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Old 01-05-2012, 05:11 PM   #1
BrentR
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Hello,

Over the past several years I have been asked many questions about brewing with vanilla. I will try to address them here in a single page. Please do not hesitate to ask for more information.

1. When to add vanilla?
I recommend adding vanilla after the primary fermentation has already taken place. The alcohol is important for the process of pulling vanilla flavor from the vanilla beans. (this is why all extracts are made with alcohol). Adding vanilla any earlier may damage the compounds responsible for providing vanilla flavor, thus it should be added as late in the brewing stage as possible, but with at least 1-2 weeks time to extract.

2. Should I use whole vanilla beans or vanilla extract?
I typically recommend using whole vanilla beans. This will provide the most natural, full and complex vanilla flavor possible. This also allows you to better control the flavor (both quality and actual flavor) of vanilla you are adding. The flavor of generic store brand vanilla extract is nowhere near as complex or pleasant as higher-end vanilla extracts. The best way thing to do is to use whole vanilla beans. Additionally, when adding extract to your brew, you are also adding 35% alcohol and any other ingredients that might be found in the extract... who wants that!

3. Where to buy vanilla beans?
Vanilla beans can be found in most grocery stores, specialty food stores and online. Prices will range from $20 per bean to $0.50 per bean. I recommend looking for a store with high inventory turnover so that you are sure the beans are as fresh as possible. Grocery stores will be most expensive. Online stores will be the best value.

4. What type of vanilla bean to use? Is bourbon the best?
There are many types of vanilla beans, each has a different flavor. The best type to use depends on the flavor you are looking for. Below is a very quick summary:

Madagascar: rich and creamy
Mexican: bold and smokey, earthy
India: bold and chocolatey
Tonga: fig, raison, cherry
Tahiti: cherry-chocolate, floral aroma
Uganda: very bold, caramelized sugar, brown sugar
Bourbon: this is a tricky one because it really depends on the origin. Bourbon is a general name for the species vanilla planifolia, which includes all of the varieties listed above, except vanilla from Tahiti (vanilla tahitensis).

The most common is the Madagascar vanilla beans.

5. How to use vanilla beans?
Simply cut the bean in half lengthwise and toss into the carboy. Most of the flavor of vanilla is found in the paste on the inside of the vanilla bean, so it is important to expose the center of the bean directly to the beer so that the flavors can extract more quickly than being forced to diffuse through the skin of the bean.


Wow, I hope this helps. Please do not hesitate to contact me with more questions so that I can continue to update this post. My hope is to make this a location to house everything we need to know about vanilla in 1 convenient location.

Thanks again,

Brent

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Old 01-10-2012, 09:53 PM   #2
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How many beans would you use for a moderate flavoring of a 5 gallon batch?

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Old 01-11-2012, 03:04 AM   #3
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Great question. Most recipes I have seen call for 2 vanilla beans. I tend to lean on the higher side and go with 5.

If you add them during the secondary you can try to sample the beer after a few days of steeping the vanilla to see how it is coming along. If the flavor is not enough, then you can add a few extra beans at that point.

Thanks a lot,

Brent

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Old 01-27-2012, 02:24 PM   #4
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I'm brewing a porter with a little coffee and cocao nibs. I also plan to add a vanilla bean. If I want just a hint of vanilla, will 1 bean in the secondary for 1 week be enough?

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Old 01-27-2012, 02:43 PM   #5
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Hi Opus,

I assume this is a 5 gallon batch? I would start with the single bean and then try to sample after 1 week. If more flavor is desired, add a second bean. Because you are brewing a porter there is already a lot of flavor that the vanilla bean will be competing with, so whether it is 1 bean or 2 I think both will be safe and not over powering.

Hope this helps! Let us know how it turns out and what you end up going with.

Best,

Brent

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Old 01-27-2012, 02:50 PM   #6
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Thanks for the info! Admittedly I'm a little shy about adding vanilla to beer after the second beer my friends and I made (a vanilla oatmeal stout) used vanilla extract and had WAY too much vanilla flavor in it. I couldn't handle it. I recently brewed up a big imperial stout with a friend, and I think we'll be adding some vanilla beans to it, so this info is well-received.

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Old 01-27-2012, 02:57 PM   #7
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Yea, I totally understand! Finding the right balance can be difficult.

Hey, I see you are in Grand Rapids. So are we! I will be making a delivery downtown in about an hour and could drop off some beans if you need? Otherwise feel free to stop by our warehouse in Comstock Park if you would like to save on shipping (assuming you do not already have beans)

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Old 01-27-2012, 03:09 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BrentR View Post
Yea, I totally understand! Finding the right balance can be difficult.

Hey, I see you are in Grand Rapids. So are we! I will be making a delivery downtown in about an hour and could drop off some beans if you need? Otherwise feel free to stop by our warehouse in Comstock Park if you would like to save on shipping (assuming you do not already have beans)
Oh awesome! I won't be able to do it in an hour, but you work for Beanilla I take it? So when we need the beans could we stop by the address on the website and buy them there? I would love to be able to smell them before making a decision on what to buy.
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Old 01-27-2012, 03:16 PM   #9
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Absolutely!

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Old 01-27-2012, 03:32 PM   #10
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I recently did a bourbon vanilla porter. I used most of two Madagascar beans soaked in Knob Creek for a couple of days before throwing the beans into secondary. I then added that bourbon at kegging.
The beer tastes great, it's rich, creamy, and the flavors are as I intended.

One thing that's got me wondering.....head retention and general carbonation just isn't great with this beer. It's been slow carbing up for a while, and beers I've put on the line since this one are ready.
Is the vanilla to blame? Or the bourbon?

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