How to mix Christmas drinks on a budget

Dust off the punch bowl to mask cheaper booze with big, crowd pleasing flavours.
Dust off the punch bowl to mask cheaper booze with big, crowd pleasing flavours. Photo: Joel Beerden

Christmas is the season of generosity, but it can also be the season of credit card debt. Entertaining is often one of the prime culprits when it comes to burning a hole in the hip pocket and the booze budget, in particular, can be difficult to keep in check.

You don't need first-growth Bordeaux to have a good time, though. With a little creativity and forethought, the cheap stuff is capable of rising to the occasion. Here's how to make the most out of your bottom shelf bounty.

Know your limits

Spirits can be incredibly economical, but understand your limitations when it comes to budget booze. A dry martini made with cut-price rocket fuel will go down like paint stripper. As a rule of thumb when using cheap spirits, opt for cocktails where the hooch takes a back seat. This means fruit, sugar and dilution are your friends. Spirit aficionados might refute this suggestion, but they're not the ones trying to make the most out of leftover cooking brandy.

Buy top quality tonics to mix with cheaper gin.

Buy top quality tonics to mix with cheaper gin. Photo: Joel Beerden

Lift your game with the mixers

With so much focus on artisanal spirits, the mixer is often overlooked. The gin and tonic is a case in point. Instead of reaching for the $100 boutique gin touting unheard-of botanicals, try something simple, mixed with the best quality tonic you can get your hands on. Are you really going taste the nuance of hand-foraged pepperberry once you've mixed your gin out with sugar-water and ice?

The local tonic market is brimming with artisanal options guaranteed to turn heads at your next shindig. For balance and purity, open a Capi tonic, or if you're in the mood for something more flamboyant, brands Strangelove and Fever-Tree have you covered.

Gin wise, a simple London dry is a fine option. Gordon's is a classic that delivers plenty of bang for your buck and happens to be endorsed by James Bond and Queen Elizabeth II.

The michelada is perfect for a hot Aussie Christmas brunch.

The michelada is perfect for a hot Aussie Christmas brunch. Photo: Joel Beerden

Tart up the tinnie

A classic michelada is an excellent way to elevate the humble beer. This Mexican concoction of beer, lime, ice and hot sauce is super refreshing at an Aussie Christmas brunch. Crisp, light lagers work best, which means there's no need to blow the bank on craft beer. Mexican cerveza is ideal, but big brand Aussie lagers and crisp brews from Korea and Japan are fine substitutes.

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Just rub the rim of a glass with lime and salt as you would for a margarita. Add the juice of one lime, two teaspoons of hot sauce (Tapatio works well) and a dash of Maggi original seasoning for umami. Load the glass with ice and top up with your tinnie of choice.

There's room for customisation here, so feel free to vary ratios to taste and experiment with alternatives. Tomato juice is a common addition and a shot of smoky mezcal works a treat.

One cask of wine will service multiple sangria batches.

One cask of wine will service multiple sangria batches. Photo: Joel Beerden

Goon bag sangria

Expensive wine has no place in sangria. By the time it's chilled, sweetened and flavoured with fruit, any nuance will be long gone. A rough and ready is wine is preferable, so go for the cask.

The goon bag is overdue for limelight beyond clothesline drinking games and its second-life as a pillow. Invented by Aussie winemaker Thomas Angove in the '60s as a practical alternative to the half-gallon flagon, the wine is protected from oxygen once open, which means one cask will service multiple sangria batches without spoilage.

Combine half a litre of plonk with 125ml of brandy in a large pitcher. Add a cinnamon stick, a couple of stoned and chopped plums, a few lemon and orange wedges and a handful of bruised cherries. Cover with cling film and refrigerate overnight. Stir in approximately 600ml of cold lemonade before serving over plenty of ice.

Frugal fizz

The spritz is set to be the drink of the summer and there's absolutely nothing wrong with using cheap fizz as a mixer. Go for one of the many budget proseccos crowding bottle shop shelves these days. For the bitter liqueur component, Campari or Aperol will totally work and while they might not seem like the cheapest options, a little goes a long way in a glass full of ice.

Again, variations are encouraged but the classic 3:2:1 ratio is a good starting point: three parts sparkling wine, two parts bitter liqueur, one part soda water. Serve in a wineglass big enough to accommodate plenty of ice and garnish with citrus peel and a green olive or two. Saluti!

Punch on.

Punch on. Photo: Joel Beerden

Make the most of the leftovers

Once you've made the fruit mince and flambéed the pudding, there's every chance you'll be stuck a with bottle of cheap brandy destined to sit in the darkest corner of the cupboard until next Christmas. It's time to pool your resources and get creative.

Step 1: Assemble the usual suspects. Brandy, rum, the sherry you break out when Nan drops by, and that half bottle of sparkling left over from last night.

Step 2: Dust off the punch bowl.

Punch is an excellent way to mask cheaper spirits with big, crowd pleasing flavours. Fruity modern punches are great fun, but there are also plenty of interesting historical recipes kicking around that make use of less common combinations. Take the Daniel Webster's punch for instance, named after an outspoken Massachusetts senator. Although there are many variations on the 1869 original, the basic recipe is a convenient marriage of all the bits and bobs you might have laying around at this time of year.

Peel two lemons and muddle them in a punch bowl with half a cup of sugar. Add two cups of strong black tea, one and a half cups of red wine and three-quarters of a cup each of lemon juice, brandy, Jamaican rum and oloroso sherry. Add plenty of ice, top up with sparkling wine and garnish with citrus. (Be careful, this one packs a, ahem, punch).