The Frugal Mixologist

July  3, 2013

Cooking on the cheap shouldn't mean minute rice and buttered pasta every night. With a little creativity and a little planning, you can make the most of a tight budget -- without sacrificing flavor or variety. 

Today: Upgrade from light beer and two-buck chuck. Gabriella shares tips for mixing up affordable drinks for your next summer party. 


Cheap booze is not hard to find. 
Cheap booze that'll supply an entire party, doesn't taste like something you whipped up in your dorm room, and won't burn a hole in your stomach lining? That's a different story.
This Fourth of July, you don't have to settle for a thirty rack of beer or a tired old watermelon plugged with a bottle of vodka. Here are some fresh summer options that'll keep everyone happy through the last of the fireworks -- and won't burn a hole in your wallet either. 
Beer Cocktails
Embrace the beer cocktail: they use up less beer, are a little dressed up, and come in way cheaper than any traditional cocktail. Plus, they're light enough to sip all day long. You can't go wrong with a classic Michelada made with Modelos. (And the tomato juice is healthy, to boot.) I'm also a fervent advocate of the Beermosa -- just mix 2 parts light wheat beer (I like UFO Hefeweizen) with 1 part fresh-squeezed orange juice, and top with a slice of orange. 


White Sangria


You know that $3 wine you're not sure is kosher to bring to a dinner party? It's made for sangria -- and everyone loves sangria. Just follow the basic formula of 2 bottles of wine, plus 1/2 cup of any liquor that you have stashed away, plus fruit to marinate in it. I like my white wine versions with peaches, mango, pineapple, or berries and save my red for apples and oranges. This rosé version relies on seltzer, making it even more economical. There's really no way to whip up a bad batch, so let your liquor cabinet and crisper drawer be your guide. Running especially low on cash? Try a kalimotxo -- it's a Spanish drink touted as the "poor man's sangria."
Low-Rent Champagne Punch
Champagne Cocktail
Okay, so these recipes aren't technically made with Champagne. But budget sparkling wine is always a great pick for making a huge supply of punch -- just make sure to go with the driest kind available to avoid getting into cloyingly sweet territory. 
When Anna made a cheaper take on a French 75 at her last party, we were none the wiser! First she whipped up lemon-strawberry syrup (2 cups of lemon juice simmered with 1/2 cup sugar and 10 chopped strawberries for 20 minutes, cooled, and strained), then poured that into a bowl with 2 bottles of the sparkling stuff and 1 1/2 cups of gin. The best part? She froze lemon wedges in an ice block and left it to float -- the whole party was mesmerized.
Short on time and inspiration? Try this recipe from Martha that just requires you to mix champagne, simple syrup, and fruit. Cheers to that!
Tell us: what are your favorite budget drinks for a summer party? 
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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Lesliebling
  • Cathy Huyghe
    Cathy Huyghe
  • HalfPint
  • Gabriella Paiella
    Gabriella Paiella
  • Kenzi Wilbur
    Kenzi Wilbur
Yes, my name rhymes.


Lesliebling July 7, 2013
I forgot to mention the Herrengedeck, a legacy of East Germany that both fascinates and repels me. The name means, roughly, "gentleman's place setting." For most Germans, that refers to a pint of beer next to a shot of cheap booze. But in East Germany, it meant a stein of half beer, half cheap Sekt (German sparkling wine). Doesn't really stretch the alcohol supply but does taste so strange that it doesn't really matter how cheap the beer and the Sekt are!
Cathy H. July 8, 2013
This is just the sort of thing I love to try -- real and authentic, not to mention unusual, at least for me! It's officially added to the next-time-I'm-in-Germany list. Thank you!
Gabriella P. July 8, 2013
I second Cathy!
Cathy H. July 4, 2013
There are, happily, so many low-cost sparkling wines available for the Low-Rent Champagne Punch! Prosecco (from Italy) and Cava (from Spain) are two of the most popular examples. You can also branch out to sparklers from places as diverse as Australia and Argentina, and they come in white, red, and rosé options. Who knows? You may even like them so much they'll make the list of your permanent go-to budget drinks!
Kenzi W. July 4, 2013
Thanks for this, Cathy!
HalfPint July 3, 2013
I'm also making the plug for a Shandy: beer and 7-Up. Totally refreshing.
Gabriella P. July 3, 2013
Yes! Definitely in favor of the Shandy (I like mine with ginger ale or lemonade).
Lesliebling July 7, 2013
I love the name Shandy but detest the drink. It's called Radler (bicyclist) in Germany since its low alcohol content makes it a popular choice when taking a long bike tour or doing other recreational sports.

But though I don't like sprite in my beer, I've been known to drink Tinto de Verano. It's like the Kalimoxto, but with Casera, which is Spain's answer to Sprite or 7-up. Tastes slightly like lemon dish soap but it's fun with tapas on a day that's too hot for straight red wine.