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6 Foolproof Ways to Make Cheap Booze Taste Better

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Good-tasting booze can be expensive, so if you’re like the rest of us, your taste for champagne may be limited by your budget. But settling on something cheap doesn't mean you have to sacrifice on taste. We've put together a list of techniques to help transform your budget liquor collection into something that will impress your guests.

1. DRINK LIKE YOU'RE STILL LIVING ABROAD.

Even if you didn’t study abroad in college, it’s still fun to drink like you did. Mix cheap red wine and Coke to make a Spanish drink called kalimotxo or calimocho. If beer is more your speed, drink like a German: Radlers and shandies (the British version) are both names for pre-canned mixtures of juice (or soda) with beer, and many are available within the U.S. To save a few bucks, mix your own with some cola, ginger beer, or orange juice.

In a pinch, you can also add a bit of salt and a squirt of lemon (or lime) to a beer to create a South American-style drink. There’s some science behind this one: Even if you only add the tiniest bit of salt, it suppresses your perception of bitter flavors in the beer.

2. INFUSE IT.

What’s fancier than expensive, name-brand liquor? A house-made infused liquor, of course! If you have a less-than-stellar bottle lying around, grab some cheap ingredients from the supermarket (such as cucumber, chai tea, or herbs) and get ready to rumble. Add in your flavorings, and shake every day or so. Remember to taste it often, and strain out the flavorings when you think your concoction is ready.

A few notes: You can flavor vodka with just about anything, but whiskey and rum pair better with vanilla, chocolate, or coffee flavors. Most gin pairs well with citrus and floral notes.

3. LEARN HOW TO MAKE A FEW CLASSIC COCKTAILS.

In the past, cocktails were sometimes used to mask the unpleasant—and occasionally deadly—flavors of poorly made booze. Luckily for you, booze is much safer these days (when consumed in moderation), so cocktails or punches just make drinking taste better—and more fun! Combine ginger beer, lime, and vodka to make a Moscow Mule, or substitute the vodka with gin to make a Gin Rickey. With just a few ingredients, you can even mix up your own house Old Fashioned, Martini, or Negroni.

4. RUN CHEAP VODKA THROUGH A CHARCOAL FILTER.

The idea has been tested on MythBusters and been the subject of many, many articles. Per the MythBusters results, filtering your cheap vodka won’t turn it into a high-end product, but it will make it taste better. In theory, running vodka through a charcoal filter (or coffee filter filled with activated charcoal) strips away undesirable flavors and aromas. Try it for yourself, but don’t forget to strain the results.

5. STORE VODKA IN THE FREEZER.

Texture and aroma play a huge part in our perception of flavor. Storing vodka in the freezer gives it a richer, silkier mouthfeel, making it seem more luxurious. When vodka is cold, it also releases fewer volatile taste and aromatic compounds. In vodka, this means that the resulting booze is even more flavorless (this may sound like a bad thing, but flavorlessness is actually part of the legal definition of vodka). While fewer volatile aromatic compounds may improve your vodka, the same can't be said for all types of booze. These same compounds enhance the taste of whiskey, for example.

6. PUT YOUR WINE THROUGH A BLENDER.

Your most pretentious friends have probably talked about letting their wine breathe. What they’re referring to is aerating the wine, a process that triggers oxidization and evaporation. By exposing wine to air, some not-so-great tasting compounds dissipate. In addition, the initial burn of alcohol vapor evaporates. Liquor goes through the same type of process, but takes much longer and doesn’t have the same positive results.

To get the party started quickly, dump your bottle into a blender, cover, and blend for about 30 seconds. Let settle and enjoy.

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Say ‘Cheers’ to the Holidays With This 24-Bottle Wine Advent Calendar
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Courtesy New District

This year, eschew your one-tiny-chocolate-a-day Advent calendar and count down to Christmas the boozy way. An article on the Georgia Straight tipped us off to New District’s annual wine Advent calendars, featuring 24 full-size bottles.

Each bottle of red, white, or sparkling wine is hand-picked by the company’s wine director, with selections from nine different countries. Should you be super picky, you can even order yourself a custom calendar, though that will likely add to the already-high price point. The basic 24-bottle order costs $999 (in Canadian dollars), and if you want to upgrade from cardboard boxes to pine, that will run you $100 more.

If you can’t quite handle 24 bottles (or $999), the company is introducing a 12-bottle version this year, too. For $500, you get 12 reds, whites, rosés, and sparkling wines from various unnamed “elite wine regions.”

With both products, each bottle is numbered, so you know exactly what you should be drinking every day if you really want to be a stickler for the Advent schedule. Whether you opt for 12 or 24 bottles, the price works out to about $42 per bottle, which is somewhere in between the “I buy all my wines based on what’s on sale at Trader Joe’s” level and “I am a master sommelier” status.

If you want to drink yourself through the holiday season, act now. To make sure you receive your shipment before December 1, you’ll need to order by November 20. Get it here.

[h/t the Georgia Straight]

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A Brief History of the Pickleback Shot
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Wally Gobetz, flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

It's sour. It's briny. For some, it's nauseating. For others, a godsend.

It's the pickleback shot, an unusual combination of drinking whiskey and pickle brine that has quickly become a bartending staple. Case in point? Kelly Lewis, manager of New York City's popular Crocodile Lounge, estimates she sells at least 100 pickleback shots every week.

Pickleback loyalists may swear by it, but how did this peculiar pairing make its way into cocktail culture? On today's National Pickle Day, we hit the liquor history books to find out.

PICKLEBACK HISTORY, AS WE KNOW IT

As internet legend has it, Reggie Cunningham, a former employee of Brooklyn dive bar Bushwick Country Club, invented the shot in March 2006. He was half bartending, half nursing a hangover with McClure's pickles, when a customer challenged him to join her in doing a shot of Old Crow bourbon whiskey followed by a shot of pickle juice as a chaser. As he nostalgically tells YouTube channel Awesome Dreams, "the rest is history."

Cunningham went on to introduce the pairing to more and more customers, and the demand grew so much that he decided to charge an extra dollar per shot, just for the addition of pickle brine. After that, the mixture spread like wildfire, with bars across the world from New York to California and China to Amsterdam adding "pickleback" to their menus.

THE PICKLEBACK'S UNCLEAR ORIGIN

Two shot glasses topped with small pickles.

Neil Conway, flickr // CC BY 2.0

Sure, Cunningham may have named it the pickleback shot, but after reviewing mixed reports, it appears pickle juice as a chaser is hardly novel. In Texas, for example, pickle brine was paired with tequila well before Cunningham's discovery, according to Men’s Journal. And in Russia, pickles have long been used to follow vodka shots, according to an NPR report on traditional Russian cuisine.

Unfortunately, no true, Britannica-approved record of the pickleback's origin exists, like so many do for other popular drinks, from the Manhattan to the Gin Rickey; it's internet hearsay—and in this case, Cunningham's tale is on top.

SO, WHY PICKLES?

Not sold yet? Sure, a pickle's most common companion is a sandwich, but the salty snack and its brine have terrific taste-masking powers.

"People who don't like the taste of whiskey love taking picklebacks because they completely cut the taste, which makes the shots very easy to drink," Lewis told Mental Floss. "Plus, they add a bit of salt, which blends nicely with the smooth flavor of Jameson."

Beyond taste masking, pickle juice is also a commonly used hangover cure, with the idea being that the salty brine will replenish electrolytes and reduce cramping. In fact, after a famed NFL "pickle juice game" in 2000, during which the Philadelphia Eagles destroyed the Dallas Cowboys in 109 degree weather (with the Eagles crediting their trainer for recommending they drink the sour juice throughout the game), studies have seemed to confirm that drinks with a vinegary base like pickle juice can help reduce or relieve muscle cramping.

WAYS TO PARTAKE

While core pickleback ingredients always involve, well, pickles, each bar tends to have a signature style. For example, Lewis swears by Crocodile Lounge's mix of pickle brine and Jameson; it pairs perfectly with the bar's free savory pizza served with each drink.

For Cunningham, the "Pickleback OG," it's Old Crow and brine from McClure's pickles. And on the more daring side, rather than doing a chaser shot of pickle juice, Café Sam of Pittsburgh mixes jalapeños, homemade pickle juice, and gin together for a "hot and sour martini."

If pickles and whiskey aren't up your alley, you can still get in on the pickle-liquor movement with one of the newer adaptations, including a "beet pickleback" or—gulp!—the pickled-egg and Jägermeister shot, also known as an Eggermeister.

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