($19.95). If you're a fan of spiced rum, I guess there's no where to go except to maybe make your own -- or perhaps wait until Chairman's Reserve Spiced Rum hits stores. In the meantime, I'm suggesting a versatile rum that's more flavorful and higher proof and works better in cocktails, including rum and Cokes.
  9. Jagermeister ($23.50). Alternative: Fernet Branca ($24.90). I know why you drink Jagermeiser, and it's surely not for its cocktail mixability. It's all about that hair-on-the-chest shot, right? Well, the Italian amaro Fernet Branca is higher proof (80 to 70), and it's like getting smacked in the face with a eucalytpus tree. Rock and/or roll.
  10. Jose Cuervo Gold ($20.95). Alternative: Sauza Hornitos reposado ($24.90). Cuervo Gold is a mixto, meaning it's 51 percent tequila and 49 percent who-knows-what. Meaning this is probably the tequila you drank on that bad night in college. Always buy 100 percent agave tequila. It's more expensive, but oh-so worth it.

-- Jason Wilson
Follow Wilson on Twitter. His book, "Boozehound," is to be published in September by Ten Speed Press.

By The Food Section  |  August 6, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Spirits  | Tags: Jason Wilson, spirits  
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Comments

Great article, Jason. It's frustrating for me to read about some cool beverage that I can't get here in VA. I'm not horribly averse to driving into DC and illegally bringing liquor over state lines, but I'd much rather patronize a local establishment. I look forward to deregulation of alcohol sales, but I don't see it happening soon. Your article is a great primer for easy-to-find liquors for us Virginians. I'd love to see another post where you talk about the next step up from these basics.

Posted by: DrBeaker | August 11, 2010 2:35 PM | Report abuse

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