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Best cheap bourbon for making vanilla extract?

Title probably sums it up. It's that time every couple of years where I make a full 750ml bottle of vanilla extract. In the past I've used vodka but also made small batches with bourbon which we preferred.

I'm not too experienced with bottom shelf bourbon and living in MA, our liquor tends to be pricier than other parts of the country. Any recommendations for a decent bourbon for this purpose in the $15 range?

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  1. Gosh you can get Jim Beam for around that; 1.75L on sale are usually $23 or so. Heck, you can drink the rest.

    1. Heaven Hill is even cheaper. Here it is $12 a liter and $21 a 1.75. and it's a decent bourbon.

      1. Klunco, if you're near the NH border, there are lots of cheap bourbons in the NH state liquor stores, some for around 9-10 bucks a liter if you catch a sale.

        1 Reply
        1. re: pinehurst

          And you can go to their website and see the prices and sales.

        2. W.L. Weller white label, not a bottom shelfer at all, but best for the money.

          1. Thanks for the suggestions! I will keep an eye out for WL Weller, Heaven Hill, or Beam and just buy whatever is cheapest.

            My fear in just picking one at random was repeating what happened a couple of years back where I was given a bottle of "The Knot." It was the most wretched "whiskey" (and I do use whiskey in quotes), I have ever tasted. Impossible to drink, but not wanting to waste it, I made cocktail cherries with it, which turned out similarly disgusting.

            3 Replies
            1. re: Klunco

              Klunc, the question I would ask is how much of the bourbon flavor remains in your extract?

              If there's any amount, which it sounds like from previous efforts you were left with "disgusting" flavor notes, then you want to get a reasonably good-tasting bourbon, i.e. cheaper isn't better. I think beam is drinkable and a fair choice.... though I prefer weller... in fact for me weller stands up in blind tastings against some truly great bourbons, not quite there but for the money definitely there for an everyday drinking whisky. Typically runs around $13 for 750mL. The next step up in my marketplace would be Buffalo Trace which runs around $19, not far off your budget and well worth it IF you expect residual flavors. Makers is priced around there too, also delicious though I slightly favor BT, and again Weller stands up in that company on my palate.

              Can't recall sampling HH.

              Again it just depends on how much residual bourbon flavor you expect in your extract. If you're really into extracts it would be chowish to buy some smaller bottles of several bourbons and find which produces the best flavor

              1. re: TombstoneShadow

                For cocktail cherries, the flavor of the bourbon is very prominent. Likely because the cherries themselves aren't imparting that much flavor to the bourbon.

                With vanilla extract, the vanilla beans are definitely flavoring the bourbon, so while flavor is important, you just need something non-offensive. Recently, I've also been debating if a wheated bourbon makes more sense (soft and sweet), which may bring rebel yell into this debate. WL Weller would also qualify for that, so that may be the overall winner.

                Appreciate the suggestions.

                1. re: Klunco

                  I would agree with you. I made vanilla extracts, one with rum and one with bourbon. I am hard pressed to tell them apart onced they aged. A cheap wheated bourbon would work well

            2. I've also found cruzan amber rum makes a great vanilla extract.

              8 Replies
              1. re: StriperGuy

                Thanks for throwing a wrench into this! I've never done rum although that sounds delicious.

                Hmm, maybe I'll do two small bottles: one of rum, one of bourbon.

                1. re: Klunco

                  Again anything you don't use you can drink. ;-)

                2. re: StriperGuy

                  I have used plantation 5 year before. Fairly inexpensive but tasty on its own. I usual only do a flask sized bottle at a time.

                  1. re: quazi

                    For me, Plantation crosses the line over to: "too good to use for vanilla extract," but you're right that the price ain't too bad, and after all how much vanilla extract do you use anyway?

                    I will say, I do like taking really good vanilla extract and adding it, and some honey or sugar, to really good plain yogurt that I get from my local Armenian grocery store. The vanilla really shines through, and the yogurt is just amazing.

                    1. re: StriperGuy

                      Heck, then use the 3 yr El Dorado white. Cheaper and tastier than Plantation and cheaper and way better than Cruzan.

                  2. re: StriperGuy

                    I was also going to reply and suggest rum over bourbon for making vanilla extract. Brandy works well, too. I think both rum and brandy have more affinity with things in which you'd want to put vanilla (i.e. desserts), than does bourbon, so if you're going to use a flavored liquor (rather than vodka) that's where I'd go.

                    I have one going right now with Tahitian beans in Lemon Hart 151. Only six weeks in but it tastes really good so far.

                    1. re: davis_sq_pro

                      Add another rum fan for extract as well - and a tahitian bean fan as well.

                  3. They didn't have heaven hill at the place I went to, so ended up going with the Weller and after sampling am looking forward to some great extract.

                    Very solid bourbon on its own too and a great value.

                    Although not generally my first whiskey pick, Bourbon just may have the best value in comparison to scotch, rye, and even Irish. My Powers isn't $15 for Irish, and while Old Overholt is around the same price, I've always found it bland and step up to Rittenhouse or Redemption.