The Simple Hack That Will Take Cheap Bourbon To The Next Level

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You don't have to spend a fortune to drink good, moderately priced bourbon, with a number of selections in the mid-range cost category, including Maker's Mark, Bulleit, and Buffalo Trace, offering quality alternatives to the more expensive brands. After all, Pappy Van Winkle is expensive and, therefore, isn't going to find its way into the regular drinking repertoire of the average bourbon aficionado.

But what if you can only afford the cheapest bourbon like Old Crow and its ilk? Some of the options out there might seem less than appealing. While you can always try to dilute or mask the taste with some heavy mixers and ice, there is another trick out there that is designed to enhance the flavor of the bourbon rather than hide it.

This idea of how to improve upon cheap bourbon was hatched by a group of test kitchen chefs at "Cook's Illustrated" and shared in the book "Kitchen Hacks: How Clever Cooks Get Things Done." Their objective was to try and reproduce the complexities of a long barrel-aged bourbon through the addition of flavorings to the low-cost stuff, and they may have just achieved it.

Recipe for making cheap bourbon better

The brand of cheap bourbon that you choose is completely up to you. The "Cook's Illustrated" folks experimented with 750-milliliter bottles in the $15 price range, but once you have made your purchase, the test chefs recommend incorporating a trio of specific ingredients in precise quantities to take it to the next level.

Add one tablespoon of dry sherry, ¾ teaspoon of vanilla extract, and ⅛ teaspoon of liquid smoke to the bourbon, and then shake it up like you're mixing a cocktail. The goal with the vanilla extract is to simulate notes from oak barrels, while the inclusion of liquid smoke aims to replicate the earthy depth of a bourbon barrel. The sherry is applied to bring in more complex aromas, which with well-aged bourbon are developed over time.

The results of "Cooks Illustrated's" taste tests, which compared the concoction to a bottle of 12-year-old bourbon, didn't persuade people to ditch the more expensive variety for the new and improved cheap version of bourbon, but it did prove to be a unanimous upgrade over the original $15 bottle sans the added ingredients. Ultimately, keep this hack in mind the next time you want to give your house brand bourbon a boost.