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Best cheap bourbon for making vanilla extract?

Klunco Oct 2, 2013 01:25 PM

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. StriperGuy RE: Klunco Oct 2, 2013 01:33 PM

    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. JMF RE: Klunco Oct 2, 2013 04:53 PM

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

      1. pinehurst RE: Klunco Oct 2, 2013 04:59 PM

        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
          JMF RE: pinehurst Oct 2, 2013 05:10 PM

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

        2. t
          TombstoneShadow RE: Klunco Oct 3, 2013 12:13 AM

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

          1. k
            Klunco RE: Klunco Oct 3, 2013 08:23 AM

            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
              TombstoneShadow RE: Klunco Oct 3, 2013 09:18 AM

              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
                Klunco RE: TombstoneShadow Oct 3, 2013 10:16 AM

                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
                  scubadoo97 RE: Klunco Oct 6, 2013 03:45 AM

                  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. StriperGuy RE: Klunco Oct 3, 2013 11:51 AM

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

              8 Replies
              1. re: StriperGuy
                Klunco RE: StriperGuy Oct 3, 2013 12:21 PM

                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
                  StriperGuy RE: Klunco Oct 3, 2013 12:30 PM

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

                2. re: StriperGuy
                  quazi RE: StriperGuy Oct 3, 2013 12:50 PM

                  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
                    StriperGuy RE: quazi Oct 3, 2013 01:11 PM

                    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
                      JMF RE: StriperGuy Oct 3, 2013 04:03 PM

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

                      1. re: JMF
                        StriperGuy RE: JMF Oct 3, 2013 06:59 PM

                        Hmmm, that is a good recco.

                  2. re: StriperGuy
                    davis_sq_pro RE: StriperGuy Oct 7, 2013 06:55 AM

                    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
                      thimes RE: davis_sq_pro Oct 7, 2013 10:40 AM

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

                  3. k
                    Klunco RE: Klunco Oct 7, 2013 01:58 PM

                    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.

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