Level Up The Flavor Of Beans With A Splash Of Booze

Beans have been a go-to, budget-friendly source of protein worldwide for centuries. But, while cooking beans is simple, it requires some skill to make it taste good. Beans, on their own, have a fairly mild, bland taste and require serious seasoning to make them pop. To that end, here's a trick you can try: Add alcohol!

What's great about cooking with beans is that they're not particular about the liquid you choose to cook them in. Whether it's plain water, broth, or even canned tomatoes, it all depends on your mood and pantry's contents that day. So, using alcohol as part of your cooking liquid isn't as outlandish as it might sound.

Alcohol, no matter the type, brings a unique heat that elevates the flavor in ways water or broth alone can't match. It also acts as a solvent for both fat and water-soluble flavor compounds, helping the beans soak up more flavors than usual. Worried about getting tipsy from your bourbon-infused baked beans? Don't be. Alcohol evaporates with relatively low heat. So, after adding the booze and allowing the beans to cook in the pot for a while, most of the alcohol content will have cooked out. Yet, the flavoring in your booze-of-choice will stay behind, soaked deep into the beans. The result is a significantly more complex-tasting bean dish that is relatively alcohol-free (a trace amount remains in the dish, but the concentration will be so low that you won't even know it's there at all). 

Basic bean vs. booze combinations you should try out

With around 400 types of dry beans from all over the world and possibly thousands of different alcoholic beverages, the possibilities are truly endless when it comes to pairing beans with booze. While experimenting with different combinations can be fun, we highly recommend testing out these tried-and-true matches first!

If this is your first time pairing alcohol with beans, try to add a pour of bourbon to canned baked beans. Canned baked beans are cheap and even a bottom-shelf bourbon will do the job perfectly for this recipe, so you're not risking a lot of your wallet's content for this little kitchen experiment. When you combine them in a slow cooker, along with a touch of ham, onion, and barbecue sauce, you'll be in for quite a treat. The baked beans will take on the bourbon's tasting notes of vanilla, caramel, and oak, giving the cheap dish a not-so-cheap tasting experience!

But hard liquors aren't your only option. Something lighter like beer can work, too. A great example is "frijoles borrachos," or "drunken beans," from Mexico. This Mexican bean dish involves cooking pinto beans with bacon and dark Mexican beer (or just normal lager will work fine if you don't have access to it.) It's an inexpensive, easy, and quick recipe that takes just around 30 minutes to prepare. The result is incredibly satisfying, with a savory taste complemented by the deep, rich flavor of Mexican beer.