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A friend left about half of a bottle of some questionable, admittedly very cheap plastic-bottle of 80-proof grain vodka at my house. I should have remembered the name, but I'll edit it in when I get home if need be. Anyway, I don't drink very often, but have a few recipes in mind, so I just want to know if A) low-quality vodka will lead to the same culinary results as, say, a low-quality wine, and B) is there anything I can try to see whether or not this particular bottle is suitable? In case you're wondering, I'm looking to make my grandfather's borscht recipe and some hazelnut liqueur (for baking and occasionally adding to coffee).

Also, I did read this answer, and like the... ah... answerer, I suspect that any differences in this vodka have something to do with it being at the very bottom of the price range.

EDIT : Both the borscht and liqueur came out great. At first I thought the liqueur was far too harsh, but it seems that letting it sit for a few days after filtering let it smooth out.

  • 3
    You could always run it through a carbon filter to get rid of the nasty congeners. – zwol Apr 20 '15 at 23:02
  • Just FWIW... My grandmother who was fresh off the boat from France 60 yrs ago, (not a professional chef), always told me to never cook with an alcohol you wouldn't drink. She was referring to cooking wines when she mentioned this, but I personally would apply it here as well. – MegaMark Apr 21 '15 at 19:04
  • Many of my family, friends, and random people online have expressed similar sentiment, which is a large part of why I asked. However, I think that applies more strongly to things that people would never even think of drinking- the generic "cooking wine" found in grocery stores, for example. – player3 Apr 22 '15 at 2:58
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Cheaper spirits can certainly be used in culinary applications. The results won't be identical, but inexpensive liquors are a lot more cost-effective since the subtle differences in flavor between middling and quality spirits tend to get masked by other flavors. This is especially true when you're applying heat, which will burn off much of the alcohol (though not all) and change some of the volatile flavor compounds in the spirit. For things like a tomato sauce made with wine, a pan sauce deglazed with brandy, or a dessert flambeed with rum, the difference between bottom-shelf and high-end product will be evident only in the cost.

Poor-quality vodka will have some "rough" flavors if you're drinking it straight, and those might carry over into the liqueur in particular. Chilling will help, so you probably won't notice much difference in your borscht, and once you bake the liqueur into something I doubt any flavor difference will be noticeable in the final product. As a rule of thumb, the more you manipulate the spirit, the less you'll notice its provenance.

I can say confidently that using free, leftover plonk in a culinary application will be a much better use than drinking it!

  • you couldn't pay me to drink Jim Beam but flambeing mushrooms used it up. Cheap vodka however I would use as kitchen disinfectant – Pat Sommer Apr 25 '15 at 2:35
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I make liqueurs and always buy the cheap stuff, makes no difference at all in the final product.

  • I make homemade Kahlua using a cheaper vodka (a step or two above the $5/gallon one) and with everything else it in, you can't taste the difference. Nor are there the cheap alcohol side effects with it. – Brooke Apr 21 '15 at 19:35
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You can also use a charcoal/carbon filter and remove some of the harsh impurities in the cheap neutral spirits such as your vodka. Here is a link if you would like to read more. Here a second article that discusses same approach, just different insight.

  • I actually saw Mythbusters do this ages ago, so I know it works- I just don't have the filter! – player3 Apr 21 '15 at 15:14

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