The Best Type Of Whiskey To Use For Flavorful Vanilla Extract

Some DIY kitchen projects need a lot of attention, like making sourdough bread from a homemade starter. But fortunately for us, one of the tastiest and most useful homemade products you should have on your shelf just requires a bit of waiting and only two ingredients. With a cup of spirits and a small handful of vanilla beans, you can make an endless supply of your own vanilla extract. The quandary is what spirit to use. Flavorless vodka is popular, but whiskey has the advantage of being full of flavorful components that complement the extract. In fact, bourbon can even stand in for vanilla in a pinch, which makes it our favorite choice for making the flavoring.

Bourbon is known for its sweet character and toasty caramel flavor notes, which are perfect for making vanilla extract more subtly flavorful. By comparison, Scotch whiskies have smoky peat flavors thanks to their malted grain mash, and Canadian and Irish whiskies can have strong grain, herbal, or even pine notes — not the types of flavors you'd want in your vanilla cupcakes.

Bourbon and vanilla are natural companions

Whiskey contains the chemical vanillin, the flavor molecule which is also present in vanilla beans — but not because the beans are used to make the spirit. A reaction between the toasted oak barrels used to age the spirit and the alcohol results in the happy outcome. And of all whiskeys, bourbon is known for being on the sweet side because of the corn mash it's fermented from. Corn also adds flavors of butterscotch and caramel that bourbon drinkers love. It only makes sense, then, to steep the tropical beans in bourbon to get extract, as they're already practically cousins.

When you look for vanilla beans to start your extract, you'll find several varieties, including popular Bourbon vanilla beans. These don't actually contain bourbon; they're named for the area they've been grown in. Look for the less expensive, B-grade beans no matter which type you use; they're less plump and breakable, but you'll be hydrating them in your bourbon, so that's not an issue. Once they've been soaked, don't forget you can use a bit of the scraped bean along with your extract for a double boost of flavor — a big advantage of making your own extract!