Drinking well on a budget during lock-down
Thank goodness liquor stores are essential. Like many Texans, I’m having a few adult beverages as I spend the weekend binge-watching Tiger King, Cake Wars, and whatever else I can find. I am grateful that I have a job that allows telecommuting, so I have a sense of purpose four days a week, but weekends are still long and I still like to unwind.
I don’t know that I’m drinking much more than usual, but I’m now drinking exclusively at home. Friday happy hour with friends is a Zoom meeting.
As quantity moderated over the years, my quality requirements have gone up. But I’m not crazy either, and like to stretch a buck as far as I can. Here is how I found my balance point, and my picks for best overall value.
How I got here
My tastes and budgets have ebbed and flowed over the years, but there is an overall trend of learning moderation and appreciating rather than just consuming.
The college years. I’m not proud of this, but my drink of choice was screwdrivers. Why? I went to a military school. Rules forbade alcohol in the dorms, and I was a rule-follower. In fact, sometimes the school would do morale and welfare inspections, which consisted of coming by everyone’s room and asking if there was any alcohol or firearms present. Under the honor code, one would always tell the truth. I kept a 1.75 liter plastic bottle of vodka in the back of my car, and when we went out (I didn’t drive), we stopped at 7–11 for orange juice and made screwdrivers by the sports-bottle.
The cheap beer years. After the first few you don’t really taste the difference anyway, right? When I was stationed in Italy, I remember scoring a case of Miller Lite cans on base for only five bucks! That was a steal even back in 1993. Turns out it had been on a dock somewhere for way too long and tasted of metal. If I kept it really cold and drank it fast, it was sorta OK. I decided that I was acting too cheap even for a new lieutenant, and switched to MGD in a bottle as my mainstay.
The craft beer years. Finding my soulmate was the best thing that ever happened to me, and the best thing that ever happened to my liver. I no longer felt compelled to go to bars to meet women. A sixpack in the fridge could last a couple of weeks. Plus, I had a good job with a few years under my belt. Here I turned to quality. I tried progressively darker beers, tired of that, evolved to IPAs, and then ultimately moved to the middle. My favorites became Weihenstephaner, or occasionally Pilsner Urquell. I also favor anything brewed in Texas.
Learning Hard Liquor. I made it a point during the cheap beer years to learn to drink whiskey. It seemed like an adult skill. I ordered a double shot of Wild Turkey and an MGD when I arrived at my favorite country bar later than planned, then sipped beer for the rest of the night.
In the last couple of years, I went first to bourbon and then to scotch. Why? Health reasons. No kidding, I’m trying to keep my abdominal circumference under control. Yes, there are still calories and carbs in spirits, but fewer than most mixed drinks and beer. As an added benefit, my scotch affinity removes any stress to the family when shopping for my birthday and Christmas. They know what to get.
I’ve grown to love scotch whiskey. I drink it neat. I’m not an aficionado by any means, but I like to try new and different ones when I can. I typically drink single malts; blends are reserved for airplanes where there’s no other option (way back in February when flying was a thing people did).
I personally taste a definite difference between the $25 blend and the $40 single malt. I also taste the difference between the $50 dollar bottle and the $75 dollar bottle, but the difference is a lot smaller to my crude palate and does not compel me to spend the extra money. I’d rather buy a steak to go with it.
So here’s my picks that you can find under $50. There are certainly more choices out there, but I keep these three in easy reach on top of the bar and pick one based on how I’m feeling that day.
- Aberfeldy 12 Year Old Highland Single Malt Whiskey. This is my go-to scotch. It’s got a Scottish sounding name so it sounds cool when you say it to friends. It’s a highland variety so it tastes…like scotch. Comfortable, high quality, and inexpensive, it fills the same niche as a Starbucks hazelnut latte. Except Starbucks is kinda pricey for what you get out of it.
- Auchentoshan Triple-Distilled 12 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky. I think this one has a Scottish sounding name, in fact I’m sure it does, but I don’t know how to pronounce it. Maybe I’ll look it up on the You-Tubes now that I’m done with Season 3 of Ozark. The Ah-Choo also tastes like Scotch, but at the end I get a cool chewy-nutty flavor. My wife says it’s not as bad as the rest of the stuff I drink.
- Laphroaig 10 Year Old Islay Single Malt Scotch Whiskey. Scotch snobs say Laphroaig has a smoky or peaty flavor like other Islay region scotches. I just say wow. Laphroaig will disabuse you of the notion that all scotches taste the same. You will like it or hate it. I view it as a comfort food. A couple of years ago, after a day of traveling to get to Japan, I had one in a bar on the 22nd floor of the hotel looking out over Nagoya at night. Laphroaig punctuates any experience.
Normally, this is the part where I paste in a related article to lure you into reading something else that I’ve written, but this is the first lifestyle article that I’ve tried. Instead, here’s one I’m proud of that doesn’t get much attention. Grab a Laphroaig and savor with the story.
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Brian E. Wish works as a quality engineer in the aerospace industry. He has spent 29 years active and reserve in the US Air Force, where he holds the rank of Colonel. He has a bachelor’s from the US Air Force Academy, a master’s from Bowie State, and a Ph.D. in Public and Urban Administration from UT Arlington. The opinions expressed here are his own.