Bar Thrift: Easy Ways to Serve Stylish, Cheap Drinks
Nobody wants to look like a cheapskate when they are hosting a party, but having an open bar with every drink on the planet available for a large group is of financial concern, no matter what your budget. Having a few strategies on hand for serving cheap drinks with style can help keep costs under control at your next shindig. (See also: Living Large With Lower Calorie Cocktails)
1. Get Your Grenadine in Bulk
Those who have been reading my work for a while now know what a fan I am of bulk buying. At the liquor store near my house, they carry grenadine in the 750 milliliter bottle for roughly the same price as the tiny jars you can find at the grocery store. This is a huge savings for cocktails like the tequila sunrise that require a splash of grenadine in order to complete the look and flavor. We’ve had our current bottle for three years and are still making fun cheap drinks with it on a fairly frequent basis. The smaller grocery store jar would have been used up within a single party.
2. Make Hot Drinks for Great Entertainment Value
Because steamy beverages are far less likely to be consumed quickly, they are great for gracious entertaining on a budget. This makes having a hefty list of hot toddy recipes a smart idea for those who host fall and winter parties on a regular basis. One of my favorite cheap drinks for cold weather is hot buttered rum, the recipe for which can be mixed in bulk and stored in the freezer.
3. Lose the Mixer
Certain spirits taste fine on their own, either neat or on the rocks. For example, when I recently tried a peach vodka cocktail called the Fuzzy Navel Crush, which requires Van Gogh peach vodka, the fruit flavor stood out so much in the drink that I decided to test drive the spirit on its own over ice. It was smooth, full-flavored, and absolutely fine without a mixer. Considering the price (about $27 per 750 ml bottle) is about what plain vodkas of a similar quality cost, I figured if I really wanted to enjoy this on a regular basis, it would be affordable because I wouldn’t need to purchase all of the additional ingredients I would normally have to for the types of drinks I like to mix.
Also, as with things like great seafood, higher-quality European cheeses, and gourmet hummus, a little tends to go a long way. This same strategy applies to flavored rums, aged Scotch whiskey, and other spirits as well.
4. Look to Boxed Wine for Flexibility
When it comes to gracious entertaining on a budget, using boxed wine is a great way to offer cheap drinks that aren’t tacky. Whether it’s mulled wine, sangria, or simple wine spritzers, there are multitudes of options for using inexpensive wines in a stylish way. I’ve even used boxed wine for marinades, fruit salad dressings, pasta sauces, and other elegant recipes when I needed pizazz for pennies.
5. Combine Liquor and Ice Cream for Affordable Decadence
Because ice cream cocktails tend to be quite rich, the consumption rate is similar to hot beverages — not very rapid. One example is the eggnog milkshakes my mother always made on Christmas Eve. As an adult, I've made these during the holidays with the addition of rum. Another way I like to enjoy liquor and ice cream together is by drizzling my flavor of choice (usually crème de menthe or butterscotch schnapps) over individual servings of vanilla ice cream. Cinnamon schnapps is another fun and classy Christmas idea to try with your ice cream, particularly for people who live in warmer climates.
6. Simplify Your Cocktail Selection
This will allow you to serve stylish cheap drinks without trashing your budget. There are actually a couple of ways I like to go here. One is to choose cocktail recipes with a short ingredients list. The other tip I like to use is to limit the drink selection in general. If I have one signature cocktail I’m serving in order to enhance the theme of the event, then the other beverages I offer are limited and affordable. For example, if vodka slush is the featured beverage, then sparkling water and a case of affordable microbrew on ice might be my only other beverage options in addition to coffee and tea.
See? Cheap drinks don’t have to be tacky. There are any number of stylish beverage ideas that can be mixed affordably.
What are your favorite party ideas for cheap drinks with style?