Whiskey Vanilla Extract | Make Ahead Mondays


I am obsessed with vanilla extract. Since I started making my own extract several years ago, I haven’t bought vanilla extract (either faux or pure) once. Once you’ve made your own and tasted just how much better it is (and realized just how easy the entire process is) it’s hard -if not impossible- to go  back.

Why bother when you can get pure vanilla extract relatively cheap? First, the homemade stuff is customizable. You can make it as strong or as weak as you’d like it. Normally, the method involves splitting beans, pouring a neutral high-alcohol spirit such as vodka over it, capping it, shaking it and letting it age until you can’t really taste an alcohol burn from it. The idea is that the alcohol becomes a vessel for mega vanilla flavour delivery. I told you it was easy, didn’t I? That’s wonderful, isn’t it? It’s fabulous. I have a giant jug of the stuff in my cabinet… but…

Yes, there’s a but…

Sometimes I WANT a little burn to help cut some sweetness: I want that presence of alcohol WITH the vanilla. And in those cases, I reach for this stuff; Whiskey Vanilla Extract. The process is every bit as easy. I split vanilla beans lengthwise and stuff them into an empty bottle. The prettier the bottle the better. It’s not like it effects the overall outcome, but life is hard enough: Let’s try to get some beauty in there where we can.

I pour something drinkable but not expensive* (ask the clerk at your local liquor store for a good, inexpensive but sippable whiskey or bourbon.) over the top, cap it, shake it and let it go for a week.

*I did NOT use Templeton Rye Whiskey for my extract, merely the empty bottle.

A bottle of that on your pantry shelf invites you to use it, and since we’re not going with a neutral alcohol here but highlighting the richly flavoured, slightly smokey whiskey taste, you can start using it about a week or two after starting it. It will mellow with age, so if you find it’s a little too brassy and bright at the beginning, just stash it in a dark corner and retrieve/retry it later.

I love to use this in place of the ‘regular’ vanilla extract in whipped cream, pecan pies, fruit crisps, and hot fudge sauce. What would you make with Whiskey Vanilla Extract?

A Note on Making This for Gifts:

You can use canning jars to prepare this if you’d like, but I find using an actual liquor bottle makes it easier to use the finished vanilla extract without spilling it. If you don’t have access to empty liquor bottles or want to prepare it in smaller containers for gifts, dollar stores and big box stores usually have a nice selection of small decorative bottles with corks or twist caps. Just be sure the caps fit snugly to prevent spilling when you shake them.

A Note on Finding Inexpensive Vanilla Beans (because it CAN be done!)

You can use whatever vanilla beans you prefer, Madagascar, Tahitian, Bourbon (Hey! Bourbon Bourbon Extract!). I don’t actually have one that I love better than others, I love ’em all! I buy my vanilla beans in bulk through one of two places. Here they are in order of preference.

  1. My beloved Amazon.com has them When you consider that the best price I have found in grocery stores is about $10 per package of 2 beans, and that there are about 50 beans in a half pound, that’s akin to saving $223. Trust me. My math is good, I’m  a homeschooling mom. And better yet, when the beans are properly stored (at a steady room temperature out of direct light) they last for at least a year.
  2. eBay. Seriously! I have bought pounds of vanilla beans via eBay over the years. Sometimes you can get a better deal on eBay, sometimes Amazon has the better price. Keep your eyes peeled and get bargain happy!
Whiskey Vanilla Extract | Make Ahead Mondays
With its smokey, richly flavoured, high alcohol content, whiskey makes the perfect vehicle for homemade vanilla extract. There's nothing neutral about this vanilla extract, so use it where you'd love a little bite: in whipped cream, pecan pie, fruit crisps, and the like. This makes a wonderful and unique hostess gift for the holidays.
  • 1 clean and empty 750 ml liquor bottle with a tight fitting lid (or a glass container that can hold about 3 cups of liquid with a tight fitting lid.)
  • 5-20 whole vanilla beans, depending on how strong you'd like the vanilla flavour
  • about 3 cups whiskey, depending on the container you use
  1. Split the vanilla beans lengthwise then in half. Slide them into the empty liquor bottle. The fewer the beans you use, the weaker the vanilla presence will be. I like a LOT of vanilla and stuff as many into the bottle as I can while still leaving enough room for the beans to be covered by liquid and the lid to be added when I'm done.
  2. Insert a funnel into the top of the bottle and pour in as much whiskey as you can, being sure to cover the beans completely. Add the lid, shake vigorously for about 2 minutes, then place in a dark, cool place for at least one week, shaking the bottle daily, before using. The longer the extract ages, the more mellow the whiskey and the more pronounced the vanilla will be.


  1. says

    Thanks to you, I do all of this – make my own vanilla extract (I say it’s *impossible* to buy it again once you’ve done your own!), make it with various alcohols, and buy vanilla beans for cheap on Amazon. Thank you, Amazon. I glanced at the vanilla bean jar in the bulk section at Central Market the other day and they were $4.99 apiece. I snorted out loud.

    • says

      I’m pretty pleased that I made you snort out loud in the grocery store. And I’m more than pleased that I got you started on the homemade vanilla extract path!

  2. LaNell says

    Do you remove the beans from the liquid at some point? I’m thinking a bottle of vanilla will last me a long, long time

  3. Ed says

    I’d really love to try this but I don’t use vanilla extract very often and wonder what the shelf life of this would be, with or without the beans. Of course, this could encourage me to find ways to use it more regulary! Like LaNell I wonder, would you leave the beans in or remove them at some point? Thanks for ALWAYS amusing me while providing great recipes and ideas for the week ahead!

    • says

      This is for Ed and LaNell… The shelf life will not be diminished by leaving in the beans. Christine is right! When you’re about halfway through the bottle top it off with more whiskey. As for a hard number on shelf life, I can tell you that two to three years wouldn’t be pushing it… I had one bottle that I kept using and topping off for about 5 years. The only reason I finally abandoned it was that the beans finally lost their oomph.

  4. Christine says

    The best vanilla I ever had was from NO, where they applied this method with bourbon. I was advised when the bottle was halfway empty to top it up with more bourbon and this could continue indefinitely. The bottle probably was under 2c capacity and had at least six beans. Thanks for the Amazon source idea! I’m on it!

  5. says

    Rebecca, my buddy Pat Barringer sent me to your site awhile back to check out your awesome food ideas. You had actually gotten me started on a vanilla kick almost a year ago. I was checking out your homemade chocolate syrup recipe and noticed a side-note of using (homemade) vanilla extract. “Hold ON! I can do that?!” We’ve done a few experiments with it since then (testing ratios of beans vs time), and the most recent batch (5 liters!) just went in this October and should be ready for Christmas. Even though it’s terribly simple, I felt like recording the process (mostly just to play with my camera) If you don’t mind me linking it here, I put the video up on youtube:

    Thanks for posting great quality material! My wife and I dig it.

    • says

      That was fantastic, Eric! So glad Pat sent you my way. Give him a hearty hello for me! What camera are you using for that video? The quality was wonderful! Thank you for showing it to me!

      • EricElwell says

        Glad you enjoyed it. It was shot with a Nikon D3100 with a wide angle lens. So now that this batch is ready, I was able to compare Madagascar split beans to Grade-A Mexican. There is certainly a difference in flavor as the Madagascar is much sharper while the Mexican batch (my preference) is smoother. Still waiting on the Grade-A Madagascar batch to finish to compare quality with the split beans and Mexican after the flavors are extracted. ‘nilla crazy

  6. Seven says

    Four little words: “Grade B Vanilla Beans” will help your wallet greatly. They are usually sold in bulk. The beans may not be as shiny and perfect as the singleton beauties in grocery stores but they have all the flavor and even seem to freeze well.

  7. Giselle says

    This is heaven sent! I have just even given dozens of beans from a friend in Indonesia and wondering how I could turn some into extract!

  8. Nick says

    I was watching an old episode of “Baking With Julia” (Child), and the guest chef mentions making vanilla extract with rum. My immediate thought was whiskey, specifically bourbon, would be a better choice as I’ve made bourbon vanilla ice cream before and it was amazing. Your site came up first when I searched, and I can’t wait to give this a go. Thanks for the recipe!

  9. Doniece says

    Last year I made bourbon vanilla and loved the product. I understand that whisky and bourbon are the same type liquor but age differentiates them. Whiskey is available at Sam’s Club and very reasonable for a bottle of Seagram’s. I want to grind the whole beans in my Vita-Mix and then strain several months later. Has anyone tried this method?

  10. says

    I found an unopened 750 ml bottle of Hiram Walker’s Old Special Rye Whiskey in my late dad’s place. He didn’t drink whiskey so it must have been a gift, and since I don’t care for it either, wonder whether I could use. I have some giant vanilla pods from Costco to pop into the bottle. What do you think?

  11. leticia says

    Beanilla.com is also a great place to buy beans. I just started a batch with evan williams a couple days ago. Can’t wait to see how it compares to the batch i made last year with vodka!


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