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Like many hobbies, you get involved lightly and make something easy and realise you want to do more. You quickly come to realise that pursuing your hobby to the fullest means that you have to buy equipment and ingredients and those costs can very quickly start to add up. While anyone is fully capable of doing what they love, the costs associated with doing so can be off-putting so we're here to share 6 ways how you can reduce them and make cocktail making a hobby you don't need to break the bank for
1) Make Your Own Ingredients
As you might have discovered by now, sometimes cocktail ingredients can be pretty expensive. Sometimes the cost makes sense, but most of the time however, it doesn't. Sugar syrup, also known as as Simple Syrup, is a very common ingredient in a lot of cocktails, and can cost up to £10 per bottle - which seems odd when you can make it at home by the litre for as little as 65p! So simple and so cheap.
You can also do this with grenadine, countless fruit purees, fruit syrups and so much more. Once you've mastered making basic ingredients, challenge yourself by infusing your own flavoured spirits to use for more eccentric cocktail recipes! Check out our blog to see all of the ingredients you can make yourself at home today.
2) Invest In Cost Saving Equipment
The saying goes "that you have to spend money to make money..." and if you want to make whatever drink you want, whenever you want, sometimes you have to spend money to save money too. If you have the funds, consider making these no-brainer investments that will save you money in the long run. Here are our three top choices for cost-saving equipment:
A High Quality Juicer. If you're making drinks just for yourself its not always worth buying a bottle of certain ingredients, such as lime juice, because they can go bad before you've used it all. Plus, fresh fruit from a local market is almost always cheaper than buying a bottle of the manufactured stuff. In many large supermarkets, a dozen or so limes will still be cheaper than a bottle of lime juice. When it comes to harvesting this citrus gold, we're huge fans of a good, hand cranked Mexican Elbow, used by professional bartenders worldwide for when you only need just a splash of juice for just one or two mixed drinks. A standard lemon will hold between 1-3 ounces (25ml-80ml) of juice which is almost perfectly what some recipes need, but not at all worth buying an entire bottle of lemon juice for.
A Sodastream. If you love making highballs or any drink that needs sparkling water, we strongly recommend getting your hands on a Sodastream from Amazon. It simply carbonates any quantity of water or juice with incredible ease, meaning you'll always be prepared. Soda water is relatively low cost per unit but this cost will eventually eclipse the cost of a Sodastream, at which point, every top up from the shops is a loss to you.
An Ice Maker. Every single cocktail has one ingredient in common. No, not alcohol, but ice. Whether you're using it to fill in your glass, shake in your tins or blend with, you'll always need to have enough ice to get the job done.
Sure, you can fill up your ice tray and make ice cubes for free, but a standard ice cube tray only produces 12 cubes - roughly enough to fill one highball glass with just enough left over to use for shaking. Once you've used all of that, you'll have to wait ever so patiently (approximately 3 hours, but maybe more!) to freeze another set to make one more drink. Not the best option if you're having company.
And sure, you can buy prepackaged ice at any local supermarket, which will make approximately 5 drinks and will set you back only a few small coins, but over time this cost will mount up. This isn't even factoring in the time and effort it takes to go to the store and bring one back every time you feel like you're running out.
As spontaneous, experimental cocktail enthusiasts, we love this portable ice maker from Amazon because it can produce up to 12kg of ice in 10 minutes or less.
3) Only Buy Equipment You Need
When you decide to buy your first cocktail set it's exciting, but the amount of options can be very overwhelming. A quick search of 'cocktail making kit' will return hundreds of products with exciting sounding items, and its very easy to get carried away, but trust me, you definitely don't need a 25 piece cocktail making set. From our collective experience, the bigger the set, the more likely that it contains things you don't need - just to raise the price. Each to their own, but I'm sure you probably don't need 4 different metal straws and a range of different strainers you don't know how to use.
The key to protecting your pocket is to understand exactly what you need to get the job you want done. First of all, educate yourself about each piece of equipment. Secondly, unless you're a professional, learn to make do and improvise with your existing tools. If you have a Hawthorne strainer available you can re-purpose it as a julep strainer as and when you need it. Similarly, if you have shaker tins you don't need to shell out for a fancy crystal mixing glass.
This sentiment extends to non-specialised items too. While certain equipment do have their intricate advantages, recognise whether you're at the level to truly appreciate them, and if not then you don't need to shell out to have them. You really don't need a special bar knife if you have variety of kitchen knives already, and you don't need tongs if you're not above using your own fingers.
4) Plan Which Ingredients You Need To Buy
Having a planned and focused approach to the drinks you want to make now and in the future will allow you to gradually grow your potential and make additions that won't work against you. If you take a scatter gun approach to building a home bar you'll end up buying lots of random or loosely related items based on impulse, some of which you'll inevitably use far less and will have just been a waste of money. The aim is to avoid spending money on ingredients you'll hardly use and plan in advance how you'll accumulate the things you need to make an interesting variety of drinks.
How can you do this? A valuable skill is to recognise similarities between the drinks you like and work from there. For example, if you enjoy making and drinking Tiki cocktails, you know that you will need a good supply of rum, lime juice and pineapple juice because they're the most common ingredients. Additions like like grenadine, triple sec and orange juice will expand the range of cocktails you can make, and you can be certain you will use them in other drinks too. Once you have all these you can push the boundaries a little and make something that has a seemingly unrelated product in it, like Campari in a Jungle Bird. Your new Campari won't sit gathering dust on the shelf, since now you can use it to make Negronis.
After some time you can look at the ingredients you've accumulated and determine a new direction you want to go in. Continuing from the above example, you already have triple sec, lime juice, grenadine and orange juice now - all you need is a bottle of tequila and some agave nectar and suddenly you can enjoy Margaritas and Tequila Sunrises too!
We have a more in depth guide for making these connections in our blog post on how to build a home bar.
5) Reduce waste
While this is pretty standard common sense it's still worth mentioning it here because of how often it still happens. Anything that doesn't make it into your drink is considered waste. A few drips and drops here, and a spill and a splash there may not seem like much, but consider that a standard 70ml bottle of your favourite spirit only holds 28 shots in it. And think about how much shots cost at your local bar on a Friday night... Every single spillage whether minor or major, accelerates time it takes until your bottle runs dry, which in turn speeds up the frequency that you'll need to buy another. The best way to put a stop to this is by learning how to pour accurately.
Similarly, follow recipes exactly (or as closely as you can if you're improvising) and make sure you have the correct ingredients to hand before you start. Unfortunately, once you mix two liquids together there's no going back. If you accidentally pour the wrong ingredient into a shaker, you will have also wasted all the ingredients you put in before it, creating regretful collateral damage.
Recipes are designed to fit the designated glass, so veering off track may cause you to make more than is necessary. Make sure to use the correct glassware too. A drink intended for a highball won't fit into a lowball no matter how loudly you cry, and more of your mix will end up on the floor than in your mouth.
Reducing waste isn't just limited to alcohol. Try to make the most of your fruits and garnishes - they will stretch far further than you'd initially think. Consider the following examples:
- If you need just the peel of an orange for your Old Fashioned, rather than throw the entire fruit away why not juice it and use it for your next Screwdriver?
- A pineapple crown has 30-50 leaves, but you only need one to dress up your Pina Colada - Its more than likely that the rest will end up in the bin, but why not pick them all, put them in a freezer bag and freeze them to use as and when you require them?
- Another method of preserving garnishes is to dehydrate them, a common practice in Tiki bars and city bars. This will let you stretch the shelf life of your drinks' decorations by up to 6 months, saving you a little time and a few pennies every time you fancy something fancy. Watch this video from eHow to learn how to do this yourself at home.
6) Don't Worry About Brands
You've probably noticed that we refrain from mentioning any specific brands in most of our recipes. While using specific branded ingredients may be integral for some recipes, as is the case with Goslings in a Dark & Stormy, it more than often is not the case. Fundamentally, use of certain brands come down to individual tastes and this is ultimately down to you. Unless you want to, there's really no need to use a luxury brand to make the simplest vodka cocktails, and no one will judge you for using store-brand spirits for your Long Island Iced Tea.
That being said, some brands are undeniably better than others to the point that they are synonymous with the product itself and tend to be priced at the upper limit. This is the case with brands like Disoronno with amaretto, Archers with Peach Schnapps, Midori with melon liqueur and many more, so you can be forgiven for forgetting that they're not your only options. Other brands are also better suited to, or accentuated better in certain cocktails, like how certain rums will mix well in a highball like a Cuba Libre but are a poor choice in drinks where the natural flavour of the alcohol is being showcased, like a Mai Tai.