October 25, 2010 4:09 PM   Subscribe

In balancing my budget, I found that I have, while not champagne tastes, microbrew tastes on a PBR budget. Help me brainstorm ways to drink on the cheap!

The closest previous post I could find was this, in which a hip flask is suggested. While I do quite enjoy a good bourbon, I find myself drinking beer these days. Expensive, delicious, small-batch craft beer.

Can anyone think of ways to reduce these costs? I live in a very, very small town, and already cook 99% of my meals, make my own coffee, and frequently have people over for potlucks, game nights, etc., yet my discretionary income is being frittered away on...craft beer. Doh!

I am not all that interested in brainstorming other ways to reduce the number of nights going out, because frankly, that and the TiVo are the only things that keep me going in this place some days. Rather, I'm interested in ways to still be social with my friends, join in for happy hours, but either reconcile my tastes (I know, I'm a terrible snob) with my budget or adjust the amount I'm drinking. I never seem to have more than one or two at a time, but looking at my bank statements, boy does it add up.
posted by stellaluna to Food & Drink (26 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You could learn to make your own beer very well. After the initial equipment investment, you could make a batch (roughly 2 cases) of some fantastic beers for something in the $20-$30 range (or cheaper, if you can get supplies in bulk).

Otherwise, you'll have to put up with the $12-per six-pack cost of Dogfish Head like the rest of us.

If you can visit a nearby brewery, you may be able to get beer cheaper.
posted by King Bee at 4:12 PM on October 25, 2010 [3 favorites]

Homebrewing will make you many many friends! I've heard anecdotally that it's not really a money-saver though, due to the high startup cost. Maybe if you buy equipment on Craigslist?

My biggest cheap booze discovery was very good quality box wine. Big House Red is as good as most $10 bottles, but in my area goes for around $16 for 3L (4 bottles). You can decant it into a used wine bottle when you have people over....
posted by miyabo at 4:18 PM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I think, but I'm not sure, that you're talking about beer costs while going out? Yeah, I hear you there.

I would recommend sampling as many beers as you can (here it helps to be really friendly with your bartender, and it pays off to tip well), then picking something tasty and affordable to drink as slowly as possible. After that, switch to water, or something inexpensive/on special. Of course, tip generously in either case.

A lot of bars near me have "____ Beer Night", where a specific brand (Abita, Dogfish, Flying Fish) or specific type (hoppy, cask, Belgian) will be on special. You said you live in a small town, but see if you can find events like these.
posted by supercres at 4:19 PM on October 25, 2010

Are you familiar with the saying--in the realm of service--that out of fast, cheap, good, you can pick any two but not three? In the realm of beer drinking, out of the parameters of cheap, good, and often, you'll have to pick the two that matter the most. Frankly, adjusting the amount you're drinking downward is almost never a bad idea.

That said, homebrewing might help solve some of your problem, especially if you're typically serving craft beer to your frequent guests.
posted by drlith at 4:20 PM on October 25, 2010

I should add: if you keep up an excellent relationship with your bartender (friendly chat, first-name basis, excellent tips), you will get comped when something new or interesting comes up on draft, at least for a small glass. Bottles are a tougher sell, but it can't hurt to try.
posted by supercres at 4:22 PM on October 25, 2010

Can you get your friends to come over to your place?

If you want to go out, you are pretty much stuck paying whatever the bar wants to charge you for the beer you want to drink. The only solutions there are (1) go out less, (2) go to cheaper places, (3) drink fewer beers, (4) or drink cheaper beer. Or some combination thereof. I'm guessing those have probably all occurred to you.

The only other thing that comes to mind is to drink at your or your friends' houses rather than at a bar. The bar markup on beer is typically pretty huge, like several hundreds of percent. It's not hard to invite your friends over and each have a few beers for the price that you might pay yourself for a night out.
posted by Kadin2048 at 4:23 PM on October 25, 2010

Best answer: stellaluna: "Can anyone think of ways to reduce these costs? I live in a very, very small town, and already cook 99% of my meals, make my own coffee, and frequently have people over for potlucks, game nights, etc., yet my discretionary income is being frittered away on...craft beer. Doh!"

Get beer for Christmas or your holiday of choice. Seriously, tell your friends and family that what you want Santa to bring you this year is anything from 1 to 6 bottles of his favourite craft beer. That way you'll get wonderful variety at home and can even have people in for beer night, and can spend that money when you go out for happy hour.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:36 PM on October 25, 2010

Tesco value vodka = Cheap chasers.


posted by Biru at 4:44 PM on October 25, 2010

I choose to think of it this way:

Sure, $10 for beer is expensive.

But $10 for a bottle of wine is cheap.

For a very tiny amount of money, you can have some of the best beers in the world. Your money doesn't go nearly as far on any other alcoholic drink.

Just keep it in moderation and always have a cheaper go-to brand for when things are tight or you want to go on a bender. I'm a fan of Yuengling, especially their Black & Tan.
posted by Sara C. at 4:54 PM on October 25, 2010

People have already covered taking up homebrewing, but I'll nth it anyway. It doesn't have to be particuarly expensive, equipment-wise--you probably already have a big stockpot, and if you like beer (and put the word to the streets) you can pile up bottles fairly quickly. Can you afford a five-gallon bucket with a spigot (less than twenty bucks), an airlock (a couple bucks), a capper (maybe twenty bucks, top) and some bottle caps (a few bucks)? That's about all the equipment you need to get started. Ingredient kits can get pricey, but cheap ones are around twenty or thirty bucks (and if you discover you enjoy it, you can get bulk ingredients and save some more loot that way). Okay, enough about homebrewing.

If you want to go out just as often, and you're currently drinking one or two at a time, I don't know how much you can lower your consumption--you could go from two to one, I suppose.

Bars that have a wide selection of fancy beers usually have specials--my default choice is whatever I've never had before, especially if it's draft and/or seasonal. This'll give you a chance to learn more about what you like, and it'll be cheaper than drinking Chimay or something.
posted by box at 5:15 PM on October 25, 2010

(And as others have said--if you make nice with bartenders, they'll give you the occasional free stuff.)
posted by box at 5:15 PM on October 25, 2010

Hm. I have a few tips from living with an alcoholic flatmate.

First of all, if you want to drink and be social with your friends but can't afford to go out all the time, try and host some nights in at your place. Drinking at home is going to be a million times cheaper than drinking out, especially if you just grab a slab of whatever's on offer at the supermarket. You might even be able to entice people to bring some alcohol round to your place by offering to provide something else, such as food or entertainment. It's amazing the amount of people who can't cook (or can't be bothered to cook) and are happy to trade a few cans for a home-cooked meal.

Second, find cheaper bars. Dive bars, old man pubs, those kind of things. One of my friends dated a bartender and he gave us all the free drinks we wanted every time we went there. I understand this isn't typical, but I do think if you get to know the bar staff somewhere, and you're nice and polite and friendly, you might end up with some free drinks. Also, a lot of places will have a drink or two they sell exceptionally cheap, so go there and stick to that.

Is there anything you can do for a local bar in exchange for drinks? Play gigs if you're in a band? Put on club nights as a promoter? Hand out flyers?

You could also try having a pint of water every other drink. You'll save money and you won't get drunk as quickly!

Some of my friends were fond of buying cans at a shop somewhere and sneaking them into the pub. They'd order a pint (or even a pint of water), drink it, and then go to the bathroom with the glass and pour a can of beer into the glass and bring it back out. That was a bit much for me though they did it all the time.

Another somewhat dodgy idea they came up with was to bring a flask full of some sort of cheap spirit (something good in mixed drinks) and then order just a Diet Coke or something. Then you go to the bathroom and pour some alcohol from your flask into the soft drink.

Finally, maybe just consider having some nights where you go out but don't drink. This is what I do sometimes now, having mellowed in my er old age. I know sometimes it sucks to be the only sober person when everyone else is trashed, but you can totally have great nights out without drinking. Ordering a soft drink instead of a pint will save you shocking amounts of money. If you don't drink on a few nights out, you'll find yourself with enough saved for one big night out.

Drinking and budgets are hard to reconcile. Good luck!
posted by Put the kettle on at 5:18 PM on October 25, 2010

Yeah, after the 2nd one, I find my tastebuds really don't care so much, so when you're out could you switch to cheap beer after the 2nd beer?

My brother makes beer and finds that it's a great gift/trade. Maybe if you make some you can trade with other local brewers to get a variety?
posted by ldthomps at 5:33 PM on October 25, 2010

You can pack a 2.5" tea ball with some fresh hops and dunk it in otherwise cheap lager. Let it sit for a bit and you will notice a change in flavor. But if you like craft beers, this change will nowhere near be balanced. Plus you'll look like a lunatic and have a wet, drippy tea ball of hops to deal with after you're done.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:47 PM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Seconding Make it yourself, Home Brewing can be done on the cheap. It costs me about $30 for 5 gallons of beer. The start up costs are around $50 if done on the cheap and craigslist can make it free. Brewing beer is fun and 5 gallons is a ton of beer, invite friends to help brew and pay for materials. The normal way to save money on booze is to buy in bulk, always pregame and carry a flask.
posted by Felex at 6:03 PM on October 25, 2010

Flirt with people who are older and less attractive than you.
posted by hermitosis at 6:21 PM on October 25, 2010 [5 favorites]

I've only been brewing since February--21 batches--and my beer is now down to an average $6.40/six-pack. It could be less if you want. My beer is terrific, and so far I estimate saving ~$400. If you start, me-mail me and I'll send you my spreadsheet.

You'll note I don't keep track of knitting this way... O_o
posted by mimi at 7:08 PM on October 25, 2010

Best answer: Do microbreweries near you have tours or tastings? I know a couple that have free or $1-to-enter tastings on Fridays after work (happy hour!), or Saturday afternoons. Every week. That's 2 days a week of drinking/sipping delicious expensive beer (free pretzels too!), and your friends will be like, "wow, stellaluna is so cool for knowing cool hangout spots with free beer." And then maybe some of your friends will buy the beer at the microbreweries and invite you over to hang out and drink some. As long as you still host your friends once in a while, they won't even catch on that you're not buying as much beer.
posted by KateHasQuestions at 7:44 PM on October 25, 2010

Head to William's Brewing and buy the beer starter kit. It'll get you everything you need except for bottles and water. Felex's cost is spot on: about $30 a 5 gallon batch. Initial cost is pretty steep but I think it was worth it. If you get your own cheaper equipment, at least try their English Bitter kit which is a fantastic smooth beer.
posted by chairface at 7:44 PM on October 25, 2010

Response by poster: Home brewing has definitely crossed my mind; a friend and I have discussed going in on it together, and we have a store about two hours away that has all the equipment you'd need.

The problem with home brewing, though, is that you drink it at...home. Which is the place I get very, very tired of when fall rolls around and we get about seven hours of daylight. This also goes for suggestions of entertaining; I do so about every two weeks, and it gets OLD.

The suggestions to cultivate a relationship with bartenders and to seek out dive bars (oh, that there was one here!) are great--I can chime on the first, which hasn't been too hard since there are only three bars here.

Perhaps I'm really just bitching about my social options (or lack thereof) here, and what seems to be different bar-etiquette than in other places I've lived. Or perhaps I'm just aging out of the bell curve of who benefits from that bar-etiquette :)

Thanks, all!
posted by stellaluna at 8:00 PM on October 25, 2010

Response by poster: I should also add that most of my friends do not entertain in their homes, so going to friends' houses is out as well--but you're right that it would save me from looking at my own four walls!
posted by stellaluna at 8:02 PM on October 25, 2010

Ask why your friends don't have people over. If they have room mates or just hate having people at their house then drop it, but if they don't really have a reason then perhaps you can convince them. Offer to bring some of the homebrew that you should start making.
If your friends are also beer fans, don't give them bottles; they can only try your micro, micro, micro brew when you bring a couple growlers to the shindig at someone else's house.
As long as you're at a bar though, a shake of bitters in your pint can make a watery beer taste drastically different.
posted by gally99 at 8:35 PM on October 25, 2010

Got a brewery or brewpub within reasonable distance? See if you can get them to fill you a growler for at-home enjoyment. Refills should be cheaper than buying six-packs. If you get your fill of good beer at home, maybe you'll be better able to reconcile yourself to drinking cheap beer while out with friends? You may have to reframe the meaning of the beer: you can be happy drinking something cheap if you convince yourself that the purpose of drinking it is not to enjoy the flavor, but to have something alcoholic while socializing with your friends.

Alternatively, keep drinking the good stuff but earn your beer money. Since you say you don't go out every night of the week and you don't drink more than one or two beers when you go out, there shouldn't be all that huge a price difference between drinking cheap beer and drinking craft beer. Let's say a cheap beer is $2 and an expensive beer is $6 and you drink five beers a week. That's a difference of $20 a week. Find someone who needs a regular babysitter for two hours every Tuesday night and you've got your beer budget covered.
posted by Orinda at 8:47 PM on October 25, 2010

Host beer-tasting potlucks - invite people over and ask them to bring a bottle (or two) of their favourite beer, add in one of your own, put them all on the table and everyone gets to sample one anothers' beer.

If you have small glasses you could probably taste lots of different types. And if you're really lucky you might get leftovers.
posted by penguin pie at 8:10 AM on October 26, 2010

Best answer: Pitchers can be good deals at some bars. If you can get a buddy also hooked on the good stuff, you could trim some of the cost that way.
posted by kryptonik at 8:10 AM on October 26, 2010

Some bars will sell tap beer by the glass in addition to the pint. By glass I mean liek a water glass. They are usually cheaper than pints. I would first get a pint of beer, then get a glass, then resolve to be done with bought drinks for the night. I've seen this most often in old man type bars and dive bars.

And of course since 2 drinks is sometimes not enough, pregame at your place.
posted by WeekendJen at 9:38 AM on October 26, 2010

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