Let's say you're hosting a Memorial Day barbecue for a bunch of your neighbors. You like most of them well enough to want them to have a good time. But let's be honest. You're not about to break out the Patron for that guy down the street who's always mowing his lawn at 5:30 AM. How do you maximize the overall buzz, while minimizing the impact on your checking account?
Here's how: I took current liquor pricing data from the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, which sets prices for booze (excluding beer and wine) sold in the state's liquor stores. Their data file handily includes price, volume, and proof. I set a standard "shot equivalent" volume of alcohol, equal to the amount of pure alcohol in a 1.5-ounce shot of 40-proof liquor (roughly 17 ml).
I then expressed the total pure alcohol amount in each product in terms of shot equivalents. So a 2 liter handle of 40-proof vodka contains about 45 shots' worth of alcohol, for instance. Divide this by the total cost to arrive at the measure of "shot equivalents per dollar" which I use throughout this piece. I treated beer and wine similarly, although for them I had to turn to online price listings maintained at totalwine.com.
I excluded all seasonal, sale and out-of-stock items. I assigned each item's alcohol content according to standard ABV listings maintained at winefolly.com and beeradvocate.com. Beers were tricky in this regard--there is a wide variety of alcohol content in craft beers. I manually entered ABV for about 100 craft bears, and omitted all 750ml and 22oz beer packages from my sample, since these showed the highest amount of ABV variation.
In sum, I ended up with a data file of about 5,000 alcoholic beverage products--2,000 wines, 800 beers, and roughly 2,200 liquors--with shot equivalents per dollar values for all of them. Plotting this measure against total price, as below, yields a nice-looking curve with the most cost-efficient beverages in the upper-left hand corner. Click through for an interactive version.