What is the best whiskey for making vanilla extract at home?
As mentioned in our article about bourbon vs. whiskey, the old saying is that "all bourbon is whiskey but not all whiskey is bourbon." We have a top-10 bourbon list already. But, to exclude all whiskeys outside of bourbon in extract making is a mistake. Whiskeys that aren't bourbon produce wonderful extracts. The biggest distinction between all whiskeys vs. bourbon generally is that whiskey is typically a little more spicy with a light sweetness that isn't dependent on corn.
While we are constantly experimenting with whiskeys in extract making, the list above is our current top-10 favorite list, with our most favorite as #1 and our least favorite as #10, but all of them work just fine. Whiskeys are made all around the world. Scotland, Japan, Canada, Ireland, America and many more countries. Each whiskey has its defining characteristics and can produce an entirely new extract experience.
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Check back often as we will update this list from time to time as we conduct more experiments. Click any of the links below to learn more about each spirit. Our good friends at Drizly offer thorough descriptions (and often great deals if available for shipping in your area) on each spirit. Happy extracting!!
- Jameson Irish Whiskey - Our first whiskey extract was made with Jameson. Why? Because it's naturally sweet and has undertones of vanilla. This whiskey is typically a favorite in winter time hot toddies and, of course, Irish coffee. Given its inherent sweetness, it is still today our favorite whiskey to make vanilla extract with. If you want to dip your extract making toe into the waters of whiskey extracts, Jameson is the perfect whiskey to begin with using virtually any vanilla bean.
- Woodford Reserve Rye - Woodford has been our favorite bourbon for extract making for years, so it stands to reason that Woodford Rye would also be at the top of our whiskey list, and it is. This is a beautiful, spicy whiskey with hints of tobacco, fruit and sweet aromatics that make it a beautiful vanilla extract.
- Bulleit Rye - A smooth finish, with natural notes of vanilla honey and spice make this rye a sweet & spicy marriage with Mexican, Madagascar, Indian and Indonesian vanilla beans for a crisp vanilla extract flavor. We are big fans of Bulleit. (Their bourbon is pretty good too!)
- Jefferson Ocean Rye - This beautifully-complex whiskey was given to us as a gift and, of course, we used it for extract making. Like most bourbons and whiskeys, it often takes 18 months to 2 years to mature into a beautiful extract. It has a toffee, salty, vanilla, cinnamon and baking spice taste that lends itself perfectly to being paired with dark, rich Indonesian, Peruvian, Sri Lankan, Mexican and Tanzanian vanilla beans. It's sweet and savory, all in one.
- Jim Beam Rye - Peppery, vanilla and oak are the primary tasting notes of this whiskey. Coupled with earthy, dark and rich vanilla beans, this finished extract is wonderful in BBQ sauces and splashed on savory proteins on the grill.
- Crown Royal - Our friends in the beautiful country of Canada make an exceptionally sweet whiskey. The De Luxe is unusually sweet for a whiskey, with creamy hints of oak, vanilla and fruit. It's a great whiskey to use with fruitier V. tahitensis vanilla bean from Ecuador, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Tahiti and other islands in the South Pacific.
- Toki Suntory - This beautiful whiskey from Japan absolutely astonished us and is quickly climbing our ranks. Its makers have somehow teased out hints of green apples, basil, honey, peppermint and thyme with a finish of vanilla and ginger that is absolutely beautiful with both traditional Madagascar vanilla beans, fruity V. tahitensis vanilla beans or any other vanilla bean you choose. It's astonishingly sweet and subtle, and the flavor of the vanilla will shine through. If you want to try something new, this is a great whiskey to expand your extract-making horizons.
- Glenlivet 12 Year - The world of Scotch Whiskey is a big one. Scotland is made of regions like Islay, Speyside and Highland that all produce different scotches from super smokey to sweet and spicy. For your first try at extract making with scotch, we recommend this sweet and reasonably-priced 12-year-old Glenlivet from the Speyside region. It boasts notes of peaches, pears, marzipan, hazelnut and vanilla that will blend well with V. tahitensis vanilla beans.
- Gentleman Jack - A simple, sweet, classic Tennessee whiskey for extract making is always a great place to begin. Similar to bourbon, with rich notes of caramel and vanilla and a smooth finish that allows the vanilla to shine through. Stick with a V. planifolia vanilla for this whiskey, and it won't let you down.
- Uncle Nearest 100 - Last on our list, but still a wonderful whiskey for extract making. This 100 proof (50% alcohol) whiskey is a classic American whiskey with notes of vanilla cream and caramelized sugar that is not only spicy, but exceptionally sweet as whiskey extracts are concerned. Stick with a Madagascar, Mexican, Sumatran or Brazilian vanilla bean for this extract, and you will enjoy the outcome.
Learn more tips and tricks about extract making by visiting our DIY Extract Guide Center.