Best Liquor for Vanilla Extract
Congratulations! By visiting this post, you have already shown an interest in creating your own quality vanilla extract rather than the bland options sold in stores. Choosing the best liquor for vanilla extract is an important step for those of you that decide to continue down this path. Fortunately, the olden days of using cheap grain alcohol are over, and the new era allows more freedom to customize the liquor selection to fit your personal taste.
You will be pleasantly surprised to discover how many options exist, but this may result in difficulty making a decision. Don’t worry, my friend! I will share the best options with you in a fun and easy manner. I will make sure that you are not overwhelmed. Ready??? Let’s begin!
Our Homemade Vanilla Extract Kit
We have created our Vanilla Bean Extract Kit to simplify the entire process of making this wonderful concoction at home. We initially envisioned this product as the perfect gift for a friend or family member with a passion for baking, but many customers buy it and decide to keep it for themselves. The kit contains everything you need to create a top shelf extract, except the alcohol. You will still need to purchase the liquor locally due to shipping restrictions, but this post will help you select the best liquor for vanilla extract.
BEST LIQUOR FOR VANILLA EXTRACT | GUIDE
Vanilla Bean Extract (VBE) in its simplest form contains two primary ingredients, the vanilla bean and liquor/spirits. Both of these must be carefully selected. The liquor completes the extraction process and disburses the natural vanilla compounds evenly throughout the bottle. Any type of alcohol can be used for extraction, but some work better than others, and a few should be completely avoided.
This guide will list the major categories of liquor and how they interact with vanilla beans when used in VBE. I will include details of the best liquor for vanilla extract to ensure your next recipe is full of the natural vanilla taste everybody loves.
Note: I will be using terms “liquor” and “spirits” interchangeably in this article.
Alcohol Strength Requirements
The liquor performs the important task of extracting the complex compounds that create the distinct taste of natural vanilla. The VBE contains over 200 natural compounds including polyphenols. These compounds are responsible for many of the vanilla bean’s potential health benefits in addition to forming the unique flavor profile and aroma. As a result, the minimum requirement for the liquor’s alcohol content is a very important factor.
The liquor/spirits should contain at least 35% alcohol by volume (70 proof), but we recommend at least 40% alcohol (80 proof). Most liquors meet this threshold, but it is still important to verify before purchase. Spirits that do not meet this requirement may not properly extract the flavors, resulting in a sub par or weak taste. I wouldn’t recommend using weak spirits and risking the quality of your extract. You potentially wouldn’t discover the problem until months later after the aging process, resulting in a waste of time, money, and resources.
Avoid Spirits with Artificial Flavors
The best liquor for vanilla extract does not contain artificial flavors. Most quality liquors are void of artificial flavors, but it is always good to verify this fact. Even natural flavors should be kept at a minimum, because they will compete with the delicious vanilla compounds. I recommend keeping it simple, especially if you are making vanilla extract for the first time. The whole point of creating an awesome extract is to obtain that unique vanilla taste, and it would be a waste to overpower it or mask it with artificial flavors.
Top Shelf Liquor for VBE?
Unless you have an extra bottle of liquor in your cabinet that can be brushed off and used in VBE, you will need to buy one. An important consideration regarding the purchase of liquor is price. This brings up the question, does top shelf vanilla extract require top shelf liquor? The short answer is “no.” It is not necessary to purchase the most expensive liquor, but I recommend staying away from cheap spirits as well. I try to select a middle tier brand, and I suggest you do the same. If you occasionally consume adult beverages and have a reasonably priced brand that you enjoy, that might be a good option to consider.
Reasons to Avoid Cheap Liquor in Vanilla Extract
- Bottom shelf liquor is usually more harsh
- Many cheap brands contain artificial flavors
- Ingredients are likely lower quality
- Middle tier spirits are reasonably priced and not much more expensive
Summary Image of Best Liquor for Vanilla Extract
Vodka is the traditional choice for vanilla extracts, and it still remains the most popular. The big brands never strayed from using vodka in their bottles. Vodka was originally chosen due to its price, clarity, and relatively subdued taste. These are many of the same reasons that have helped it lead all of the other liquors in terms of overall popularity.
One reason I enjoy using vodka (and other clear liquors) is it helps me determine when the vanilla extract is nearing completion. The mixture is usually light brown and semi-transparent on Day 1. The extraction process commences, and the VBE gets darker over time. The bottle contents are solidly dark brown after a few weeks, and the trend continues until the extract is ready a few months later.
Many of the smaller vanilla vendors respect the use of vodka but focus on developing extracts with more unique liquor options, including us @ Lone Goose Bakery.
I like to refer to brandy in its simplest form, as a liquor made from distilling wine. Brandy is usually consumed after enjoying a meal, and it has earned its place as a desert liquor.
Some lead members of our Lone Goose Bakery family previously owned a bakery and had a friendly older gentleman supply them with a bottle of vanilla extract. It was sourced from a small batch he made at home using a confidential recipe the he developed after years of experience. I bet you can guess the type of liquor he used… brandy! After hearing this story, our team decided to use brandy in our first several batches of vanilla extract, and I am glad we did! We believe that the smooth and subtly sweet brandy enhances the natural vanilla flavor and takes it to the next level.
Another trendy option that has become more popular recently is whiskey or bourbon vanilla extract. Bourbon is a type of Whiskey that must meet several standards, including being made in America, being stored in oak barrels, and containing zero additives.
Whiskey retains some of the characteristic wooden/smokey flavors when it is used in vanilla extracts. This leads to a more complex layered flavor profile. Many bakers enjoy this unique blend and believe they work well together, but others prefer a more simple taste.
I suggest sticking with vodka or brandy if you are new to the world of vanilla bean extract. One exception is for people that love the taste of whiskey and would like it included in baked items. Bottom line: Whiskey and bourbon VBE is a one-of-a-kind baking ingredient that leads to a unique flavor that may be an acquired taste.
The first time we ventured into this category, we chose Bulleit Bourbon. We wanted to use a brand that would pair well with vanilla, but we didn’t want to risk overpowering it. Bulleit has a smooth taste and subtly sweet aftertaste with tones of nutmeg and toffee. Our extract made with bourbon contains all of the positive qualities we were looking for, and we will continue offering it for sale in the future.
Important Note: The term “Bourbon” used on a bottle of vanilla often refers to the area that sourced the beans. The Bourbon area of the Indian Ocean includes the island of Madagascar, where our beans are sourced. You can use bourbon liquor to extract the flavor from these Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Beans. It can get confusing, so make sure you read product descriptions carefully.
Rum is yet another way to give vanilla extract an extra complexity that many people enjoy. Rum is definitely the taste of the Caribbean, and it always brings back happy memories of my honeymoon in Jamaica. It is made by distilling sugarcane and is filtered to remove impurities. A majority of the sweetness derived from the sugarcane is lost during the distillation and filtering process, but some of it remains in the finished product. This helps it combine nicely with vanilla without making the extract too sweet.
All rum is clear after the filtering process is complete, but some brands decide to let it age in wooden barrels. As a general rule, the darker the rum, the longer it has aged. Darker rum may also contain molasses or other natural sweeteners. Once again, we recommend using clear rum if you want a simpler flavor profile that doesn’t compete with the natural vanilla taste. Some bakers use dark rum vanilla extract for spicy brownies, spicy cookies, or other “sweet heat treats.”
I previously excluded gin from this list because I wasn’t sure if its flavor would work well with vanilla. I’ve carefully added it with some continued reservations. Gin is similar to vodka, but an additional steeping process is completed to infuse with botanical (think herbal) flavors. Gin’s most common botanical is juniper which causes its distinct flavor. The mixture of gin with vanilla is not my favorite flavor combination, so gin vanilla extract is not for me.
After doing a bit more research, I’ve discovered others that have used gin for vanilla extract and enjoyed the result. A huge part of selecting the best liquor for vanilla extract comes down to personal preference, and I don’t want you to miss out on a flavor you might enjoy. If you enjoy the taste of gin and you’ve previously created VBE with another liquor mentioned above, it might be an option for you. I suggest using a dry gin because they do not include artificial flavors.
I used to obsess about determining the absolute best liquor for vanilla extract. I’ve learned that every individual has unique tastes, and my preferences have even changed over time. The best idea I have had is to continually experiment and sample. I also have an idea for any of you that are still having trouble making a decision. I recommend creating multiple vanilla extracts with your top 2-3 liquor selections. You can also create multiple VBE’s with the same type of liquor but different brands. I’ve found that these different extracts are optimal in different recipes, and I’ve never regretted having several options available.
BEST LIQUOR FOR VANILLA EXTRACT | CONCLUSION
Hopefully, this post has helped you discover some ideas for which liquor to use in vanilla bean extracts. The overall message is to follow your personal palate and select the correct liquor that fits you. Just make sure to pay attention to the important factors of strength requirements (35%+ alcohol), avoiding artificial flavors, and purchasing “middle shelf” brands.
If you have any questions feel free to reach out to us via the Contact Us page, or you can leave a comment below. Your feedback keeps us motivated to continue adding content.
Madagascar Vanilla Beans
You can select the best liquor for vanilla extract, but if your beans are low quality, your flavor will be low quality. Our favorite vanilla for VBE is our Grade A+ Madagascar Vanilla Beans. You can learn more about them by clicking the picture above.
Best Liquor for Vanilla Extract | Comments
Do you have experience with purchasing any of these spirits to create a vanilla bean extract? What brands or types of liquor do you enjoy using? Do you have any useful tips? Please leave a comment below to share your unique perspective with the Lone Goose Bakery Community. Your comments make this an even better resource for future readers. We read and respond to all comments in a timely manner.
I need to do a quick PSA (public service announcement):
Do NOT use bottom shelf tequila for vanilla extract. I broke several of the rules above, including using dried up vanilla beans from a grocery store that rhymes with Small-Cart. It was nasty and made my girlfriend’s special brownies taste like Montezuma’s revenge. Learn from my mistake and stick to the guide above.
Jason – Congrats, this is one of the most interesting comments we’ve had on this site. That’s not an easy thing to achieve, we’ve had over 1,000 total. I’m sure you are going to help some members of our Lone Goose Bakery community avoid making the same mistake of using tequila in extract. I agree to just stick with the options on my post.