Why? Lower-priced vodkas don’t have aggressively bad flavor the way other cheaper liquors might.
Try: Absolut, $25 for 750 milliliters, or Rain Organics, $20 for 750 milliliters.
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Why? There’s no need to spend a lot on tasty gin, since this liquor is usually combined with other ingredients, like tonic. Just don’t go so cheap that you wind up sipping one with an artificial-juniper flavor (check the label).
Try: Gordon’s, $10 for 750 milliliters.
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Why? “Less expensive bourbons tend to give you the burn without the flavor,” says Rathbun.
Try: Knob Creek, $30 for 750 milliliters. To really wow bourbon types, try Booker’s Bourbon; $60 for 750 milliliters.
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Why? Rum should bring a rich sugarcane flavor to drinks. But “low-end rum will taste more like an alleyway than the islands,” says Rathbun.
Try: Mount Gay Eclipse Silver, $18 for 750 milliliters, or Flor de Caña Rum Centenario 12-Year-Old, $34 for 750 milliliters.
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Tequila: Save or Splurge
Why? In truth, you probably don’t need it, since most people steer clear of this spirit in winter. Still, if you must, splurge on a 100 percent agave tequila. Cheap tequilas contain corn syrup and grain alcohol, which are code words for “hangover.”
Try: Patrón Silver, $45 for 750 milliliters.
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Whiskey and Scotch: Splurge
Why? Since partygoers almost always drink this on the rocks or straight, it’s worth spending any unused tequila funds here, says Rathbun.
Try: Glenmorangie Single Malt, $40 for 750 milliliters.
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Club Soda and Tonic: Splurge
Why? Store brands tend to go flat more quickly, and going budget saves you only minimally. Cheaper tonics can also have an overpowering artificial taste.
Try: Canada Dry or Schweppes, $1.60 to $1.90 for one liter.
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Fruit Juices: Splurge
Why? Rathbun insists that home-squeezed juices make all the difference. (Buy 25 lemons, 25 limes, and 15 oranges for every 50 guests.) Otherwise, try the half-gallon jugs of fresh juice at Whole Foods ($3.50 to $4) and ReaLemon Juice ($3 for 15 ounces).
And when it comes to garnishes, splurge. Try: Frutto d’Italia olives, $12 for 13 ounces, amazon.com. Tillen Farms Merry Maraschino Cherries, $7 for 14 ounces, worldpantry.com.