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Ingredients

We Tried to Make Cheap Bourbon Taste Expensive

When we heard that bottom-shelf bourbon could be doctored to make it taste more like a fine old spirit, we had to give it a try.

We were curious whether the subtleties brought about by long barrel-aging could be simulated convincingly by adding some flavorings to inexpensive bourbon.

Bourbon, by definition, is aged in unused charred oak barrels. That charred oak gives the clear spirit plenty of color and flavor over the standard four-year aging process. Some bourbons are aged for over a decade, allowing innumerable chemical reactions to take place with the turning of the seasons.

To try to simulate the effect of extra age, we bought several bottles of four-year-old bourbon costing around $15 each, and experimented with spiking them with small amounts of different flavors. We used a bottle of 12-year-old bourbon as a benchmark.

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Promising Flavorings

Vanilla extract, we thought, could contribute the vanilla notes that come from oak. Oak, like vanilla beans, contains vanillin, and aging bourbon in an oak barrel extracts that vanillin into the spirit.

Liquid smoke seemed like a good candidate to echo the charred interior of the barrel, which gives bourbon its color and possibly some of its earthy depth.

And we used a dry sherry to add complex aromas. Sherry like oloroso, which is aged for years without a yeast cap, undergoes oxidative processes that produce a vast range of flavor compounds.

A Precise Formula

For a 750-milliliter standard bottle of bourbon, we added:

  • 3⁄4 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • 1⁄8 teaspoon of liquid smoke
  • 1 tablespoon of dry sherry

We Improved Cheap Bourbon, A Little

So, how was it? Did we pour the expensive stuff down the sink and swear to drink nothing but our brilliant new concoction?

No. Tasters did not find our doctored bourbon to be as good as the good stuff. But they were pleasantly surprised by the enhanced complexity, and, to our gratification, unanimously preferred it to the unadulterated $15 samples.

A Few Of Our Favorite Bourbon Recipes

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JC
JOHN C.
16 days

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too. I've done this using a rimmed sheet pan instead of a skillet and put veggies and potatoes around the chicken for a one-pan meal. Broccoli gets nicely browned and yummy!

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too.

MD
MILES D.
JOHN C.
9 days

Amazed this recipe works out as well as it does. Would not have thought that the amount of time under the broiler would have produced a very juicy and favorable chicken with a very crispy crust. Used my 12" Lodge Cast Iron skillet (which can withstand 1000 degree temps to respond to those who wondered if it would work) and it turned out great. A "make again" as my family rates things. This is a great recipe, and I will definitely make it again. My butcher gladly butterflied the chicken for me, therefore I found it to be a fast and easy prep. I used my cast iron skillet- marvellous!

CM
CHARLES M.
11 days

John, wasn't it just amazing chicken? So much better than your typical oven baked chicken and on par if not better than gas or even charcoal grilled. It gets that smokey charcoal tasted and overnight koshering definitely helps, something I do when time permits. First-time I've pierced a whole chicken minus the times I make jerk chicken on the grill. Yup, the cast iron was not an issue.