Frugal Friday: Budget Cocktails

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I’ve long loved cocktails. There’s something about mixing the flavours until you have something new and tasty that appeals to me: cooking in liquid form.


However, drinking cocktails in bars is expensive. Making your own is much cheaper – and more fun. I’ve been to a few cocktail making classes and the basic gist is to make sure you have well-balanced flavours. A good cocktail doesn’t have to be complicated – just made with care (and good quality ingredients).


I’ve had cocktail parties where everyone brings their favourite base spirit to add to a communal cocktail ‘cabinet’. This means everyone gets an evening of cocktails for £5-20, depending on the size (and quality) of the bottle of spirits they bring: and cheaper for non drinkers, who can bring a non-alcoholic cocktail base instead.

Another way to cut the cost of cocktails is to make your own fruit spirits and other drinks.

Home made elderberry or blackberry port is great for mulling, and just requires adding berries to water and sugar then bottling.

Home made ginger cordial or ginger beer similarly involves adding sugar to grated ginger and water, simmering and either straining or adding yeast accordingly. Do not forget to release the pressure if you’re making ginger beer or you could end up with a very sticky kitchen.


Marmalade and jam offer a fast route to fruit liqueurs too. Simply shake your base spirit in an almost-empty jar of preserves and strain through muslin (or clean old tights) for an instant flavoured spirit. Add more jam for a more intense flavour.

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Consider garnishes too. You can use citrus peel strips, fresh berries, frozen berries, a swirl of fruit coulis, fresh herbs or a sugar or salt-rimmed glass.

For the latter, dip the edge of the glass in egg white then dip in sugar and leave to dry. Alternatively, use lemon or lime juice in place of egg white for a vegan alternative.

For drinks with ice cubes, add edible flowers or herbs for a low budget, high appeal garnish.

Tailor cocktails to the seasons. While frozen daquiris are lovely for using summer fruit gluts, at this time of year, I prefer richer, spicier drinks.

Freshly squeezed apple juice is abundant, particularly if you live near a transition town with any apple pressing events. Blackberry and elderberry syrups give an autumnal flavour, and ginger can help warm a chilly night. Here are a few seasonal ideas.

Mulled Apple Juice/Cider

As a lighter alternative to mulled wine, add a cinnamon stick, vanilla pod and 1 inch square chunk of ginger (crushed) to apple juice or cider. Simmer along with a few slices of orange or lemon for a warming treat. Add honey to taste.

You can also mull elderberry port, in which case add a clove or two and nutmeg to your mulling mix.

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Bramble and Apple

If ever a taste conjures autumn, it’s blackberries for me. Infamous cocktail creator, Dick Bradsell devised the Bramble in the 1980s. Adding apple gives an extra autumnal twist.

Fill a tumbler with crushed ice. Pour over two measures of gin to one each of lemon juice, fresh apple juice, sugar syrup and (ideally home madeblackberry liqueur. Garnish with blackberries or, if it’s too late in the year to find any, elderberries instead.

Rich Diablo

For tequila fans, use blackberry liqueur rather than cassis for a twist on a classic diablo.

Use three measures of tequila to one of blackberry liqueur. I add an extra drizzle of ginger syrup, along with 12 measures of ginger beer (in reality, this amounts to ‘top up a tall glass with ginger beer’) Be warned – this can be very potent if made with alcoholic ginger beer.

With a few home made spirits and a little imagination, you can enjoy cocktails at a bargain price. Just add friends.



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