The Vanilla Hack To Upgrade Whiskey Right In The Bottle

Many whiskies, especially bourbons, possess natural notes of caramel, spice, dried fruits, and smokiness, so it's no wonder they pair perfectly with sweet, aromatic flavors like vanilla. Vanilla-infused whiskey is fantastic in cocktails like a fresh and fragrant old fashioned, or even in grown-up desserts like homemade bourbon ice cream.

If you've ever thought that making your own vanilla infusion sounds complicated, you'll be delighted to know that it's actually incredibly simple. All you need to do is add a vanilla bean directly to your whiskey bottle, eliminating the need for sterilizing extra bottles or tricky decanting.

Another great thing about infusing vanilla directly in the bottle is that you can taste it as it develops. While it can take a couple of weeks to fully infuse and develop a rich flavor, you might find that you prefer a milder taste. In that case, simply remove the vanilla bean whenever it reaches your preferred flavor profile.

One vanilla bean is all it takes

The process of infusing whiskey with vanilla is very straightforward. Simply slice a vanilla pod lengthwise with a knife to release the flavor, and then pop a vanilla bean into a full, standard-size whiskey bottle. Leave it to infuse for a week or two, tasting it daily to test its flavor development. You can give the bottle a gentle shake to help the flavors really meld.

While bourbon works particularly well because of its inherent caramel richness, you can theoretically use other whiskies, depending on your preference. And just like you can skip the top shelf when cooking with whiskey, there's no need to use a pricey bottle for this experiment. Just choose a brand you enjoy.

Vanilla-infused bourbon is delicious on its own. However, it also shines in cocktails or mixed drinks. Try mixing one part vanilla-infused bourbon with two parts cola and garnishing with a cherry for a flavorful long drink. For a frothy fizz, shake with half-and-half, fresh lemon, sour, egg white, and club soda. Or, for a zingy old fashioned, stir it with orange bitters, orange zest, and simple syrup.

Other hacks for making sweet bourbon infusions

To take your bourbon infusion to the next level, try adding a cup of quartered dried figs in addition to vanilla. The figs add a delicious natural sweetness for a richer, darker, almost dessert-like drink. Taste the infusion regularly and strain it into a clean, sealed bottle or glass container once it's ready; it will keep for several months.

If you want to experiment with more dessert flavors, consider apple pie. Add fresh sliced apples, cinnamon, and cloves to a sliced vanilla bean in a clean mason jar, top with bourbon, and let it infuse for a week or two (or infuse it in the whiskey bottle if you prefer). Or, bring in classic chocolate orange flavors by infusing bourbon with cacao nibs and orange peel for extra brightness.

For a real sweet treat, you can even infuse bourbon with cookies; oatmeal cookies or shortbread work especially well. Use whole cookies, and make the infusion in a clean jar. Note that cookie infusions tend to be quicker, so taste more frequently — it could be ready in a couple of days. It's also worth bearing in mind that a cookie infusion could look cloudy or messy, with bits floating in it. You can remove this by straining it through a coffee filter for several hours or even overnight. Once filtered, store it in the fridge, and use it in decadent dessert cocktails.