Holiday Cocktails On A Budget

By Anica Wong

October 7, 2011 4 min read

Imagine this: You are throwing a holiday party for your closest friends and co-workers, and although you have the menu set, you start having nightmares about what drinks to serve. You are on a budget, so buying a large variety of beverages sounds expensive. Wine or mixed drinks? Traditional cocktails or new recipes?

Marcia Simmons, co-author of "DIY Cocktails: A Simple Guide to Creating Your Own Signature Drinks," says that people shouldn't be afraid to have fun with cocktails at home. "While there are good ones out there, you can make up your own recipes." Experimenting with ingredients that are already in your home decreases the cost of providing alcohol at parties and makes the experience more personal.

But for those who are used to buying florescent green margarita mixes in big bottles, where do you even start?

First, stock up with standard alcohol that can be used in a variety of ways. Simmons says to get gin, vodka, whiskey, rye, tequila, a light rum and triple sec. And of course, always have fresh citrus such as limes and lemons handy.

Simmons' co-author, Joel Halpren, suggests looking at Costco, Trader Joe's and BevMo for the cheap alcohol staples that Simmons listed.

"They have a lot of stuff that is priced $5 to $10 below what it would be at the supermarket," he says. And in keeping your bar stocked, you don't want to break the bank. Also, stock up early. After major holidays, alcohol is usually put on sale. For a New Year's party, check out after-Christmas specials.

Secondly, try using fresh ingredients that are around the house. This will cut down on the sugar and artificial colors of ready-made mixers, while improving the flavor of your drinks. Make use of seasonal fruits that you already are utilizing for baking or cooking -- and the same with herbs.

"When you juice an orange (for a dessert), you don't have to throw away the zest. You can infuse the zest in vodka," Simmons says. She explains that cinnamon, which is a holiday favorite, can add a great dimension to a cocktail if steeped in a spirit for a couple of hours.

Fruits such as pears, apples and citrus can be juiced, and those juices can be made into syrups that you can add to your drinks. "To make a syrup, add sugar water with your desired fruit, strain it, mix it with vodka, and you have a homemade liqueur substitute," Simmons instructs.

A very important thing to keep in mind when hosting a party and serving alcohol is that you should not be expected to have every drink available to your guests.

"Don't be the neighborhood bar," says Halpren, who is also the founder of drinkoftheweek.com. "You are not walking into a bar that has every kind of glass and liqueur and mixer."

Picking two to three signature drinks will meet most people's needs and will cut down on the amount of alcohol you will need, as well as the stress of creating drinks everyone will like.

"Don't forget about punch," Simmons adds. "It is a great way to serve a large group of people in a broadly pleasing way. You can make one big batch of punch or sangria, or a punch with a gin base and some fruit flavors and sparkling water to top it off. That will please most people."

If you want to get adventurous, don't feel like you need to stick to the usual drinks. With their book, Simmons and Halpren help readers understand the building blocks to creating signature drinks. Once you have those tools, you can fashion your own drinks using ingredients found in your kitchen and alcohol that you use regularly.

Cheers to staying under budget and enjoying your holiday beverage.

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