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Dec 24, 2011 07:35 PM

Cheapest Tasteless Vodka for Cooking

I got fascinated with the idea of making my own vanilla extract. I have ordered the beans online and now I need the vodka to infuse them in. Not being much of a drinker I'm shocked at the prices of all the various brands. Vodka's odorless and tasteless anyway, so why pay for the marketing? But, I don't want to waste my money on swill. What do people here recommend?

PS In a store near me, Gordon's Vodka seemed a good bet. It was $15 for a liter. I won't buy an American brand because I've heard that they are just crap bought from ConAgra and labeled something else.

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  1. Rather than using vodka, I usually use EVERCLEAR for macerations and infusions like this. At 180° proof (as opposed to vodka's usually 40°proof) the higher alcohol is more efficient at the job.
    The results I've gotten indicate that it is definitely worth the slightly greater expense as opposed to using vodka.

    20 Replies
      1. re: gothamette

        The link was bad, but I'm assuming it was for another grain alcohol product. EVERCLEAR is 190 proof, and I've seen a Polish import or two in that range. I assume the link you attempted to send could have been for one of those.

        I still maintain that grain alcohol (ie., Everclear) is _the_ best thing for infusions/macerations as opposed to Vodka. Much more effective.

        1. re: The Professor

          sorry 'bout that. I cut and pasted the URL but they don't work, apparently. It's for Astor Place Spirits, a product called Bak's Spirytus Grain Neutral Spirits, $17. Says it's 192 proof. Hm.

          Small bottle, 750 ml. Still. Hm.

          Perhaps grain alcohol is better for macerations but cooking, like politics, is the art of the possible. I'm not in an area where I can buy Everclear, but when I am I'll look out for it.

          1. re: gothamette

            Since many states do not allow 190+ proof spirits, 150-151 proof grain neutral spirits are often available although not sold everywhere. In Massachusetts, we cannot get Everclear, but we can get 150 proof Spirytus in state (I have only seen it one or two places ever).

            I generally do my infusions at 100 proof although many will go at lower proofs.

            1. re: yarm

              I'm going go to Astor Place (and the 'wine warehouse' whose name I forget, nearby) and describe what I want. I'll see what happens. Maybe they have another kind of tasteless neutral spirits. The Spirytus was expensive - $18 for 750 ml.

              Isn't it stupid that I can't get a bottle of Everclear to cook with? Geesh. I understand the reasoning behind the ban but still...(no pun intended!!)

              1. re: gothamette

                Could just take the PATH over to Hoboken. Sparrow Wines is about a 5 min walk from the station there. Prices are generally better than the city too.

                1. re: gothamette

                  Considering that Spirytus is 2.4 times the alcohol of a bottle of vodka, it would be like buying a bottle of vodka for $7.50 if you diluted the Spirytus down.

                  1. re: yarm

                    Excellent point. Would you dilute it down (sorry, Prof!) with distilled water? I have a Brita filter but that doesn't filter out everything.

                    1. re: gothamette

                      If you live in NYC (or Boston) the tap water is delicious on it's own and does not really require filtering.

                      1. re: StriperGuy

                        I agree, our NYC water is the best tasting in the world. (JMO) But it does have minerals, etc., and I was thinking that this wouldn't be good for an infusion. If I do dilute it. Which I'm not sure I would.

                        1. re: gothamette

                          Dissolved minerals do NOT get removed by a filter. For that you'd need a laboratory style deionization system and the water coming out would taste like (nothing) crap.

                          Home use Filters only remove particulates, and some volatiles, hydrocarbons, etc.

                          In short, you are fine using NYC tap.

                      2. re: gothamette

                        I have to ask, how much are you making? A pint, quart?

                        1. re: scubadoo97

                          I'll use up the whole bottle for various infusions. No use keeping it, I don't drink spirits, just the occasional beer or wine.

          2. re: The Professor

            Check your math and term usage.
            Everclear is 180 PROOF or 90 PERCENT alcohol.
            Common vodka is 80 PROOF or 40 PERCENT alcohol.

            1. re: justicenow

              Per Wikipedia, Everclear is available in 151 proof and 190 proof forms. (75.5% and 95% ABV.)


              (Per my opinion on the matter, both of them taste like crap.)

              1. re: davis_sq_pro

                Forget the Everclear thing.
                PROOF is ALWAYS the DOUBLE of PERCENT.

                The post I was replying to:

                Rather than using vodka, I usually use EVERCLEAR for macerations and infusions like this. At 180° proof (as opposed to vodka's usually 40°proof) the higher alcohol is more efficient at the job.
                Vodka IS NOT 40 proof, it is 40 PERCENT alcohol. The Everclear he is refering to is 180 proof and 90 percent. PERCENT TIMES TWO EQUALS PROOF! End of story.

                1. re: justicenow

                  Ah, thank you for clearing that up for. It's all so very confusing; but your use of capitalization to highlight the important parts really does make a huge difference. Cheers!

                  1. re: justicenow

          're my haste I got the percent/proof thing mixed up referring to the vodka.
                    That's what I get for typing while sipping a vodka and tonic...

                    1. re: The Professor

                      OK, now I see the Prof's initial error ("as opposed to vodka's usually 40°proof") but I got the point - Everclear or Spiritus will be more effective at macerating because it's more potent. 750 ml of 190 proof Bak Spiritus will be (if diluted in equal parts) = to 1.5 liters of 80 proof vodka.

                      Which would defeat the purpose of buying the stronger stuff. So I could dilute it by 25% and still have a stronger 'brew.'

            2. Gordon's vodka is perfect

              for cleaning paintbrushes.

              Pretty sure Gordon's falls into the "crap bought from ConAgra" caregory too btw. As above, I'd go with grain alcohol for making vanilla extract.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Pedr0

                I believe that Everclear is illegal where I live (NYC). And all the recipes I've seen for homemade vanilla, including on Cowhound, are with vodka.

                OK, so Gordon's is ConAgra crap, thanks for the tip. For some reason I had thought it was British, which is a weird thought (British vodka?).

                Anyway the whole idea of this was to save money. I find it difficult to believe you can't get a decent bottle of tasteless grain spirits for $15 or so.

              2. I don't do infusions but I think i've read that Smirnoff 100 is a popular one to use.

                3 Replies
                1. re: ncyankee101

                  Thanks. i think I've settled on Sobieski for compromise on quality & price.

                  BTW this link compares Everclear to Sobieski and favors the latter overall:


                  Although I am absolutely no expert on these matters. That said, I wonder whether the difference in alcohol content for my purposes really makes a difference. Most vanilla extracts are 35% alcohol.

                    1. re: Pedr0

                      Hey, thanks! One thing's for sure: food companies have this down to a science, and my home-brewed infusions won't be anything like that. I'm just doing it really for fun...and I might end up going back to the bottled stuff anyway. I discovered a site that has some good deals, both on beans and extracts. No, I'm not getting a kickback, this is just FYI,


                2. 190 proof Everclear is sold in New Jersey.

                  1. Svedka is super clean and cheap. I don't recommend it for drinking since it is too clean (the extra subtle flavors in vodka like the grain, grape, or earthy potato notes are what makes a vodka distinguished), but it will work great here. No off flavors.

                    15 Replies
                    1. re: yarm

                      For about $7 more I recommend Tito's. Usually around $20 for 750ml. Best choice for a really clean and neutral tasting vodka.

                      1. re: Pedr0

                        This guy agrees w/you about Tito's but I'm going with the Polish stuff if I can find it. I'm not gonna pay Tito's prices for some infusion experiment.


                        1. re: gothamette

                          These guys disagree with your guy's opinion of Smirnoff


                          I've personally tried Smirnoff side by side with Sobieski and the Smirnoff came much closer to the ideal of neutrality, though the mild taste of the rye-based Sobieski was not at all unpleasant.

                          1. re: ncyankee101

                            That article was excellent. It explained a lot. Really, I'm not against buying "ADM vodka" as long as it's clean and tasteless. I'll compare prices and go with Smirnoff, then.

                            BTW I'm old enough to remember when Smirnoff was literally the only brand of vodka around. The more vodka brands there are, the more intense the vodka weird considering you aren't supposed to taste anything w/vodka. It just means "little water" in Russian (and Polish).

                          2. re: gothamette

                            The experement will go better than you think. I recently made two batches. I took two 4 oz. caper jars and added two very long beans cut in half to fit the jar. One was filled with Titos since that's what I had on hand and the other with Flor de Cana 4 yo rum, again because it was the lowest end rum I had. Both came out better than expected.

                            Just made French toast yesterday morning and added a dash of the extract. The vanilla flavor was better than any store bought extract and even better than when I've added a scraped bean to my egg mixture

                            1. re: scubadoo97

                              Yes, in reading about this I've learned you can use rum or brandy too.

                              I've also read that home-brewed vanilla extract is weaker than the store bought. In your experience, is that true?

                              Do you make other extracts? I'm wondering about orange and lemon.

                              1. re: gothamette

                                First time with the vanilla and to my taste I found more vanilla and a cleaner flavor than with the store brand stuff. Could be because of the better alcohol or better beans. They were grade A Madagascar Bourbon beans

                                1. re: scubadoo97

                                  I'm very psyched. Thank you everybody for all of your input. Let's see....I've been thru ConAgra, to Sobieski, to Smirnoff, to Spyritus....Astor Place has a deal on that stuff in the glass skull bottle.....

                                    1. re: phantomdoc

                                      I never thought of it, being new to this make-your-own-vanilla-extract thing.

                                      But why any suggestions as to brand? And yes, price is an object but so is quality. Compromise, that's what I'm after.

                                        1. re: yarm

                                          Yes, I saw that but it didn't recommend brands. I was so confused by all the vodka brands....and still am, but less so.

                                          BTW, the Astor Place website says that Jack Daniels isn't exactly a bourbon. Whatever.

                                          1. re: gothamette

                                            Jack Daniels is distilled in Tennessee not Bourbon County. Unlike Bourbon it's also charcoal filtered.

                                            I'd stick with Jim Beam if you're going to attempt vanilla extract. Inexpensive and tastes decent enough.

                                            1. re: Pedr0

                                              It don't have to be distilled in Bourbon county to be bourbon, that's a myth.

                                      1. re: phantomdoc

                                        Well certainly you could and as much as I like bourbon the vodka and rum are more neutral for general kitchen use of vanilla extract.

                                        And then why not rye?

                                        A Handy rye would be good and if you were to go high proof, more of the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection would be nice. A Stagg or a wheated William Larue Weller bourbon might really pull the flavor from those beans with proofs at around 120-140 depending.