Big ol' bump here, but I'm serving this now, and I thought I'd give some notes. This is Winter Solstice by the way, if you can't tell by the frozen fingertips I'm typing this with.
So the rumor the distributor for AVBC only took in so much stock for Winter Solstice, and Total Wine scooped up most of the stock, leaving my local small business shops out of luck for this beer! Now I have to brew my favorite winter beer like some peasant! I used S-04 because I had some to rack onto, and I think it did OK. I think it isn't as multi-dimensional as AVBC's special yeast, but for imitation, it's really, really close. If I had coordinated this better I would have used 002.
Anyways, used two vanilla beans, cut down the middle, chopped, and soaked in 2oz white rum. Let that sit for four days and dumped the "vanilla extract" (hey, technically that's what it is!) into the keg with the finished beer. When I sampled the beer going into the keg (that is, without the vanilla added), sensors in my brain immediately flaired up: "Hey, this is close to what I'm looking for! And there's already hints of vanilla in it!", so I became worried 2 whole beans would have been overkill.
It was. This is a little more intense than the real thing. If I do it again this year, I'll do 1-1.5 beans chopped. But I really, really like the soak in vodka/rum method... way more effective than just dumping in beans in secondary!! I'm really satisfied with this beer, but again, it's a little too gnawing with vanilla intensity, just a warning to tone it down in your own designs.
Great to be drinking this this year!