The Sainsbury’s Basics range is a marvellous thing. It provides an unmatched selection of bargains, ideal for the impoverished but morally enlightened Oxford student; ten fish fingers for 60p, eighty teabags for 27p, nine kilograms of cheese for £1, and—of course—a large bottle of vodka for only £10. The latter is proudly branded “no fancy labels, just vodka”, and when next to a £37 bottle of the Beldevere Pink Grapefruit variety, no self-respecting arts student would hesitate to keep the extra £17, and take the Basics leap of faith. £17 is not a sum to be sniffed at; you could take your tutor out for dinner on that, or get your corduroys dry-cleaned, or even just buy four kilos of Basics spam (or “chopped ham and pork”, as they call it). You can see, then, why I spent most of my Freshers’ Week swigging from a bottle of this finely distilled beverage. They’ve even recently updated the packaging from the industrial orange EasyJet style to a refined and elegant lettering, with multiple shades of orange, so my nouveau-chic image is mercifully in tact.
As you may be able to tell, I really can’t recommend it enough. I consumed a whole bottle of this, the vodka of kings, in the space of about 48 hours in Michaelmas, and had a great time (or rather, I assume I had a great time; I can’t remember any of it, and have made sure all photographic evidence has been burnt). Either way, if at this point you can hear your liver gently whimpering in a lower corner of your abdomen at the thought of taking straight spirits, you’ll need to start considering the creative joys of mixing on a shoestring.
Obviously there are the standard ones—lemonade, tonic water, potato juice, etc.—but why not take advantage of your new acquaintanceship with the Basics range, and explore the wealth of exciting flavours it can offer? Indeed, why just mix, when you can infuse as well? This is not to say that Sainsbury’s Basics Vodka on its own doesn’t serenade your palette with a symphony of sophisticated flavours, but it’s worth splashing out the 27p on a box of teabags to get some delightful Earl Grey-infused spirits. Alternatively, try throwing in some blackcurrants, or some ginger, or even aniseed (you might have to venture into the realms of the Waitrose Essentials range for some of those)—you’ll be drinking like the gods before you know it, and for only a few quid.
In the words of Pope Gregory IX, “man cannot live on Sainsbury’s Basics Vodka alone”; how prophetic he was. Exquisite though they can be, there is a time and a place for cheap spirits, and that time is not all the time. However, this does not in any way mean the end of your newfound financially frugal but tastefully tasty drinking habits; the world of fortified wine awaits. A bit like Paul McCartney, Port is traditionally only wheeled out for special occasions; but (unlike Sir Paul) Port improves with age, and is refined, sophisticated, and full of character. In fact, the very reason it’s saved just for Christmas is because it is so nice. Why, though, should you only enjoy it once a year? No one ever appreciates it during the festive season anyway; by the time your father staggers in with a dusty bottle, everyone has already consumed so much wine that the joys of this magnificent drink are overlooked. Instead, then, when you next put down your copy of Plato’s Republic for the evening and climb over the stack of empty Basics gin bottles on your way to Sainsbury’s clutching a £10 note, grab a bottle of Taylor’s First Estate Reserve Port off the shelves (it’ll be on special offer if you’re lucky). Yes, it’s more expensive than wine (mostly), but it has a higher alcohol content—Port is essentially wine fermented for longer and with added brandy—and is infinitely nicer.
Once you reach the bottom of your first bottle (you’ll be surprised how long they last), there’s a whole wealth of exciting brews you can start to branch out into. Champagne, for example, is another that is wasted on special occasions. Spend a week drinking it and see how much better you feel. We haven’t even touched on the wonders of hot alcohol; particularly at this time of year, a mulled wine or a mulled cider or two are perfect for warming the cockles, and they’re also ideal on a budget. Get a nice three-litre bottle of cider, for example, an orange, some cinnamon, and whatever else you feel like, and mull away. If you don’t have a saucepan you can even do it in a kettle. It really makes a cold wintry evening/mid-afternoon/morning that bit brighter.