It’s easy to make a vanilla liqueur, even if it’s your first attempt at homemade liqueur. With the taste of real vanilla bean, this simple recipe will have the sweet spirit ready to drink or use in cocktails within a day.
Vanilla liqueur is a sweetened distilled spirit flavored with vanilla. Unlike vanilla cream liqueurs, there's no dairy ingredient, and it's sweeter and lighter than vanilla vodka. Only a few brands make a pure vanilla liqueur, so it's not easy to find at liquor stores. Options like Tuaca and Galliano blend vanilla with other botanicals, but they're not ideal in every drink because the additional flavors alter a cocktail's flavor profile.
For those reasons, when you have a drink recipe like the vanilla martini, it may actually be easier to make a true vanilla liqueur yourself. You have complete control over the flavor and sweetness, and you can add complementary flavorings as you like. The liqueur is best with premium vodka and brandy, and you’ll get the truest flavor by using a real vanilla bean, though vanilla extract is an option.
Making vanilla liqueur begins with a homemade vanilla simple syrup. For the best flavor, let the vanilla bean infuse the syrup for eight hours before blending it with the base liquor. While you can use vodka alone, brandy gives the liqueur a slightly deeper flavor that’s delicious in cocktails. You can even blend it with nonalcoholic spirits for an intriguing zero-proof vanilla liqueur to use in mocktails.
The recipe makes a standard 750-milliliter bottle of vanilla liqueur. Enjoy it chilled and straight after dinner or as a nightcap, or use it in any drink recipe that calls for a vanilla liqueur.
1 cup water
2 cups granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean
1 1/2 cups vodka
1 cup brandy
Steps to Make It
Gather the ingredients.
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, bring the water to a boil. Add the sugar, stirring constantly until dissolved and the syrup is clear.
Use a paring knife to carefully split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise. Reduce the heat to low, add the vanilla bean, cover, and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and let the syrup steep for 8 hours before removing the vanilla bean.
To make the liqueur, combine the vodka and brandy in a 1-quart jar. Add 1/2 cup of the vanilla syrup, shake vigorously for at least 30 seconds to combine, and taste. Add a little more syrup at a time until it reaches your desired flavor.
Bottle the vanilla liqueur and use in your favorite drinks.
- Vanilla beans are expensive, so the recipe makes a large batch of vanilla syrup. It yields about 1 1/2 cups, and you won't need all of it for the liqueur. The excess will keep in the fridge for about two weeks in a sealed jar or bottle. Use it instead of plain simple syrup in cocktails, to sweeten coffee or tea, or top an ounce or two of the syrup with seltzer for homemade vanilla soda.
- A few tiny vanilla bean seeds will end up in the syrup, and there's no need to strain them out. The syrup is very thick, so if you want to remove the seeds, it's best to strain the finished liqueur through a layer of cheesecloth.
- For the best results, use a premium vodka that's clean and smooth; one you'd drink straight or in a vodka martini is a great choice.
- The brandy should be mid-shelf, and both liquors 80 proof for the smoothest flavor.
How to Serve Vanilla Liqueur
The vanilla liqueur is an excellent digestif to enjoy straight in a chilled glass or over ice after dinner. It’s also enjoyable as a highball when topped with seltzer or club soda in a tall ice-filled glass. Cocktails like the apple pie martini and mile high Manhattan are ideal for this style of vanilla liqueur. While it doesn’t have the complex flavor, it is a softer substitute for vanilla-forward liqueurs like Galliano L’Autentico and Tuaca. You can also make dessert a little extra special and drizzle it over ice cream or something like a lemon pound cake.
How to Store
Due to the sugar, liqueurs have a limited shelf life. Drink the vanilla liqueur within six months, keeping the bottle sealed and stored in a cool place out of direct light. It doesn't need to be refrigerated but can be if you often enjoy it chilled. Over time, the sugars may crystallize, and that's a good sign that it's time to make a new batch.
- For a quicker vanilla liqueur, skip the vanilla bean and add 1/2 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract to the syrup. It is ready to blend with the liquors as soon as the syrup cools.
- Add extra flavor to the syrup. Infuse the boiling water with about one tablespoon of green cardamom, ginger, lavender, or rosemary (or a combination) and simmer for a few minutes, strain, then add the sugar and vanilla bean to make the syrup. Add liquid flavorings directly to the syrup; try 1/4 teaspoon of almond or coconut extract or just a splash of rose water.
- Make a nonalcoholic vanilla liqueur for mocktails with zero-proof spirits as the base. Replace the vodka with a light botanical non-alcoholic spirit (gin alternatives and citrus-forward options are great), and use a nonalcoholic rum or whiskey instead of brandy. Since these spirits have unique flavor profiles, they can produce some fascinating background flavors. When experimenting, try half a batch of vanilla liqueur.
How Strong Is Homemade Vanilla Liqueur?
Falling in the average range for a liqueur, your homemade vanilla liqueur should be around 28 percent alcohol by volume (ABV, 56 proof).