Holiday spirit(s): Grapes, hops, and the hard stuff

Capital City Cheapo

I hate to be a grinch, but I dread the December day when every radio station begins simultaneous play of White Christmas remakes. The crazed, foaming-at-the-mouth feel of holiday shopping makes me a tad nauseous, and office parties and yuletide get-togethers make me cringe. Now in my mid-20s, I’ve found that the only foolproof way to make it to January 2nd is to drink.

Bitter as it may sound, there are definite advantages to boozing your way through the end of the year. Not only will alcohol distract from the omnipresence of ceaseless advertising jingles, but a bottle or flask is ideal as a party date or a quick gift-giving solution. Austin has plenty of accessible intoxicants, so raise your glasses to this list of a few of the best grown grapes, fermented yeast and malt liquor around.

Grapes

Orbitz.com recently rated the Hill Country as the number-two wine destination in the country. Second only to Napa. I have no idea how Orbitz determined their rankings, nor am I convinced that we’re deserving of this accolade, but hey, we’ll take it. Admittedly, there are some exceptional vines growing in the fertile soil of Central Texas, and since we are not, in fact, the number-one wine destination in the country, the vino around here is quite affordable. So the next time you find yourself debating between Yellow Tail and Little Penguin, try instead a locally fermented favorite.

Among the best is Stonewall, Texas’ Becker Vineyards. A $14 bottle of their peachy Viognier is ideal for pairing with Chinese takeout and a Secret Santa get-together. If $14 is beyond your budget, their $9 Provencal goes well with fancy schmancy cocktail foods like sushi and salmon.

The unfortunate circumstance of being located in a town called Tow does not seem to have affected Fall Creek Vineyards’ ability to produce inexpensive and incredibly drinkable wine. This longtime Austin darling offers a nice collection of $6–$12 labels, including the popular Sauvignon Blanc and the medium-bodied red, Granite Reserve. Either are lovely selections for gift-giving to acquaintances, co-workers, or Texas exes.

Just 35 miles from Austin on Highway 71 is another regional sweetheart, Spicewood Vineyards. Their French oak-barrelled wine might run you a few bucks more than the aforementioned bottles, but both the Merlot and Chardonnay ($14 each) will charm the pants off your stingy boss.

A little bit farther from home, but still an Austin mainstay, is Llano Estacado Winery in Lubbock. Their thriftily priced labels can be found in most HEBs and average about $6 a head. Go with the Chenin Blanc or, if you’re brave enough for blushes, their Llano Sweet Red.

Hops

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photo / showbizsuperstar Creative Commons licensed: Attribution-No Derivatives 2.0She’s off her meds, too 

Brewskies rarely get the holiday credit they deserve, especially when your higher-paid friends Evite you to a 1950s Christmas cocktail extravaganza. There are, however, two time-honored events at which beer is a necessity. The first is the utterly grotesque, but absolutely essential, Ugly Holiday Sweater Party; and the second, the Extended Family White Elephant Exchange.

The most important thing to remember is this. If you live in Texas, there is no shame (and no expense) in showing up with Lone Star. Nothing kicks off the yuletide season like a $3.99 six-pack of Texas’ finest. Who knew such a heralded ale could be so available to such close-fisted consumers?

Your end-of-year budget can also probably handle a purchase from Independence Brewing Company. Show a holiday screening of Dazed and Confused and reminisce over longnecks of Austin Amber, Independence Pale Ale, or their seasonal release Jasperilla Old Ale.

And while they aren’t exactly local, both Modelo Especial and Tecate are close to our hearts and at $5 for six pop-tops, close to our wallets, too.

The hard stuff

When the wine causes drowsiness and the beer causes bloating, good liquor is the clear alternative, even for tightwads. Shell out a few extra bucks for an early Christmas or late Hanukkah present, or brown paper bag your way into the New Year.

Tito’s Handmade Vodka is a beloved best friend to Austinites, and at $16, this 80 proof, six-times distilled sauce is worth every penny. As Tito Beveridge (his real name) has said himself, you can certainly buy more expensive vodka, but it won’t taste nearly as good.

Since I know there are plenty of you who are stingy enough to appreciate this, there’s also Dripping Springs Texas Vodka, which… hold your breath… comes in at a dollar less than Tito’s.

Sorry to say, but mojito heads and gimlet lovers are out of luck. The Austin area doesn’t have much to offer in terms of regional rum or gin, and our closest tie to tequila is Patrón founder John Paul DeJoria’s Austin residence. If you’re intent on drinking local liqueur, head to Costco for Paula’s Texas Orange or Lemon. (I’d go with the orange.) Paula’s will spice up your holiday mimosas or make those company party margaritas much easier to swallow.

In truth, alcohol is expensive. A frugally minded Austinite will have a hard time with holiday spirits. Rest assured, though. You get more than you paid for with most of our locally produced products. If all else fails, there’s always egg nog. At $3, the yellow-tinged HEB cartons are always an option for penny-pinchers. And there’s always Boone’s Farm.