Sometimes on this luxury blog I’ll review high-end liquor that’s worth the premium. Let’s face it though: even the wealthiest travelers don’t stick to top-shelf spirits all the time, especially when ordering a cocktail or three. Plus half the fun of traveling somewhere foreign is trying out the local food and drinks.
Here are two items I’ve come across in my travels that are outright steals. Sure, you can spend four times as much as these cost if you’d like, but what you get probably won’t be four times better, especially for mixing.
First up is the rum I would dare say is the best deal in the Americas: Ron Abuelo from Panama. I loved this stuff the first time I was in Panama and this time I tried it again to make sure that wasn’t a fluke. It wasn’t. I had it at a few bars, neat and mixed, then bought a liter of the 7-year version for $12 at the airport duty free shop before I boarded my flight on Copa. After seven years of aging in oak barrels, twelve bucks!
On the smoothness scale, this rates in the middle between silky Ron Centenario (Costa Rica) and those with a sharp bite like Appleton Estates (Jamaica) and Flor de Cana (Nicaragua). It goes down easily, but has plenty going on to keep your taste buds happy in the finish. It has a full, rounded flavor that can cut through pineapple juice, but is smooth enough to sip for a while neat or on the rocks. If you see it in a duty free shop in Central America, reach for Ron Abuelo instead of a brand that’s more about marketing than what’s in the bottle—yes I’m talking to you Bacardi.
Next up is what has alternated with Jimador for my house tequila while living in Mexico: El Amo. I’ve never seen this Mexican-owned brand in the U.S. and it’s not in many bars in Mexico even, but the big supermarket chains usually carry it. It retails for about $10, even though it’s 100% blue agave and is really well-balanced tequila. It’s more flavorful and complex than Jimador, with a more pronounced agave taste, but there’s a natural evolution on your taste buds from start to finish. No one flavor component overpowers the others. Also, I don’t claim to have the advance palate of a true spirits judge, but I would swear this is aged in better barrels than the bigger mass-market brands. See more about it at the parent company site Hacienda de la Capilla.
Pick this up next time you’re in Mexico and try a taste test between this and something that costs three times as much. I’ve done it before and El Amo has come out on tops, by me and by the person drinking with me. That’s the funny thing about tequila: for the most part it’s all at least decent if it’s 100% blue agave and so the grades of difference are not always easy to determine from the price. Apart from the wooden top this bottle is nothing special, but what’s inside is a different story.