It might be time to reconsider the whole “you get what you pay for” mantra when it comes to buying spirits. According to data from the SIP Awards, an international consumer-focused spirits competition, liquor in the $40-$80 range received the most top awards and nearly the same amount of awards overall as bottles priced at $141 or more.
As it turns out, you should be looking for Goldilocks pricing when searching for that special drink rather than just the priciest bottle on the liquor store shelf. The SIP Awards data come from 783 spirit brands priced up to $399 that were blind taste tested in 2018. Unlike other liquor awards, SIP Awards are judged by consumers, not beverage professionals. Think of it like you and a bunch of your drinks-loving friends gathering every bottle you can find and then ranking them from best to worst. When the people have a voice, they also have strong opinions about budget bottles.
In 2018, spirits of every price level made it into the top 20 percent of rankings. You really can find at least a decent bottle of liquor at any price. About half of the spirits entered in the $1-$40 and $41-$80 price range made it to the top 20 percent of all spirits, while about 60 percent of spirits priced more than $80 made it to the top 20 percent. When it comes to the best of the best, however, the $41 to $80 range showed up the strongest, winning 17 percent of all top awards. Compare that to just 9 percent of $81-$140 bottles and 14 percent of $141-plus bottles.