Last year, I brewed a Bourbon Vanilla Imperial Porter and it was a lovely beer. As I am in the middle of brewing a batch of this beer again, I thought this would be a good time to demonstrate how I went about adding the vanilla as several people asked me last time what type of vanilla I used and how or when I added it. Whilst you may be able to add a good vanilla extract directly to your beer, I have no experience with that method.
I used 2 high quality Bourbon Vanilla Beans last time, in a 12 litre batch, that a friend got me from Vanillicious. They were a local company at the time and their beans gave the beer a lovely background note of vanilla. I’ve moved away from the area and this year my beans have come from Rob at The Malt Miller, who is my normal supplier for most of my ingredients nowadays. This time it is a 20 Litre batch but the vanilla beans are quite a bit bigger. I may yet add a third one for this batch.
When it comes to vanilla in beer, its very similar to using vanilla in cooking. It is almost like a seasoning. Too much vanilla is very overpowering and when it is very strong, it is not that nice. It is quite surprising how little of it that you need to just lift your beer. The level I was going for, was enough to give a nice background flavour without it being totally obvious from the very first sip. It is supposed to compliment rather than dominate the beer. This was something that I achieved very well last year and hope to do that same this time as I am using the same method. Both times I used 2 vanilla pods which were soaked in Jack Daniels for a few days before being poured jack and all into the fermenter. The bean pods were cut in half, the seeds scraped out and added to a bottle, then the rest of the pods cut up and also added tot eh bottle before having a good 200 – 250 ml of Jack Daniels added. Then given a good shake and the bottle was agitated now and again over the next few days whenever I passed it. Due to the high level of alcohol, you probably do not need to sanitise the bottle you use for this, however I did and it wont hurt to do so.
If you want every single beer to be perfectly clear, you may want to filter the seeds out before kegging or racking to a bottling bucket, however i didn’t bother last time and got some seeds floating in the smooth creamy head of the first couple and last couple of pints from the keg and to be honest, it didn’t detract from the beer at all, even if it did look a bit strange.