Award winning liquors you can buy for cheap

One of the best parts about being an adult is being able to end the day with a cocktail. Let's be honest, there's days when it's literally the only good thing about being an adult.

Adulting is hard, and here's the thing: It's expensive, too. How many times have you headed to the liquor store and lamented the price of booze? If you've ever felt discouraged because a decent bottle of something seems like it's going to cost you upwards of $40 or $50, don't fret.

We've got you covered.

If you know what you're looking for, there are plenty of decent bottles out there that you can get for $20 or less. Really! We're talking about award-winning stuff, and not just vodka. We're also talking about rum, whiskey, bourbon, gin, tequila… and they're all the real deal. Award-winning liquor at bottom shelf prices might seem too good to be true, but it's not — and here's what you should be looking for.

Note: The following prices were accurate as of April 2019, but they're always subject to changes over time and by location.

Bourbon whiskey: Rebel Yell

The phrase "rebel yell" might bring up memories of the Dukes of Hazzard and get a Billy Idol song stuck in your head, but this bourbon whiskey predates them all, going back to 1849. They still use the same recipe today, and yes, this old-timey favorite has won a fair share of awards, including a Double Gold Medal picked up at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition.

You can pick up a bottle for right around $20, and that's not bad for a bourbon that came out of the same distillery as the ultra-high-end Pappy Van Winkle. Rebel Yell has moved on since then, but it's still pretty good value for your hard-earned cash. It's more complex than you might expect, too, filled with flavors of honey and butter, along with a bit of raisin and plum. It's a little spicy, too, and is that candy corn you'll taste? Yes, yes it is.

(And if you like that, you should also know they've released Rebel Yell Root Beer and Rebel Yell Ginger — also completely legitimate options for your home bar.)

Vodka: 8 Degrees

Sure, you can spend a fortune on a bottle of Grey Goose, but should you? No, not when there's options like 8 Degrees out there.

It's imported from the Netherlands, but only after it's distilled eight times from spring water. It's smooth and vaguely peppery, and even though you might expect to pay a pretty penny for this import, you can usually pick up a bottle for around $13 to $17. Not bad, especially for a vodka that won a gold and a silver medal at the San Francisco Spirits Competition (via Proof 66).

What else can we tell you? It isn't just the judges that like this one, it's the ordinary consumer, too. Total Wine's reviewers didn't have much of anything bad to say about it, and 97 percent would recommend this bottle to a friend. Even better, it's so clean that's it's not only good for a cocktail, but for drinking on the rocks, too. Not bad at all.

White rum: The Naked Turtle

White rums can be tough, and that's a shame, because who doesn't love a mojito on a hot, sunny afternoon? Fortunately, there's an affordable option out there that isn't just award-winning, it's super responsible, too.

They called their white rum The Naked Turtle because it's never aged in barrels and is naturally clear (in contrast to most white rums that are aged and then filtered to remove the color), but it still manages to come with some delicious flavors of vanilla, banana, custard, and — of course — brown sugar. Proof 66 notes that not only have they won both a silver and gold meal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, but also that you can pick up a bottle for around $13.

And here's the really fun part — with each bottle purchased, some of the profits go to wildlife conservation. Specifically, sea turtles. They're saving baby sea turtles and pushing a message that reminds everyone to do their part in being more environmentally responsible, and that's a win for everyone.

Bourbon: McAfee's Benchmark

No one expects to get a really good bottle of bourbon for around $11, but that's all McAfee's Benchmark is going to set you back. And that's pretty good, considering they boast some impressive awards, like a gold medal from the Los Angeles International Wine & Spirits Competition, and a silver from the San Francisco World Spirits Competition (via Crown Wine and Spirits). They've also scored big from the Denver International Spirits Competition and the New York World Wine & Spirits Competition, and you get the idea… What you really want to know is if this bourbon — which also won "Tried & True" from the Ultimate Spirits Competition — is really all it's cracked up to be?

You'll just have to be the judge. Everyone's tastes are different, sure, but we can tell you this bourbon comes with a distinct caramel flavor, along with some Ron Swanson-esque notes of leather, dry tobacco, and oak. Is this the sort of thing you should drink while sitting in a high-backed leather chair in front of a roaring fire? Probably.

Vodka: Tito's Handmade Vodka

Most of the awards we've been talking about have to do with the quality of what's in the bottle, and Tito's Handmade Vodka certainly has taken a bunch of those, including a Double Gold from the San Francisco World Spirit Championship. But they've also won another award that canine lovers will definitely appreciate: They were the 2018 winner of The DOG Award.

What is that? According to Dogs@work (via Medium), "Tito's Handmade Vodka has been at the forefront of integrating canines into the human culture with positive results." Tito's has a whole pack of happy office dogs, and they're also behind Emancipet, a non-profit veterinary care organization. It goes back to founder Tito Beveridge and his "co-woofer," DogJo, along with the strays that called the distillery home in early days. Brilliant.

When it comes to the vodka, Tito himself had this to say about the principles he built his distillery on: "I was raised that if you are going to do something, do it right, do it better than anyone else, and charge a reasonable price." There you have it.

Gin: New Amsterdam

Gin and tonic is definitely an acquired taste, and if you haven't had in it a while, we're going to give you the perfect reasons to give it another go: Not only is gin getting super trendy, but you can pick up a bottle of New Amsterdam for around $10 to $15. This California-made gin isn't just a great deal, it's a good entry gin for anyone who's just getting into it. Total Wine describes it as light, citrusy, and only has a hint of juniper — perfect for a gin and tonic.

And yes, this one has the awards to back it up, so you don't have to feel like you're compromising on anything. Proof 66 says that not only have they received medals at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition but they've also gotten high marks from the Beverage Testing Institute and Wine Enthusiast. It's good enough that you're not just going to want to pick up some limes, you're going to want to mark Martini Mondays a thing — and at that price, you absolutely can.

Bourbon: Very Old Barton 80 Proof

The Barton 1792 Distillery has a number of bourbons in their line, and according to Whisky Intelligence, eight of their bourbons took home awards from the 2018 International Wine & Spirit Competition in London. That includes their Very Old Barton 80 Proof, which Proof 66 says you can pick up for around $12 a bottle.

That's not bad for a bronze medal bourbon, either, especially one in the heart of bourbon-making country: Kentucky. Why is Kentucky so important? 1792 says it's in part because of the limestone rock that filters their water, and every chef knows how important it is to start with a good base. 

Reviewers say that this "is easily the best low cost bourbon around," and wonder "why it's rating isn't higher." While it isn't the most complex bourbon, it does have faint hints of "char, wood, vanilla, standard whiskey, sour corn, and possibly floral notes." Hey, not everything has to be complicated, right?

And bonus? If you like their Very Old Barton, they have plenty of other options for you to choose from, too.

Rum: Don Q Cristal

You can pick up a 1.75 liter bottle of Don Q Cristal white rum for just around $20, and it's an investment well worth making for those days you just feel like a mojito. We're not just saying that, either — it's something even the experts agree on. According to BusinessWire, Don Q Cristal walked away from the inaugural Ultimate Cocktail Challenge with the award for "Best Rum in a Mojito," and it goes without saying that great mojitos are important. It's also earned medals at the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America's Wine & Spirits Tasting Competition, and that's not too shabby.

Don Q's white rum is a little different, and that's because they distill it multiple times before aging it in white oak barrels for up to five years. It's so smooth, in fact, that they say you can use it in lieu of vodka in many traditionally vodka-based cocktails, and hey, it's always good to have a backup plan for when you run out of something.

Tequila: Exotico Reposado

Tequila is one of those liquors that gets a bad reputation, and here's the thing: Forbes says that's mostly because of a massive difference in laws governing the production of tequila in Mexico and production in the U.S. While Mexico requires tequila to be 100 percent blue Weber agave, U.S. tequila can have up to 49 percent other stuff — and it's usually cut with sugar-based alcohols.

And that's where the problems start, and it's also why you should give an authentic, award-winning, 100 percent agave tequila another try. Take Exotico Reposado, which Total Wine says you can pick up for around $15 a bottle. A six-month aging process in white oak bourbon barrels helps give this one distinct notes of vanilla, fruit, and spices, along with a dash of caramel and that distinct oaky flavor.

And yes, experts love it, too. It's won awards at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, Tequila Masters, and the Berlin International Spirits Competition. Go on, give tequila another try. For that price, how can you not?

Vodka: Deep Eddy

Deep Eddy vodka is still fairly new, only opening their doors in 2010. That makes their meteoric rise that much more impressive, and in 2014, they earned the Impact Hot Brand Award from the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers Association (via PR Newswire).

They've got some fun flavors, too, including sweet tea, peach, and cranberry, but here's the really important part: They're also super-sustainable, and have a production process that's 99 percent waste-free. They partner with local farmers for their corn and buy things like cranberries from family-owned farms, have put in place a column distillation process that's almost 100 percent efficient, and even donate barrels to local farmers to reuse or upcycle into things like rain barrels. That's the kind of establishment that sounds like it would turn out very, very expensive vodka, but it doesn't. So, if you're looking for something that's not only affordable and award-winning but environmentally responsible as well, give them a try at just around $13 a bottle. 

Brandy: Paul Masson Grande Amber

Everyone needs something a little different to keep in the cupboard and pull out on one of those everyday special occasions — you know the ones, like a particularly good day at work or finally finishing off one of those lingering home improvement projects. Brandy — a spirit made from distilled wine — might be a brilliant choice, and at only about $10 a bottle, you can't go wrong with Paul Masson Grande Amber.

Don't let the price tag fool you. The Spirits Business says this standard from Paul Masson has been not just a constant top performer in the brandy world, but it's been a standard for more than a century — and it's been named their Brandy Brand Champion more than once. It's also gotten medals at the International Wine & Spirit Competition (via Wine Searcher), and yes, it's still just about $10 a bottle. It's described as having flavors of soft chocolate, caramel, vanilla, and pear, so it's no wonder this is often reserved for an after-dinner drink. And as a bonus, it's just as good in a hot cocktail as in a cold one.

Rum: Plantation Rum

Plantation Rum has a variety of different products, but according to 1000 Corks, you can expect to spend about $20 for their Original Dark Rum or their Barbados 5 Year. Both are completely acceptable additions to any home bar, and they've won awards at places like the Miami Rum Festival, the Ultimate Spirit Challenge, and the Bahamas Rum Festival, and they've also been recognized by the Beverage Testing Institute.

These are a little different, too. Take the Original Dark, which is actually blended and aged in France. The result is a dark rum filled with the flavors of banana, plum, and vanilla, along with the spicy notes of clove and cinnamon. The Barbados 5 Year has a similarly complicated story, first aged in American oak barrels then in French oak casks before finally making it into your cocktail.

And the French connection here is very real. The founder of Plantation Rum is Alexandre Gabriel, who started at Maison Ferrand in the Cognac region of France. He was in the Caribbean searching for rum and eventually decided to make his own, proving that everything happens for a reason.

Gin: Gordon's Dry Gin

The inevitable floral notes of gin mean that it's definitely not for everyone, but there are so many gin cocktails out there that having a bottle in your home bar is a must. Martinis, gin and tonics, a New Orleans Fizz… even if you're not a gin fan, there are cocktails out there you're guaranteed to like.

But you might not want to spend too much on a bottle, and that's understandable. Fortunately, you can get a bottle of Gordon's Dry Gin for around $10, and given that Total Wine says this is the same recipe that's been used for around 250 years, it's a pretty safe bet — especially considering some of the recognition it's won has come from the royal families of England and Scotland — along with some from the World Spirits Awards, the San Francisco Spirit Awards, and the International Wine and Spirits Competition.

Diageo Bar Academy has some fun facts about this particular gin that are perfect for pulling out along with the bottle. It was one of the first gins to be served with tonic, and it was served to British soldiers as a malaria preventative. It was also served to James Bond, so it has that going for it, too.

Tequila: Lunazul Blanco

Lunazul has a perfectly affordable — and award-winning — tequila to help get you over your fear of this particular booze, and it's their Blanco. You can pick up a bottle for somewhere around $15, and that's not bad at all — especially considering it's 100 percent agave.

And that's important when it comes to tequila; it's the other stuff that'll give you a monster headache and make your night (and the next morning) pretty miserable. Experts at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition have given this one multiple gold medals, so shouldn't you give it a try, too?

You'll find it's surprisingly fruity, with pepper, vanilla, and citrus flavors. If you're looking for a cocktail that's going to open the door for you, try the Berry Lunazul: Blanco, lime juice, ginger beer, raspberry liqueur, and a few fresh raspberries. Sounds pretty delicious and not at all the stuff of regrets, doesn't it?