Vanilla Extract in Beer


Vanilla can be in several different forms. It is a flavoring agent derived from the fruit of the orchid Vanilla planifolia and cultivated in tropical regions around the world. It is the world’s second-costliest spice (since saffron).

The vanilla fruit is generally referred to as beans. It resembles bean pods, each around 15 to 30 cm long (6 to 12 inches). Each fruit harvested only when ripe. It then goes through a lengthy curing process, which can take up to 2 years, although six months is more common.

Vanilla is quite available as a liquid extract based on alcohol. When used as a flavoring agent in beer, vanilla is most often found in winter seasonal beers. It is where the sweet aroma pairs with other festive spices. (cinnamon, allspice, and clove)

Vanillas are added at any of several stages in the brewing process. Vanilla flavor and aroma extracted from ground pods through maceration in ethanol.

Vanillas are added at any of several stages in the brewing process. Vanilla beans or liquid vanilla extract are most generally applied during the condenser stage at the end of the boil. Wort will proceed for fermentation or post-fermentation before processing. 

Whole beans are used to “dry spice” the beer in the fermenter in a technique similar to dry hopping. Whole vanilla beans can also be added to a firkin or a pin to flavor a beer during cask conditioning. Natural vanilla extract is a mixture of dozens of chemical compounds. It usually makes for a very intricate aroma and taste. Vanillin is the primary chemical ingredient. Natural vanilla is so expensive. The vast majority of vanilla flavor used today is artificial vanillin. It’s derived very inexpensively from lignin, a wood by-product of the paper industry.

What’s the Difference Between Vanilla Extract Vanilla Bean When Used in Beer?

 Achieving the right balance is the most crucial part of brewing a vanilla porter. The secret to making the right balance is brewing the right porter base. Choose the right vanilla and the vanilla beans to their best advantage. 

There are two choices when it comes to brewing beer with vanilla: pure vanilla extract and vanilla beans.
  • Vanilla extract is the most popular vanilla option out there. It’s usually the easiest to find at your local grocery store and the most affordable. It’s made from vanilla beans steeped in alcohol and water. It is a rich, strong flavor and is dark brown in color. Look for ‘pure’ on the label to make sure it’s not the imitation kind. The fake vanilla extract has a bitter aftertaste and won’t add that delicious flavor you’re expecting. 
  • Vanilla Beans are the most expensive vanilla. The whole vanilla bean offers the best, most powerful flavor. It’s vanilla in its purest form. 

Using Vanilla in Beer

Vanilla Extract has the vanilla in a solution. The positive thing regarding vanilla extract is you can add it whenever you want. You can put it right into the keg or bottling bucket. You can put some in your current batch to enhance the flavor that’s life hacking from the beans. As long as you’re using real vanilla extract instead of the imitation stuff. Vanilla Extract varies on how it’s produced.

Countless fake vanilla extract usually tastes horrible. It can affect the taste of your beer. Also, keep in mind that vanilla flavor itself is quite one-dimensional. It works well when you blend it with something sweet, given it a few drops to ensure its alcohol content. Dropping more will result in a different taste. Vanilla extract added directly at packaging using the titration process. The best vanilla extract you can use? Homemade with the tincture recipe using the best beans you can find. Keep a collection of 3 different types of vanilla – Bourbon, Mexican, and Tahitian.

Here’s the titration technique referred to:
  • Pour on for 4 2 oz. Beer samples (if you’re brewing, before incorporating your filtration). 
  • Add a different, measured dose of the flavoring to each sample and taste critically.
  • Let someone else taste it, too, so you can find a consensus amount.
  • Then scale up the amount of flavoring you want in the sample to the size of your entire batch.

However, with vanilla beans, the results can’t be predicted. It’s like avoiding the extract type. You are essentially making your extract for the beer, minus the plus of having the actual beans in there. Great beans and they have all kinds of varieties. Avoid dry, brittle like pods of vanilla. Beans should be moist, pliable, fat, and “juicy”.

Vanilla beans can be added straight to a fermenter after fermentation is complete. Split the beans lengthwise and use a knife to scrape out all the gooey goodness inside. That’s where most of the flavor comes. Add that to the fermenter, then coarsely chop up the pod and add that, too. After about five days, begin disgusting to see if you have the vanilla quality you like. The vanilla taste and aroma disappear faster than many other beer flavors. If you want to make it, it gets a little stronger than you think it’s required so that the taste will be right after a few weeks. Also, the number of beans to use will depend on the size and quality of the beans. The amount of vanilla character you want, and the base beer also depends on it. 2 beans per 5 gallons is a good place to start.

How to Brew a Vanilla Porter With Bean and Extract Recipes

Vanilla porter is one of the most popular winter beers right now. There is something about roasted-chocolatey malts interplay with the bitterness of the hops. It also has the same effect on the sweetness of vanilla. It’s a fantastic combination, especially when the temperature starts to drop. The most you can do to make the right foundation is to choose your preferred porter recipe. It should be a well-balanced porter recipe—a method with some dry chocolatey notes from roasted grains and a beautiful thick body.

  • Brewing with a right Porter: It has to start with a good base malt of Maris Otter or Two-Row, depending on your taste. Then add some roasted barley, black patent malt, chocolate malt, and some roasted wheat. Use Maris Otter instead of Two-Row. It will add a little bit of a toasted bread flavor behind the specialty malt flavors. Two-row may be a bit sweeter. 
  • For hops, the lion’s share should be in the first addition if you want bitterness without too much aroma or hop flavor. Hops should only be a low-light. 
  • For the yeast, I encourage you to make a starter or a viable yeast. If you choose not to make a starter, make sure you rehydrate the yeast according to the instructions. This will ensure you have viable yeast and will get a good start to your fermentation.
  • Choosing the Right Vanilla: There are some excellent vanilla extracts on the market. These are not the perfect way to get the right vanilla flavor in your beer. The use of the vanilla extract in beer usually lacks the flavor complexity of vanilla beans. While this will work in a pinch, it is not ideal when it comes to brewing a vanilla porter.
There are several types of vanilla beans on the market, as well. You don’t need to buy incredibly expensive vanilla to get great flavor. There are a few things to watch for:
  1. Make sure your vanilla was “water killed,” not “sun killed.” Vanilla pods have to be killed to stop their growth. It is done one of two ways: Water-killed (bourbon) vanilla is softer and cuts clean. It is what you should prefer. Mexican vanilla is commonly called “sun killed,” which involves drying on hot slabs of pavement in the sun. The result of this method is a woodier vanilla bean, which is harder to cut.
  2. Grade A Vanilla does not necessarily make better beer than Grade B Vanilla. Grade A Vanilla has more moisture, which does not affect the overall flavor. For the most bang for your buck, get some good grade-B Bourbon-killed vanilla. 
  3. Look for very slight cracks at the end of the vanilla beans. It indicates that the vanilla was ripened when it’s harvested. Vanilla beans with this telltale sign tend to have the most intense flavor.
Using the Vanilla Beans: The flavors of vanilla are delicate and complex. Prefer the slow extraction of the flavors through this method. To use this method, perform the following steps:
  1. Sanitize your secondary fermentation vessel once your primary does. 
  2. Slice the vanilla beans lengthwise and open them up.
  3. Scrape the black tar-like interior of the vanilla bean out of the husk. Put it and the husk into the bottom of the secondary fermenter.
  4. Rack the beer on top of the vanilla beans before placing the lid and airlock on the secondary fermenter.
  5. Wait 2-4 weeks for the vanilla to extract into the beer. Sampling periodically is fun. Not necessary, as it will be difficult to get too much vanilla in the beer.

Once the beer has extracted enough vanilla, package it as you would any other porter. Keep the carbonation levels around two volumes. If you bottle for 2.5 volumes, it would still be appropriate to bring out more vanilla aroma.



  • 9.5 lbs. 2-row base malt
  • 6 oz. Roasted Barley (500L)
  • 4 oz. Black Patent Malt
  • 4 oz. Chocolate Malt
  • 4 oz. Roasted Wheat (550L)
  • 1 oz. Glacier Hops at 5% AA (5 AAU) for 60 minutes
  • 0.5 oz. Challenger Hops at 8% AA (4 AAU) for 60 minutes
  • 0.5 oz. Cascade Hops at 6% AA (3 AAU) for 60 minutes
  • 2 Grade B Vanilla Beans (in secondary)
  • Yeast Options: Safale US-05 Dry Yeast, White Labs WLP001, Wyeast 1056.


  • Mash at 152° F for an hour.
  • Mash out at 170° F.
  • Sparge with 180° F water to make 6 gallons.
  • Heat to boiling and then add all the hops.
  • Boil for 60 minutes and turn off the heat.
  • Cool as quickly as possible to 70° F.
  • Immediately rack to your fermenter and pitch yeast.
  • Rack to the supplementary fermenter after 7-10 days, on top of two processed Grade B Vanilla Beans.

This is the same recipe that’s described above, with only a few minor changes for extract brewers. 


Substitute 5.7 lbs. of light dry malt extract for the 2-row malt list above. All other ingredients will remain the same.


  • Steep your grains in water and heat water to 170° F for at least 20-30 minutes. (The longer they steep, the more flavor you’ll get – to a certain level)
  • Remove the grains and add your malt extract.
  • Stir well, dissolving all clumps.
  • Heat to boiling and then add all the hops.
  • Boil for 60 minutes and turn off the heat.
  • Cool as quickly as possible to 70° F.
  • Rack to your fermenter and pitch yeast.
  • Rack to the supplementary fermenter after 7-10 days, on top of two processed Grade B Vanilla Beans.
  • After 14 days, prime and bottle or keg.


  • If you can’t find the right vanilla beans at your local health store, try checking with your local homebrew shop. At homebrew suppliers online, they will sell you them individually. They will provide various ingredient kits in.
  • Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla-what, most people are familiar with the taste of the coffee. Complete, smooth, sweet, and mellow, with long-lasting shades of flavor.
  • Tahitian vanilla – a tropical fragrance with hints of plum, peppermint and caramel flavor.
  • Mexican Vanilla – both sweet and woody flavor tones with spicy hints of cloves and nutmeg.
  • What is the difference between Grade A and Grade B Vanilla Beans?
  • Grade B’s meant for extracting and generally yields the most flavor while Grade A vanilla beans are meant for cooking. Grade B is also cheaper than grade A, which works out well.
  • Use dark glass jars to keep light out, which will help preserve the oils and flavor of the vanilla extract.
  • Most homemade vanilla extract recipes require 2-3 vanilla beans per cup of vodka.

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