Budget Vodkas and Such

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Budget Vodkas and Such

Postby pooteeweet » Tue May 25, 2010 6:38 pm UTC

I'm seeking advice on the best cheap brands of relatively neutral-tasting spirits to look for. Vodka, eau-de-vie, maybe brandy...

I've been wanting to try making various liqueurs, aperitifs, and fruit preserves at home (actually I've done it a few times before with some success) but it seems like a waste to do it using inferior swill. On the other hand, I really can't justify purchasing bottles of quality liquor more than once every blue moon or so.

Has anyone come across any stand-out, bottom-shelf boozes that don't have nasty aftertastes? Preferably prolific brands that are widely distributed, to increase the chances that I can find it at my local liquor store. Stuff that costs less than $20 per handle would be ideal. If you happen to have found a miraculous $10/handle bottle that isn't disgusting, I will be amazed and forever grateful.

(Edit) I don't think this topic has been covered in other threads... It looks like other home liqueur discussion has been limited to recipes. As far as I can tell the Liquor thread is more generalized and although it's possible someone's discussed this somewhere in there, I'd rather not read all 16 pages to make sure.

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Re: Budget Vodkas and Such

Postby Bakemaster » Tue May 25, 2010 11:31 pm UTC

Brandy isn't really neutral-tasting, and I've never found a cheap brandy that wasn't terrible.

I don't really deal with neutral spirits much at all, since I like my liquor to taste like stuff? If I'm cooking with rum or whiskey, it's because I want a rum or whiskey flavor. I've never cooked with gin, because... do people do that? So I don't know that I have much advice to offer, except I think there are plenty of rums and whiskeys that would make great preserves despite not being neutral-flavor.
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Re: Budget Vodkas and Such

Postby Azrael » Wed May 26, 2010 1:49 am UTC

pooteeweet wrote:Has anyone come across any stand-out, bottom-shelf boozes that don't have nasty aftertastes? Preferably prolific brands that are widely distributed, to increase the chances that I can find it at my local liquor store. Stuff that costs less than $20 per handle would be ideal. If you happen to have found a miraculous $10/handle bottle that isn't disgusting, I will be amazed and forever grateful.

Skyy, but I think it's just over your price range. If you're looking at vodkas, it's actually pretty easy to improve middle road (say Smirnoff) by running it through a Brita filter (or equivalent) a few times. A trained palate would still be able to tell the difference, but if you're looking for a neutral base, it would be more than sufficient.

As for brandy based liqueurs, there's a damn good reason why all the good ones are rather expensive -- they start with good (typically) cognac. While the best price per quality point in sipping cognac is *highly* debated, Pierre Ferrand Ambre is often times up at the top. But it's not cheap, think $35ish for a 750ml, IIRC. I'm sure you could get away with Courvoisier VS for a liqueur base.

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Re: Budget Vodkas and Such

Postby Bakemaster » Wed May 26, 2010 1:56 am UTC

I recall the Mythbusters episode where they filtered vodkas. I think the verdict was, if you're going to buy filters, you're better off just spending the extra money on better vodka.
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Re: Budget Vodkas and Such

Postby Azrael » Wed May 26, 2010 1:57 am UTC

I don't remember the end conclusion, but that sounds pretty reasonable. Might be worth it if you have a filter kicking around?

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Re: Budget Vodkas and Such

Postby AntonGarou » Wed May 26, 2010 1:33 pm UTC

If you just want to make home made liqueurs and such my recommendation is to buy straight grain ethanol(over here we have 750cc bottles of 190 proof sold over the counter) and cut it with water as necessary for concentration.The taste is definitely neutral, and if your area follows the same general pricing scheme it should be around 3-4$ per bottle.
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Re: Budget Vodkas and Such

Postby pooteeweet » Wed May 26, 2010 3:33 pm UTC

Yeah, as I don't already use water filters the cost of buying a Britta probably cancels out the money saved on cheaper booze. I was thinking about this a while back and I started looking into buying the charcoal and jerry-rigging a filtration system--but I think I lost interest as it started to become apparent that this too would require more money/effort than it was worth for me. Anyone who is planning to do this sort of thing on a larger scale, though, might be interested in knowing that you can buy bulk bags of filtration charcoal online or at wine-making/distilling supply stores.

I was actually just thinking of the grain alcohol thing-- Is this stuff available in most liquor stores? I've never seen it but it seems like that would definitely simplify things quite a bit.

I did use Skyy for one of my previous projects and it was quite satisfactory, but yes, a bit more expensive than I'd like.

I mentioned brandy because I know I've got a bunch of recipes kicking around for various fruit preserved in brandy. I suppose there's no reason not to use other types of (less neutral) liquor as a base for liqueurs as long as you find/invent recipes that are well-tailored to that particular liquor's flavor.

While we're on the subject, does anyone have anything to say about wines used in liqueur/aperitif-making capacity? The recipe I used the Skyy in also included white wine and I was lucky enough that the cheap wine I chose at random was not gross (at least, not gross enough to be noticeable through the other flavors). It's kind of a crap-shoot when you're buying $6-10 bottles, some are ok (more or less) and others are flat out disgusting. I should really start making a mental note of which brands are which.

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Re: Budget Vodkas and Such

Postby AntonGarou » Thu May 27, 2010 7:23 am UTC

Don't know- I live in Israel and here they are sold in supermarkets- liquor stores tend not to stock them because people going there want to buy something they can drink, rather then clean with.
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Re: Budget Vodkas and Such

Postby pooteeweet » Fri May 28, 2010 3:50 am UTC

I just discussed this in RL with someone who says A) yes Grain alcohol is widely available but B) It does not seem to be available in our particular tiny hick small-town liquor stores god damn it. Pfeh.

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Re: Budget Vodkas and Such

Postby bigglesworth » Fri May 28, 2010 2:34 pm UTC

Why not ask them to order it in?
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Re: Budget Vodkas and Such

Postby pooteeweet » Mon Jul 26, 2010 4:10 pm UTC

[Update]

Yes, I think I will inquire about getting grain alcohol. In the meantime, I've preserved a bunch of sour cherries in a mix of simple syrup and Smirnoff. I made one jar with Gosling's Black Seal rum, which seems like it should work quite nicely with the cherry flavor. I added vanilla beans and/or a few drops of almond extract to some of the jars. Crossing my fingers that I used a high enough ratio of vodka to syrup. I'll probably use the boozy syrup as a cherry liqueur, and bake the cherries into a cake or something when I decide to use them. The flavor of real cherries is so much nicer than artificial cherry flavor would lead you to believe.

Shit! That reminds me. I made one jar using a different method I've heard about: Cover your fruit in lots of sugar, then let that sit for a while (days? weeks? months? I should look this up). That's supposed to ferment a while on its own, then you add wine or spirits. I think it's been about a week since I started that one, I should go take a peek and see how it's doing.


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