Like many other university students in Australia, I get by with a little help from alcohol. As a reward for a week well worked, a celebratory beverage, or just to commiserate a really awful day when coffee or hot chocolate just won’t do, it helps to know which cheap beverages are worth their price.
Luckily, I’m on friendly terms with my local alcohol-store-manager, and thanks to their recommendations I’ve curated a short list of alcohol* that’s $10 or under, and doesn’t leave you feeling like you just swallowed petrol.
*Not beer. I don’t like it, never have, and probably never will.
Please consume responsibly. Keep it under 5 standard drinks a week, and don’t binge your weekly consumption in one day! Alcohol is harmful to your health, just like sugar, etc.
Cider Recommendations (Sorted by Price – Prices vary per shop and state)
Savannah Dry. Well under $5 in most Australian states, this neat bottle is cheap and tasty, without too much of the cider-y sweetness other brands have.
Strongbow. A classic cider favourite that’s recently been lowered in price and reasonably flavoured, these regularly have multipack discounts and aren’t too strong in alcohol content to ruin your night if you have more than one.
Mercury. Comes in Draught and Dry for those who prefer a taste closer to beer, plus a classic and ‘hard’ (stronger alcoholic content) version. In Western Australia you can get these for around $3 each (circa 2017), however I recall with Queensland’s liquor tax it’s up to about $6 each.
Magners. Has a bit of a kick to it, and can be quite sweet, but the larger standard bottle size make this one a value pick.
Stowford Press/Thatcher’s Gold Cider/Pretty much any other English brand. A bit on the pricier scale for Australian choices, but often have a clean, crisp taste that’s pleasant even for people who prefer sweeter beverages.
[There are MANY other Cider brands here in this mid-range-yet-decent scale]
Honourable mentions – Somersby, 5 Seeds (crisp), Rekorderlig & Kopparberg (sweet) and The Hills Cider Co. Some nice ‘crisp’ (slightly sour) flavours in this list; these mentions can vary wildly in price depending on where you buy them, and aren’t my go-to favourites if my other recommendations are on offer.
Dishonourable mentions – ANY cider labeled ‘sugar’ or ‘carb’ free. They all taste pretty awful and/or disappointingly like sad water. I also wish to add here ‘Custard & Co.’ brand cider, as its lemony-citrus flavours make it unpalatable beyond a small cup. I tried a pint of it once, and it was an actual chore to get through.
Spirits Recommendations (For purchase in store, not in a bar)
This list won’t incorporate spirits that are expensive as a standard, such as Whiskey, simply because it’s hard to get any for a student budget.
‘Nips’ of Vodka usually come in at $10 or under around the country, with specific reference to Smirnoff (good to mix in a softdrink or orange juice). However, if you have a bit of extra money to spend and it’s not happy hour nearby, splash out on a sampler-size of Sipsmith vodka as it’s smooth, not a strong ‘alcohol’ flavour.
As a rule of thumb, the cheaper the vodka the worse it is, however there are honourable mentions for Ketel One and Stolichnaya for their bulk-amount-value-plus-not-awful-ness if you buy a bottle and use that throughout the year.
Extra honourable mention are the ~700ml Smirnoff flavoured options. Far cheaper than Absolut, flavours like Green Apple and Raspberry are strong enough to balance the burn-y aftertaste.
‘Nips’ of Gin come in next at about the same price as vodka, sometimes with a little more range to choose from. My first recommendation is Bombay Sapphire, as it goes nicely with lemonade. After that, I’d recommend Hippocampus’ Gin, especially if you have soda water and elderflower cordial handy.
If you can afford to buy a bottle in bulk, Bombay Sapphire still provides the best value-per-litre, next to Tanqueray for taste. If it’s happy hour and you CAN get ‘good’ gin for cheap, I’d go straight for the ‘Bombay Sapphire London Dry/Star of Bombay‘ or the ‘Sipsmith‘ dry.
Another combination is Hayman’s Sloe Gin and Rose cordial over ice for a strawberry-esque cocktail. Unfortunately Sloe gin only really comes in bulk buys, so this one’s a semester-wide-budget.
Rum and Bourbon
Normally I don’t recommend Rum at all unless you’re totally miserable, but if you’re going to go down this road I especially don’t recommend pre-mixes. Honourable mention for Malibu (coconut-white-rum) and its knock-off counterparts such as Wipeout.
Bourbon on the other hand, can be ok. I found Wild Turkey American Honey to taste distinctly like burnt banana peel, so if that’s what you’re into then a pre-mix bourbon isn’t so bad.
Other nice spirits,
like Agave, Tequila and Liqueurs, don’t often come in nips – however, if you want a strong ‘kick’ but can’t afford tequila or whiskey, Agave is a cheaper and much smoother option overall.
There are also flavoured ‘spirits’ such as Blue Curacao and Cherry Brandy, and honourable mentions for these are the Vok brand. These come in cheap bottles if you spread usage out across the semester, and mix decently with cordial, water and/or soft drink.
I actually like sake, and when it comes to cheap Sake, I’ve got the recommendation!
Gekkeikan is the best value-per-millilitre that we can get in Australia at the moment, with a better flavour than the current cheapest brand Kizakura Yamahai. Both have the warm ‘umami’ flavour that sake drinkers like so much (Think salted hot chips). This also adds to your option of Shochu brand ‘Lotte Liquor – Chum Churum‘, which while usually over $10, is VERY strong. (Shochu is essentially Vodka made with rice instead of potato).
Warning – Shochu will hit you significantly despite the small bottle! It’s got a high alcohol content, so one bottle would be more than enough for the night. I prefer the Green Apple or Peach Chum Churum flavours.
Culturally meant to be consumed with food, but hey. Live your life.
Along this same vein, there are flavoured versions of Shochu, such as Umeshu (Sour plum flavoured spirit). Not bad, but also not cheap. I’ve found ‘nip’ sizes of Umeshu for sale in Melbourne and Sydney, but they’re pricey (minimum $12 for 120ml).
This is where the list gets interesting, as every Australian State has its own ‘bargain bin’ of good drops. For this purpose I will exclude Goon Bags/Box Wine and ‘cooking sachets’ of wine, simply because they are consistently bad. Like…they are only really good for making bulk sangria, or cooking.
Funny thing though..the better your cooking wine, the better your cooking will taste!
I tend to get really creative with my wine descriptions here, because I’m not a wine snob and usually stick to alcohol that has plain descriptions like ‘apple flavoured vodka’ or ‘apple cider’, so keep this in mind when I describe a taste as more of a sensation.
White Wine Preferences – I prefer ‘sweet’ to ‘dry’, however I’ve been fortunate enough to sample a range of Whites (Monsters Monsters Attack and a selection of Pinot Grigios). My top picks are Gossips brand ‘Sweet Lips White Moscato’ for a cheap and tasty drop that tastes like peaches and pear (plus a low alcohol content!), and The Forgotten Botanist’s ‘Vermentino’, for a less sweet and more versatile white that goes excellently in risotto, and even better on its own (tastes like walking barefoot across some nice soft grass in spring).
Red Wine Preferences – Cleanskin Taster’s Choice Barossa Shiraz, or anything listed as ‘fruity’ and ‘light’. Not usually a Red drinker unless it’s in a sangria.
> Student sangria can be created with Schweppes’ Blood Orange Agrum range, and cheap red wine. Squeeze in a little lemon or lime for class, makes ~1.5 litres.
For funsies, my best red-wine-anecdote is from when I met my father-in-law for the first time and he offered me a glass of the Red he was drinking that day. Politely, I accepted, and tested my poker face as I sipped grapes that tasted of burnt flatulence. By the end of the day, I was told (with surprise) that my father-in-law KNEW it was godawful and wanted to know what I thought. My in-laws laughed for hours when I finally confessed that it was disgusting but I didn’t want to be rude. Now they make a point of asking what I actually think.
Bubbles – Don’t bother with Moet and Chandon, it tastes like garbage compared to some of the cheap, tasty nose-fizzers in this list. Along this note, Passion Pop looks nice but the flavours are misleading. ‘Watermelon’ Passion pop tastes nothing like watermelon, candy or otherwise, except for a vague aftertaste. Brown Brothers Prosecco, for those of you who want to ‘fancy it up’ for about $16, will make a glass of orange juice delightful. If you want to feel better about the over-ten-dollars price tag, Brown Brothers is MUCH more expensive and sought-after in Europe ;D
Seppelt Fleur de Lys led to my downfall one New Years Eve with its deliciousness. At about $9, I was emboldened by friends to polish off the bottle and have vivid memories of my regret ever since. Don’t be like me – stick to the recommended limits and save yourself a nauseating headache on New Years’ Day. It may taste of the freedom of childhood, but Sharing is caring!
Please let me know if you think I’ve missed anything cool and important – I can’t possibly have tasted EVERYTHING in my short little life, so input is more than welcome!