Wine — How To Get The Best Drinks On A Budget

It doesn’t get cheaper than Beer

How to get the best drinks on a budget


By Tim Protzman []

Call it frugal, call it cheap, but I know how to stretch a buck. I buy day- old bread. I get produce from the “just past prime” rack.

I compare prices. So when my son told me he gets a 5 percent employee discount at his new supermarket job, I was ecstatic. Eager to save, I took him shopping. As we went up and down the aisles, he was bored to tears listening to my savings discourse. Things came to a head over dish detergent as I explained we probably should head to the home of falling prices to purchase the soap, which at 97 cents was a full 22 cents cheaper than at the supermarket.

“It’ll cost you that in gas,” he reasoned. He had a point, but we went anyway. There was a whole aisle of dish liquids. He picked the most vibrant green soap, at $2.39 a bottle. I was drawn to the more sedate burnt sienna one, which, as promised was just 97 cents. He quickly countered by picking up the generic store brand at 88 cents for a full 8 ounces more. I quickly vetoed the choice, explaining:

“That generic is a little more watery, so you have to use more.”

“What difference does that make?” he asked. “When it gets down to the end you add water and try to get the last little bit.”

Then something wonderful happened. I saw his logic and he saw mine. I threw off the chains of cheapness and grabbed the most expensive, a pure white liquid in a slender, well shaped plastic bottle. We left a little more equal, a little less adversarial.

On the way home I told him the story of Beer. It was in the time of President Carter. His brother, Billy Carter, had launched his own brand called “Billy Beer.” It sold pretty well until the fad wore off, and was a little cheaper than Budweiser. Then something revolutionary happened. Supermarkets began to introduce generics. My favorite was Beer. It came in a six-pack of white cans with plain black lettering. Very Adam Smith, very much pure economics—let the low price and the product quality speak for itself. No puffery, no pretty colors, no advertising. The problem was it tasted mediocre, plus it led to many “Who’s On First?” type arguments in dorms across the country.

“What are you drinking?”


“What kind?”


 And so on. But it did instill me with a healthy interest in finding low-cost, good -asting beverages.  Some wisdom I’m going to impart this week.

There have been times I’ve been flush and times I’ve been flat broke, but I never squandered. And that is the basis of my first rule: if it’s not good tasting, then it’s not worth it, no matter how low the price is.


My preferred brand is Rolling Rock, consistent, zesty and under $6 a six pack, but Piel’s Real Draft offers decent taste, nice carbonation and a great price. These are real American beers, light and thirst quenching, they don’t leave you with the feeling you’re drinking a loaf of bread.

Honorable mention goes to Pabst’s Blue Ribbon and Old Milwaukee.


Drink too much vodka and you’ll pay for it the next day. Drink too much cheap vodka, with a higher sugar count and you really pay for it the next day. But how do you beat the raising cost of premium and extra premium vodkas?

Luksusowa is a Polish vodka distilled from potatoes. This is the traditional Eastern European way. Vodka is also made from grain and molasses. The key to a good vodka is the charcoal filtration. Cheaper vodkas are allowed to seep through a tank filled with charcoal. Premium vodkas are double- and often triple-filtered and are pumped through the charcoal at a higher pressure, which removes the residue and impurities.


Callaway Vineyards is located south of Los Angles in Temecula. They buy their grapes from vineyards along California’s Central Coast. Their wines are inexpensive, usually $6.99 a bottle and are well made. Now I’m not saying that they’d beat out a Cheval Blanc or Far Niente, but they are eminently drinkable. They make a cabernet, a chardonnay and a merlot, as well as a sauvignon and chenin blanc. They also have a reserve syrah that doesn’t fit my definition of low cost for syrah, for which you should look to Australia.

Salena Estate Shiraz from Australia’s Riverland District, outside of Adelaide, is very good and only $8.99 a bottle. I found this one a bit more Rhone-like—smoky, with hints of fruit and sun—than most Australian Shiraz’s, which often are overwhelmingly jammy, with a tannic crust. Salena’s a newcomer, having produced its first vintage in 1998. The terrain is California-like and most of the big Australian winemakers have a presence there. The wine offers currant and green plum flavors with a hint of cumin.

Tell Tim your wine stories. You can reach him at

Find the wines discussed in Hippo’s food section at state liquor stores. For exact locations of your favorite juice, go to

—Tim Protzman

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