4 tips for bargain boozing

Last week, Financial Post reporter Melissa Leong interviewed me for an article, “Five things you can do to have a boozy time on a budget,” which ran over the weekend. (It’s part of a yearlong series on extreme personal finance, including amusing videos called “Save Your #@%* Money,” which I fervently hope becomes the title of the book she’s clearly meant to write).

Our conversation got me thinking about ways to drink more inexpensively — but still drink well.  Some of these tips appeared in the article, some did not.

1. It’s always less costly to drink at home vs. out at a bar. The mark-ups that go into cocktails can be staggering. Think about it:  two $14  rye Manhattans (plus tip) = a 750ml bottle of good rye + a 375ml bottle of vermouth. That yields far more than two cocktails.   (Or, yes, you can find less expensive drinks at another bar. The  alcohol mark-up still will be significant.)

2. Make your own ingredients. You can purchase a 750 ml bottle of Monin cane syrup for $6 or more.  Or you can buy a box of granulated sugar and make your own simple syrup. By the same token, you can also DIY grenadine and Maraschino cherries.  Raw ingredient costs are low; what you’re paying for in these products is labor, packaging, and distribution costs. When you go to a bar, you’re paying for labor again, plus real-estate and other expenses too.

3. Choose your booze wisely. Armagnac is often better value than similar Cognacs; yet both are grape brandies from France with similar flavor profiles. American-made whiskies are often better value than imported whiskies.  And for god’s sake, save the top shelf and longer-aged stuff for drinking straight, not for mixing into cocktails.

4. You don’t have to buy expensive glassware. Punchbowls and glassware in multiples have been on my mind ever since I started researching Cocktails for a Crowd. Sure, I’d love to drop a bundle at Crate & Barrel for pitchers and punchbowls and a few dozen new glasses every time I throw a party. But it’s not necessary:  you’d be surprised what can be used to showcase large-format drinks.  Vases. Fish bowls. Fondue pots. Mason jars. Not to mention all the gorgeous vintage glassware to be scooped up at flea markets and yard sales. A word of caution, though:  whatever vessels you use for serving drinks, make sure they are thoroughly clean.

I’d love to hear your tips for drinking/entertaining on the cheap. If enough ideas come in, I’ll publish a follow-up to this post.

7 thoughts on “4 tips for bargain boozing

  1. As a follow up to #1……………one of our favorite things to do is try to recreate that awesome bar cocktail back at home.

    Just spent Friday night recreating Roy’s Coconut Frappe (awesome 150 calorie improvement over a pina colada)………even harder a few weeks ago was trying to make a cocktail with celery juice….who’d have thought a blender & cheese cloth could produce such a glorious result.

    It takes a few rounds to get it right, but it’s a ton of fun and a cheap night.

    Date: Mon, 10 Jun 2013 15:12:14 +0000 To: shieldscarolyn@hotmail.com

    • Thanks! That’s a good tip about using cheesecloth to strain a puree for cocktail use. I’ve seen bartenders using fancy wire strainers or those conical Chinoise strainers, and I agree – a square of cheesecloth can yield similar results.

  2. 1. Buy glasswear at an outlet store. We have a Libbey Glass outlet where we live and buy decent stuff on the cheap.
    2. Obvious, but three levels of booze: 1) motor oil quality (if the recipe calls for lime-aid, the quality of booze doesn’t matter), 2) value (inexpensive but really good, e.g. Buffalo Trace Bourbon, good on it’s own or in an old-fashioned, 3) high end (like a couple of times a year stuff with special, special friends.
    3. Always make your own simple syrup
    4. Have a signautre drink that doesn’t require weird-ass ingredients.
    5. Stay classy.

  3. Making drinks at home really is cheaper. Even using quality ingredients, a lot of drinks can be made for $2-3 a pop. To put it another way, you can afford to host a cocktail party with a dozen people for the cost of going out for a few drinks with a few friends. And as you note, making bigger batches means that it doesn’t even have to take a lot of time to put together. Plus, you don’t have to worry about getting yourself home at the end of the night.

    • Ha! I love that you don’t even have to pay for taxi fare at the end of the night. Hadn’t considered that as an expense, but it does add up, doesn’t it?

      I’m really enjoying these comments – getting into channeling my inner cheapskate.

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