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chicago cheap ass (10)
Drink, Food, Recipes,

I Threw Some Fruit Into A Mason Jar With Vodka And Now All My Friends Think I’m A Fancy Mixologist

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Put that shit down.

You heard me. Yeah, you with that bottle of birthday cake flavored vodka. Put it down right now. You make me sick. Though, not as sick as you’re gonna make yourself when you down it all in one night and wake up the next day with a high-fructose-corn-syrup-induced hangover to end all hangovers.

Do not allow BIG ALCOHOL to dictate your flavored-spirit whims. You can make your own flavored liquors at home, and it’s super easy, not to mention the fact that it makes you seem like some fancy microdistiller hipster.

Cocktail Infusions


Which, well, isn’t necessarily a good thing. Just don’t go buying a fedora or anything.

Anyway, all you really have to do to make flavored spirits is to buy a big ol’ thing of cheap-but-not-undrinkable liquor, a mason jar, and whatever you want the spirit to taste like. Then you chop the flavoring agent, whether it’s a fruit, vegetable, or a handful of raw shrimp (do not do this) and throw it into the mason jar. Cover with the spirit of your choice, and just, like, leave it in the fridge for a few days. Taste and shake the jar every day, and when you think it’s done, strain it through a cheesecloth and label it. It’s really that easy.

Let’s do some math. Depending on what kind of spirit you get, a big bottle of cheap liquor will cost somewhere between 15 and 25 bucks. That’ll be enough for you to make 4 decent-sized infusions. Throw in the cost of fruits, vegetables, and whatever else you want to use to flavor your hooch, and the total cost will average somewhere around 30 bucks for a whole bunch of delicious flavored spirits. Compare that to the $19.99 per 750mL that Smirnoff charges for their whipped cream flavored vodka.

In terms of specific infusion recipes and strategies, feel free to get creative, but I would be remiss if I didn’t give you a few tips to start you off on this wonderful boozy journey.

Usually, it’s best to infuse vodka. It’s relatively tasteless, so it absorbs flavor well. It’ll go with pretty much anything. Rum is similar, but with a sweeter flavor. Generally, the lighter the spirit is, the better it will take to other flavors. Once you get into spiced rums, bourbons, whiskeys, and aged tequilas, you should be careful when infusing, because you run the risk of overpowering the spirit’s natural taste.

Some combinations that I’ve found work well include:

Mango Habanero Vodka (use 1 small habanero, and leave it whole for this recipe.)
Cucumber Lime Gin (when using citrus, you can choose to either just use the peel for a more bitter, zesty flavor, or cut the citrus into rings for a more juicy flavor.)
Vanilla Whiskey (split the vanilla bean lengthwise and pour the whiskey on top. Strain after a day. Vanilla is a very strong flavoring agent.)
Kiwi Coconut Rum (getting the flesh from a fresh coconut sucks. I know. Trust me. It’s worth it. Get a fresh one, crack it, and toast it in the oven before infusing.)

Now, before you get started, a few words of warning.

Infusing with chocolate can be dicey. The resulting cloudy liquor will be difficult to strain, and sometimes can take on a sour taste. Be very careful here. Infusing with caramel, however, is delicious, despite the fact that it also takes hours to strain. When coming up with your own flavor profiles, think of things that complement the nature of the spirit itself. Herbal vodkas work quite well, but herbal gins are a trickier proposition given the floral and herbal nature of the spirit itself.

At the end of the day, though, if you mess up, it only cost you like, 7 bucks, and hell, it’ll still get you drunk. Plus, now you know firsthand not to try to infuse gin with a handful of raw shrimp. Maybe you should listen to me next time. Don’t worry. I’ll call the ambulance for you.


#CheapWeek: 4/27 – 5/3

4/27 – NYC Bagel and Soupbox


Monday’s are hard. I like to make them better with delicious food. So I started my day at NYC Bagel Deli with a savory bagel and a copious amount of cream cheese for under $3. Although I brought a lunch, I decided I was past due for a visit to Soupbox. Soupbox is awesome because you get generous samples of as many flavors as you want. And you can mix two flavors. Bread comes free on the side!

4/28 – CP Trade Show at Navy Pier


As mentioned in previous posts, I work for an awesome company called Social Media Beast. Our sister company, Concierge Preferred (CP), has a lot of connections in Chicago, and brings them all together for an annual trade show. We all attended the show on Tuesday and had an amazing time connecting with representatives from participating businesses. We even raked in some first-class freebies. Here’s what I walked away with:

-Free “Second City” tickets
-No cover passes to Howl at the Moon (and the dueling pianos at the event played my song request!)
-Free indoor skydiving session in Rosemont
-Free Navy Pier ferris wheel admission
-Free Chicago Segway tour tickets


Giving a Medieval Times knight a Social Media Beast tattoo

I’m trying to decide if I should keep these freebies or share them with you, my lovely readers, as giveaways. Let me know if any of the above are of interest to you in the comments 🙂

Besides the above freebies, there was plenty of food and drink from Chicago’s top restaurants. The best part of all? The event is free, so you better make sure to get your Cheap Ass there next year! Just make sure to show some love if a business there impresses you.

4/29 – James Beard event at Mariano’s


The Mariano’s in the West Loop has some pretty cool events, and I’ve been to two in the past month. On Wednesday, I invited a couple of girlfriends to a happy hour featuring Blackbird’s mixologist, Kyle Davidson. Light appetizers (but lots of cheese) were served with unlimited craft cocktails. The event concluded with Blackbird’s mixologist teaching us how to make two specialty cocktails. This was well worth the $20, and was one of the more affordable ways to celebrate the James Beard Awards coming to Chicago.

I ended the night by redeeming my BOGO coupon to Noodles & Company for their new Buff Bowls. So glad I did! $9 covered a relatively healthy lunch for the next two days.

4/30 – Haircut at Civello


Photo Credit: Civello’s Website

I’ve been desperately in need of a haircut, and I usually time it out so I can take care of it when I’m home in the suburbs. But, split ends are split ends. I took a chance at a new place. I’m honestly not very high maintenance with my hair – I’m brush and go. As far as haircuts, a simple trim will usually do the job for me, so I decided to check out a beauty school a few blocks away from work – Civello. They happened to be running a Groupon deal for a $15 haircut. I was pleasantly surprised with my experience. The haircut (which was awesome) included an aromatherapy scalp massage, a deep conditioning treatment, and a cut. I ended up buying some product (detangler) because it all smells so damn good. They also gave me some curly hair treatment samples to take home! I made sure to tip my hairstylist well as you ALWAYS should when using a Groupon.

5/1 – Henry’s Swing Club

Henry's Swing Club

I recently won a poetry writing contest at Henry’s Swing Club for 5 free sliders, 7 free cocktails, and 5 free giant pretzels. My haiku really captured the spirit of the bar… read it here.

5/2 – Kentucky Derby and Rioja Wine and Tapas Festival

I’m pretty good at betting on horse racing, so I love events like the Kentucky Derby. It’s a good excuse to dress up and get drunk. And maybe win some money.


This particular Kentucky Derby Saturday was especially cool because I received free tickets to the Rioja Wine and Tapas Festival. I expressed an interest in covering the event for Choose Chicago, told the organizer how obsessed I am with Spanish culture, and she hooked up it!


I had an amazing time chatting with the people in charge of the event, drinking delicious Rioja wines (reds I can actually enjoy), and sampling tapas prepared by chefs from all over the United States.


Afterwards, I checked out Joe’s on Weed Street, which was completely blocked off for the Derby. And it was packed. Unfortunately, I was a little late in making my bets, but I still had a good time enjoying the first nice weather we’ve had in a while with a tall, cold one.


I finished the night off at the NFL Draft Town – a free fan festival to complement Chicago hosting the NFL Draft. Chicago is such an amazing city. A lot of great things have been happening here and we all reap the benefits.

5/3 – Relaxing

No major Cheap Ass hustling today. It’s been a long week, and I spent the day sleeping in, making a big breakfast, going to the gym, writing blogs, and eating dinner with the new Game of Thrones. Excited to see what the new week brings in!

chicago cheap ass (4)
Drink, Food,

Skip The Clubs And Stock Your Own Damn Bar

Saturday night! Aw, yeah. The weather’s good, and you’re feeling fine. Have you lost weight? Man, those skinny jeans look really good on you. That’s a good choice. So where to tonight? Smart Bar? The Mid? The dive around the corner? The world is your oyster, let’s dig in.

Sunday morning. Headaches. Waking up in last night’s clothes, tangled in blankets and sheets. What was that girl’s name? You can’t remember. But it’s fine! It was a good night. Then you get an email from your bank, asking if it was really you who rung up a $250 bar tab drinking nothing but long island iced teas. Maybe it wasn’t such a great night after all.

Listen, going out is a favorite pastime here in this great city, and it’s always good to see friends and make a fool of yourself on some bar along Clark street. Because you always end up along Clark street.

However, it’s just not cost-effective, or really even possible to go out every week and get sloshed on $12 cocktails. You’ll end up saving a lot of money (and making a whole bunch of new friends) simply by spending time stocking your own bar.

First and foremost, there are a few tools that you should have if you plan on having people over and making cocktails for them. Perhaps most important is a bartending app that you like, so that even if you don’t know how to make a certain drink, you can at least fake it when friends ask you for one. I’m partial to Mixologist, but there are plenty of others available for all smartphone platforms. Here’s Lifehacker’s rundown of 5 of their favorites.

Other tools aren’t really necessary, but it’s nice to have a jigger, a shaker, and a strainer as well. You can make most common drinks without these, but they’re all inexpensive, and if nothing else, will make you feel really freaking classy.

In terms of what you actually need to stock your bar, most guides will tell you to buy pretty much every bottle of liquor at Binny’s and turn your quest for frugality into a $400 nightmare. The truth of the matter is that when you are stocking your own bar, you can focus on the ingredients you need to make the drinks you like.

As a basic guide, here’s a list of ingredients that every home bar absolutely should stock, given how ubiquitous they are in cocktail recipes:

  • Vodka
  • Tequila
  • Gin
  • Light or Dark Rum
  • Whiskey (whatever type you like, it’s your bar, not mine)
  • Bitters
  • Sweet and Dry Vermouth
  • A Jar of Olives
  • Simple Syrup (you can make this at home. Just mix equal parts sugar and water.)
  • Rose’s Lime Juice
  • Assorted garnishes (cherries, oranges, lemons, etc…)
  • Assorted mixers (juices, Coke, tonic water, club soda)

Anything on top of that is gravy, and should be informed by your tastes.

Now, I realize this is a little daunting. That’s a pretty long list, all just for a basic bar. But hear me out. Liquor, all told, really isn’t that expensive. You can get away with smaller 750ml bottles of all of these spirits, and your friends won’t care if you don’t splurge for expensive vodka, gin, or rum. You really shouldn’t be paying any more than $20 per bottle for any of those spirits since they’re mixed with other, more flavorful ingredients most of the time, making their taste less important.

As far as whiskey and tequila are concerned, you will want to plunk down a bit more cash. These spirits are often drunk neat or on the rocks, and even when they’re not, they impart a large amount of flavor to the cocktails they are included in. Taste matters here. That said, you can find decent bottles of tequila and whiskey for under $30, even if you’re looking for the snooty aged stuff.

As a sidenote, most well-stocked home bars carry multiple types of whiskey (rye, bourbon, etc…) for use in different cocktails. This is fine! It’s also expensive. The great thing about building a bar in this way is that you can add to the bar as you need to, so if you get an urge to make yourself a sazerac, you can just head to Binny’s and pick up some rye and absinthe. In doing so, you’ll also be upgrading your bar.

All in all, even if you stock your bar fully with nice spirits, juices, and fancy artisanal bitters hand-hewn in Portland, you’ll probably end up spending somewhere between $150 and $200 for a bar that will last you ages. Compare that with the $150 to $200 you spent at that bar in River North last weekend. You’ll get a lot more for your money this way.

Keep in mind, when you have a bar like this, each bottle of liquor will last longer, since it’s being mixed with all the delicious other ingredients you now own. And when the bottles do run out, it’s only around $20 to restock. I usually only have to restock a bottle every 6 weeks or so, despite the fact that Chicago sports fandom forces me to mix myself more old fashioneds than is probably healthy.

If you take care of the bar and keep it stocked, you’ll find that you and your friends will go out to the bars less, and instead have stronger, cheaper drinks hanging out at the apartment watching Netflix. Plus, you’ll be able to unwind with a Manhattan after work instead of a crappy Bud Light.

So shake off the chains. Do not be beholden to bartenders when you want a mixed drink that requires more ingredients than “rum” and “coke”. Stocking your own bar and learning how to make your own cocktails is fun, social, and will end up saving you a lot of money in the long run.