Good-tasting booze can be expensive, so if you’re like the rest of us, your taste for champagne may be limited by your budget. But settling on something cheap doesn't mean you have to sacrifice on taste. We've put together a list of techniques to help transform your budget liquor collection into something that will impress your guests.
1. DRINK LIKE YOU'RE STILL LIVING ABROAD.
Even if you didn’t study abroad in college, it’s still fun to drink like you did. Mix cheap red wine and Coke to make a Spanish drink called kalimotxo or calimocho. If beer is more your speed, drink like a German: Radlers and shandies (the British version) are both names for pre-canned mixtures of juice (or soda) with beer, and many are available within the U.S. To save a few bucks, mix your own with some cola, ginger beer, or orange juice.
In a pinch, you can also add a bit of salt and a squirt of lemon (or lime) to a beer to create a South American-style drink. There’s some science behind this one: Even if you only add the tiniest bit of salt, it suppresses your perception of bitter flavors in the beer.
2. INFUSE IT.
What’s fancier than expensive, name-brand liquor? A house-made infused liquor, of course! If you have a less-than-stellar bottle lying around, grab some cheap ingredients from the supermarket (such as cucumber, chai tea, or herbs) and get ready to rumble. Add in your flavorings, and shake every day or so. Remember to taste it often, and strain out the flavorings when you think your concoction is ready.
A few notes: You can flavor vodka with just about anything, but whiskey and rum pair better with vanilla, chocolate, or coffee flavors. Most gin pairs well with citrus and floral notes.
3. LEARN HOW TO MAKE A FEW CLASSIC COCKTAILS.
In the past, cocktails were sometimes used to mask the unpleasant—and occasionally deadly—flavors of poorly made booze. Luckily for you, booze is much safer these days (when consumed in moderation), so cocktails or punches just make drinking taste better—and more fun! Combine ginger beer, lime, and vodka to make a Moscow Mule, or substitute the vodka with gin to make a Gin Rickey. With just a few ingredients, you can even mix up your own house Old Fashioned, Martini, or Negroni.
4. RUN CHEAP VODKA THROUGH A CHARCOAL FILTER.
The idea has been tested on MythBusters and been the subject of many, many articles. Per the MythBusters results, filtering your cheap vodka won’t turn it into a high-end product, but it will make it taste better. In theory, running vodka through a charcoal filter (or coffee filter filled with activated charcoal) strips away undesirable flavors and aromas. Try it for yourself, but don’t forget to strain the results.
5. STORE VODKA IN THE FREEZER.
Texture and aroma play a huge part in our perception of flavor. Storing vodka in the freezer gives it a richer, silkier mouthfeel, making it seem more luxurious. When vodka is cold, it also releases fewer volatile taste and aromatic compounds. In vodka, this means that the resulting booze is even more flavorless (this may sound like a bad thing, but flavorlessness is actually part of the legal definition of vodka). While fewer volatile aromatic compounds may improve your vodka, the same can't be said for all types of booze. These same compounds enhance the taste of whiskey, for example.
6. PUT YOUR WINE THROUGH A BLENDER.
Your most pretentious friends have probably talked about letting their wine breathe. What they’re referring to is aerating the wine, a process that triggers oxidization and evaporation. By exposing wine to air, some not-so-great tasting compounds dissipate. In addition, the initial burn of alcohol vapor evaporates. Liquor goes through the same type of process, but takes much longer and doesn’t have the same positive results.
To get the party started quickly, dump your bottle into a blender, cover, and blend for about 30 seconds. Let settle and enjoy.