Save big on New Year's Eve: Frugal finds at liquor store

Blind-taste test performed on high-end liquor, less expensive options

By Amy Davis - Reporter/Consumer Expert

HOUSTON - Americans spend billions on beer, wine and liquor every year. Even if you don't typically indulge, you may raise your glass to ring in the new year this week. Consumer expert Amy Davis shows how to save our budgets from a bender with some frugal finds at the liquor store.

Just as sure as the countdown and confetti on New Year's Eve, you can bet there will be booze and bubbly.

"Americans spend a lot of money on spirits every year," said Laurie Sheddan, the Creative Director at Sanctuari Bar at Triniti near River Oaks.

Sheddan said most of us are spending way too much. She took us shopping at Houston Wine Merchant to show us libations liquor drinkers lust over, like Grey Goose vodka.

"Grey Goose is sort of the gold standard for premium vodka," said Sheddan.

It's endorsed by actors, golfers and rappers -- the cool crowd. A bottle will cost you a cool $41.99. The same size bottle of Dripping Springs vodka made in Texas is 43 percent less at $23.99.

"Dripping Springs is just as high quality a product of Grey Goose," Sheddan said. "They use the same methods for production."

She said Grey Goose spends millions on marketing and you're picking up that tab.

"They have to recoup that cost and that generally comes in the cost of the product," she said.

If Grey Goose is the vodka gold standard, Patron is the patriarch of tequila.

"That's what you see in the movies. That's what you see in the music videos," said Sheddan. "That just becomes a sort of status symbol, drinking Patron."

The status comes with a sticker price of $47.99. We'll compare it to Cimarron tequila that sells for $18.99. Sheddan said no matter which tequila you buy, you want to make sure it's made with 100 percent agave.

Lastly, she's grabbing some bourbon. Pappy Van Winkle is so hot, you can't even find a bottle to buy in Houston right now. A Pappy Van Winkle 10-year bourbon sold for $56.99 earlier this year. Sheddan put it up against W.L. Weller made at the same distillery in Kentucky, aged in the same barrels, but at a much lower price of $24.99.

Sheddan mixed up three cocktails, each made with the high-end liquor and the less expensive options. We invited three lucky guinea pigs to saddle up to the bar for a blind taste test. After a sip, or two, or three, we asked them to choose the best tasting drinks.

Two out of three of the testers liked the vodka cocktail made with the less expensive Dripping Springs vodka. The same two preferred the drink with the less expensive bourbon. All three preferred the margarita made with Cimarron tequila over the pricier Patron they've purchased for years.

"I realize I could have saved a lot of money because honestly this one tastes better," said Brittany Fleming, referencing the margarita made with Cimarron.

Here's a sobering number: If you stocked up on vodka, tequila and bourbon; and passed up the big names for the lesser known brands mentioned here, you would save a total of 54 percent, paying just $67.97 compared to $146.97.

"You want to get the highest quality product that you can and at the best price," said Sheddan.

It is true, just like food, that not all alcohol is created equal. Some products are made with lower quality ingredients and they won't taste as good. Sheddan said you should experiment, and ask clerks and bartenders who can help you find good buys.

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