We are often asked about whiskey and moonshine for extract-making in addition to bourbon. Whiskey and moonshine can be used, but we focus first on bourbon for several reasons that we will outline here.

Here's a video tutorial regarding whiskey vs. bourbon. More information is below the video. 

As the old saying goes, "All bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon." 

Whiskey is made all around the world. There are famous styles, such as American whiskey, Scotch whisky and Irish whiskey. Whiskey can be great for vanilla extract, but we generally stick with bourbon, and here's why...


Bourbon is simply the most popular form of American whiskey with a fascinating history.

In America in the 1800's, the whiskey industry had a growing number of sophisticated distillers that were trying to make something consistent, predictable and of high quality. However, they were competing with moonshiners and whiskey distillers that were diluting their product to be price competitive. There was no gold standard in early-American whiskey distillation.

In 1897, the American government recognized the value of defining what “American Whiskey” would be to the world. They called it Bourbon and they passed a law called the 1897 Bottle in Bond Act that is still enforced today.

The new law clarified proper bourbon production techniques. According to the act, "It (bourbon) must be bottled and stored in bonded warehouses under the U.S. government supervision for no less than 4 years."  The law outlined the following mandatory characteristics for Bourbon to be called Bourbon:

  • Bourbon must be made in America
  • Bourbon must be 51% corn
  • Bourbon must be stored in new, charred-oak barrels
  • Bourbon must be distilled to no more than 160 proof and entered into the barrel at 125 proof.
  • Bourbon must be bottled at no less than 80 proof.
  • Bourbon must not contain any added flavoring, coloring, or additives. 

In short, the act made the U.S. government the guarantor of bourbon authentication. The act provided a gold standard by which the world would judge American whiskey.

We must recognize that whiskey and moonshine production and quality have improved significantly over the years. There are many great whiskeys on the market today that work well with vanilla extract.

For first-time extract makers using whiskey, we recommend bourbon because the regulations under which it is made ensure a level of sweetness and consistency within your extract. Bourbon is clean like vodka but has a slightly sweeter and a smokey/oak profile, though certainly not as sweet as rum. It will bring out the sweetness of the vanilla without overpowering the vanilla aroma. It enhances some of the darker/smokier vanilla beans like Indonesian and Mexican. 

Here is a list of several bourbons that we have tried, so you can learn from our successes and failures. 

Visit our comprehensive extract-making guide center for more essential extract making tips and ongoing education.