Saturday, March 21, 2009

The never-ending quest for VALUE

I have written before of where my budget-consciousness may lead me (and of the dangerous over-indulgence it can sometimes encourage).

The first few months of the year are always rather a penurious period (work is very slow to pick up again after the protracted Chinese New Year holiday), and this year they have been particularly so. Thus, I have of late found myself becoming a tad obsessive about how to get the most bang for my buck, drink-wise. And I have evolved the following strategies: regular venues and regular orders that maximise my alcohol intake per yuan.

1) Salud - a draught local beer and a Jameson's 'chaser': cost 50 RMB.
This doesn't look like a particularly good deal on the face of it, but the draught beer here is consistently good; and remember, you can get a free plate of mini tapas with it if you want to. Also, the guys here know me so well now (after two or three years of being a fairly regular face, and having helped to organise a number of parties there) that they give me the most absurdly over-generous free pours of whiskey. Honestly, it's embarrassing: I usually get at least a double, if not a treble; sometimes I practically have to beg them not to fill the glass up to the brim.

2) 12 Square Metres - a couple of Tsingtaos and a Jameson's: cost 55 RMB.
The standard whiskies are a little more keenly priced than at Salud - most of them, I think are 5 kuai less - but you only get the standard measure. No draught, alas, in this tiny gem; and while I rather like the Coopers bottled brews from Oz (especially the Sparkling Ale), I do run into a little price-resistance at the 30 RMB level (I made sure I got my fill of the stuff when it was reduced to half-price for their "late Australia Day" promotion last month), I mostly limit myself to the (fairly ghastly, piss-weak, but at least rehydrating) Tsingtao. 12 Sq, I'm afraid, isn't quite competing in pure budget terms, but I go there more for the ambience, and the interesting crowd of people it attracts, rather than just to get ripped. Oh yes, and to treat myself once in a while to one of their more expensive whiskies, especially the marvellous single malts on the top shelf.

3) The Smuggler's - 2 stubby bottles of Yanjing (for the price of one) and a double of J & B whisky: cost 45 RMB.
This is about the only bar around Sanlitun that I have any time for these days. And this deal is hard to beat. I'm not a big fan of stubby bottles, but the local Yanjing is much better tasting than the awful Tsingtao, and this is one of the only places I know that stocks it. The 24/7 two-for-one deal for 15RMB makes this a very appealing alternative to draught beers, and lifts the bar head-and-shoulders above all its neighbouring competitors that only offer Tsingtao (and the scarcely any better but discouragingly more expensive Budweiser/Corona/Carlsberg/Heineken). The basic spirits are also about the most keenly priced in town now; and, believe it not, I think most of them are genuine. The J & B is certainly good (I forget what other whiskies they may have at that tarriff; I think most of the the other common brands are 20 or 25 RMB - still not bad); I suspect they might water it very slightly, but it's the real deal. The measures are a little niggardly, but since they're only 15 RMB, I order a double every time. I particularly like the fact that on only my second or third visit they were referring to this order as 'my usual'. (The only thing I have against the place is the name, or rather, the punctuation of the name - The Smuggler's what??? I have thought of suggesting to the boss that he change it to The Greengrocer's, but I don't suppose he'd get the joke.)

4) The Stumble Inn - 4 x 500ml glasses of draught Stella Artois (on their new 'loyalty card' promotion): cost 90 RMB.
OK, so Stella is too gassy (and too fattening!) to drink in very large quantities. And you have to pay extra if you want a 'chaser' (although they have a very good whisky selection here, and quite reasonably priced). But this offer keeps me pleasantly occupied for around two hours (and if I try to go much faster than that, I will start to get ripped).

It's difficult to compare these deals against one another or put them in any rank order. They're all rather different drinking experiences because of the varying ambience of the bars. If I were to formulate a minutes of happiness per yuan scale for the purposes of comparison.... I suppose I'd set a benchmark of 2 hours of consumption and 12 standard 'units' of alcohol (that's about the pace I need to drink to start getting a little squiffy): which of these bars offers the cheapest way to achieve that?

At the Stumble, I'm not sure if 4 glasses of Stella would quite do it on its own (but you don't want to go beyond 4, because you then find yourself sucked into trying to drink 8 to maximise the value of the discount scheme). It's a strong beer, but 500ml is rather less than an English pint, so I doubt if it's quite 3 units per glass. I might have to throw in a whiskey at the end - taking the tab up to 120 RMB. Still not bad. An early leader!

At 12 Square, I suppose the Tsingtao nominally contains some alcohol; I have, in fact, occasionally managed to surprise myself by getting drunk on the stuff (if I drink a shitload of it quite quickly); but I'm sceptical as to whether it is even 1 unit per bottle, and it's certainly not much more. Therefore, I'd have to repeat my standard order four times - 220 RMB. Ouch! Certainly less fun than the Stella option, and I'm not sure it would get me as drunk. Even if I could reach my alcohol target in three cycles (maybe?), 165 RMB still isn't looking very competitive. Ah, but I love the place.

The deal at The Smuggler's is probably at least 4 units - maybe 5 or so - each time, so I think 3 cycles should be enough.... 135 RMB. Again, not quite as much fun as the Stella, and I'm not sure that it would keep me going for a full 2 hours, but probably the most effective option for just getting drunk.

At Salud, because the whiskies are usually so huge, I could probably just have 1 whisky with every 2 beers. 4 beers and 2 enormous whiskies should keep me going for 2 hours, and would probably slightly exceed my 12 unit target - 140RMB. Ah, and then of course, there are the rather lethal flavoured house rums (very therapeutic for the throat; and a large measure for only 20 RMB), if you fancy a change from the whiskey.... that might whittle the cost down a little further.

My, this is a very fine calculation! I suspect Salud probably just edges it - although I haven't (up to now) usually gone there just to indulge my 'drinking head'. Maybe I should start.

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