DIY Drinks: Jazzing up Booze on the Cheap

Money’s tight. You’re down to 3% stubbies and value vodka. It's time to bring it all back home, depending on your skillset/stupidity

Feature by Jamie Faulkner | 09 Sep 2013
  • Cocktails

Beginners: Pimp your spirits!

Or, 'take a cheap spirit and make it better', rather than having to go out and buy loads of spirits – and other things – to mix together. A one-spirit cocktail, if you like. A not-tail? No. 

Vodka’s a nice neutral base for most flavours, so go mad. Not literally. Citrus peels can transform it, as can chilli, tea and coffee.

With rum, try adding vanilla and cinnamon; or amp up gin’s aromatics with juniper, rosemary and lemongrass.

Simply mix your chosen ingredients in a container or pop spices directly into the bottle and leave to infuse at room temperature. With infusions, don’t overdo it (work on a 5:100 flavouring to alcohol ratio for strong spices like cinnamon and vanilla, upping it for more subtle ones) and taste your mix every couple of days to check the progress of the flavour extraction.

Equipment costs are minimal: we’re talking a sieve and a funnel for removing the aromatics and putting the booze back in a bottle, respectively.

For a quintessentially English cocktail: blend a bottle of gin with a whole cucumber (as in, put the cucumber in the gin, don't attempt to smash up a bottle with a blunt vegetable) and allow to infuse in the fridge overnight. Sieve the mixture and use one part gin to one part apple juice, and top with soda and a squeeze of lime. Zzzing.

Advanced: Home brew! 

If you’ve got the time, inclination and balls you might want to dabble in home brewing. This is, however, more of a precise affair. You’ll need to invest in some kit initially, but it’ll pay itself off, and you will be literally everyone's mate.

By all means, search around for bargain equipment, but a ballpark figure is £60 for a kit containing barrels, fermenting bins, siphons and so on. There’s other technical stuff like hydrometers (for measuring the alcohol content of your brew) and campden tablets (for sterilisation). If you want to spread the cost, get a few mates in on the action or find a brewing cooperative (Manchester’s can be found on Facebook), who will provide equipment and knowledge for a small fee. Once that’s done, you can start brewing at of a cost per pint of less than 40 pence. LESS THAN 40 PENCE*. It’s outside our remit to go into the full brewing process, but suffice it to say the internet is awash with more or less in-depth guides. 

*did we mention it was less than 40 pence?