Words by: Simon Difford
Commercially produced vanilla-flavoured vodkas tend to have more of a cream-of-soda rather than genuine vanilla flavour. Many also have added sugar so can be a tad sweet. As an alternative to vanilla-flavoured vodka I recommend making your own vanilla-infused vodka. Vanilla is one of the most straight-forward and reliably good home-infusions.
Vanilla pods are the fruit of a tropical vine which belongs to the orchid family. Each pod develops from a pollinated flower and it takes around six months for the pods to reach maturity, at which point (when the dark green pods turn yellow and start to split on the end) they are harvested by hand. The pods are then killed by heating or freezing to stop vegetative growth and initiate enzymatic reactions which create the distinctive aroma. They are then slowly dried prevent rotting and secure the aroma, then conditioned for 5-6 months to further develop flavour. The cured vanilla fruits have an average 2.5% vanillin content. The pods are then graded according to size and appearance.
The pods can be as long as 21cm (8¼ inches) long and those over 16cm (6¼ inches) are usually reserved for sale to chefs. Pods between 10 and 15cm long are graded second-quality and those less than 10cm long are categorised third-quality. Even these relatively short pods contain thousands of tiny black flavoursome seeds and one second-grade pod has more than enough favour for one bottle of vodka.
To make your own vanilla infused vodka simple take one quality vanilla pod (usually 6in/15cm long) and split lengthways with a sharp knife on a cutting board. Place the split pods in a freshly opened bottle of vodka (we recommend Ketel One Vodka) and leave to infuse for 3 to 6 days, shaking occasionally. (Place the bottle somewhere you walk past regularly and shake each time you pass). Shaking helps increase the rate of extraction, as will leaving in a warm place.
The vodka's high alcohol content will leach out flavours from the vanilla which will over the days to integrate with the vodka which will then preserve those flavours
After a week your previously clear vodka will have have turned a shade of amber and have developed a pungent scent of vanilla. Pour the contents of the bottle into a clean container. Clean the bottle and then filter your now vanilla-flavoured vodka back into the bottle. Be sure to mark the bottle 'vanilla infused' to save confusion.
Follows some of our favourite cocktails using vanilla infused vodka (click name for recipe):
Key Lime Pie
Pepper & Vanilla
Porn Star Martini
Tarte Tatin Cocktail
Thriller From Vanilla
Triple 'C' Cocktail
Turkish Delight Cocktail
Upside-down Raspberry Cheesecake