It’s tax time, and once you’re done sweating over the paperwork and writing out your check, you could probably use a drink. Ah, but there’s the rub—the IRS just walked away with your wallet, there’s a recession staring us in the face, and, to top it all, the real estate market is peeking into the abyss. At times like these, it’s hard to saunter out of the liquor store with a $50 bottle of scotch in your hand when within a few months it could turn out to be worth more than your house.
But that’s okay (well, it’s really not, but let’s pretend it is for now)—you can still have friends over for a perfectly satisfying and relaxing drink without cracking into the kids’ college fund. Here are a few ways to accomplish this (beyond the patently obvious "drink less"); be sure to join us in the comments section with any ideas you have.
- Change your brands: Obvious, yes, but it’s one of the first places where you can save. If you’re accustomed to unwinding with a glass of Laphroaig—around $66 a bottle in my area—it may be time to reassess lower-priced single malts such as Glenfiddich, which weighs in around $40.
- Change spirits: This may call for a greater shift in tastes and habits, but ultimately it could be the most rewarding. Let’s take that glass of scotch: basic single malts tend to start in the $35 range, depending on where you live, and the price rapidly escalates into the $50, $75 and beyond stratosphere for anything beyond the most basic. The situation is similar with cognac, and with decent tequila. But take a walk around the liquor store, and you’ll find excellent spirits that are still true bargains: satisfying and sippable bourbons start a good $10 to $15 cheaper than scotch, and except for the absolute top-of-the-line, the super-premium bottles top out at a price-point where scotch and cognac are just starting to get respectable./li>
- Discover rum: Premium rums are astonishingly cheap when compared to similarly aged spirits such as whiskey and cognac, with sippable rums starting in the low $20s. Even better, the quality and range of excellent sipping rums has taken off in recent years, and some truly exceptional rums can be found for about the same price as a basic single-malt scotch or reposado tequila—think Ron Zacapa Centenario 23 Anos, which retails for around $35; or Barbancourt 15-year-old, which goes for around $40. Explore the rum category, and walk out with two bottles of top-of-the-line spirits for less than what you’d pay for a single bottle of mid-range cognac.
- Embrace the cocktail: You don’t always have to break out the good stuff when guests come over, as long as you employ a little creativity. Cheaper, premium brands make wonderful cocktails (in many cases, they work a lot better than the higher-priced super-premiums), and you can prepare a wonderful drink for a fraction of the price of a glass of straight spirit. For instance, instead of opening that $40 bottle of Macallan, try mixing some Manhattans: you can pick up a bottle of Rittenhouse bonded rye—a double-gold winner at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, and one of the best bargains out there—for around $15, plus a bottle of decent sweet vermouth for another $6; toss in some Angostura bitters—$6 for a bottle that’ll last for years—and you’ve got perfectly respectable drinks for a crowd for much cheaper than what you’d spend on a single bottle of good scotch.
- Mix cheaper cocktails without compromising quality: Good tequila and triple sec can be heart-stoppingly expensive, so instead of serving margaritas, switch to daiquiris: Cruzan, Brugal and Flor de Cana all offer excellent white rums in the $15 or less region; add some fresh lime juice and a little laughably cheap sugar, and you have a classic, equally respectable daiquiri.
That should get you started; what are your suggestions?
About the author: Paul Clarke blogs about cocktails at The Cocktail Chronicles and writes regularly on spirits and cocktails for Imbibe magazine. He lives in Seattle, where he works as a writer and magazine editor.