Alcohol Infusions

Start with vanilla extract, and then expand your repertoire to drinkable liqueurs. Get alcohol infusion recipes at
It seems that almost every baking recipe, and many other sweet treats, call for vanilla extract. Although the price of full beans and their extract may tempt you to substitute imitation vanilla, the cooks in my family were firm believers of using the real deal long before Jamie Oliver told the world that the fake version comes from the beaver anal gland. He didn’t have that quite right, but other sources of synthetic vanillin include coal tar, paper waste, and cow poop, which don’t sound any more appealing. Since companies are only required to use the label “artificial vanilla” or “imitation vanilla,” you’ll never really know what you’re eating.

When a 2017 cyclone wiped out a large chunk of Madagascar’s vanilla crop, prices for beans skyrocketed. So in splurging for the real stuff, you can get the most bang for your buck by making your own extract from vanilla beans: Scrape out the seeds needed for your recipe, and then use the pods for your extract, like you would for vanilla-infused sugar. Once you realize how easy it is to infuse this vanilla flavor, you’ll be on your way to making alcoholic infusions you intend to drink—liqueurs like triple sec.

Ready to give it a try? Full details are in the recipe below, but here are the basics:
You need just 2 ingredients.
1. Put the vanilla bean pods and vodka in a jar.
2. Wait. Months.
3. Pour off the liquid and use this vanilla extract; add more vodka to the beans for your next batch.

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Homemade Vanilla Extract

  • Servings: 1/2 cup
  • Difficulty: 1
  • Print
3 vanilla beans
1/2 cup vodka

Use a sharp knife to cut the vanilla beans in half lengthwise. Scrape the seeds from the bean pods with the edge of the knife, setting the seeds aside for another use.

Add the vanilla bean pods to a half-pint jar. Add the vodka, screw on a used canning lid and ring, and shake. Store the jar in a cool, dark place for 6 months, shaking it occasionally. When finished, the liquid should be dark, fragrant, and slightly thickened. To keep a continual supply of extract, strain the infused vodka into a new jar or bottle and top off the original jar of beans with fresh vodka. Makes about 1/2 cup per batch.

Tips & Tricks
  • Because vanilla beans are expensive, I recommend buying them in bulk instead of a bean at a time. Grade B beans are drier but also cheaper, making them ideal for extract. I also use a “mixer” grade vodka (see below) and save pricier craft distillery vodkas for sipping.
  • Once you start making vanilla extract, you can always have a jar to use and a mother jar in progress. If you go through your working jar too quickly, just add more vodka to your mother infusion jar for the next round.
  • After a couple of batches, the vanilla beans will release less flavor and need to be replaced. I tend to be haphazard about this, adding more bean pods whenever I’ve scraped out seeds for another recipe. For better consistency, swap in a fresh bean or two each time you top off the infusion jar. The old beans can go into your daily-use bottle if desired to get the last bit of goodness from them. Or let them dry completely and then bury them in a jam jar of sugar or salt; they’ll continue imparting flavor.
  • Extract can be used within 1–2 months, but it will take 6 months to develop its full strength. When you make your first batch, consider checking it after the first month or pouring off a small bottle for your baking needs. Then check again in 4–6 months and compare the two strengths.

Start with vanilla extract, and then expand your repertoire to drinkable liqueurs. Get alcohol infusion recipes at

Twice as Tasty

Start with vanilla extract, and then expand your repertoire to drinkable liqueurs. Get alcohol infusion recipes at After I started grilling tomatillos for salsa, I was thrilled to discover that the drained juice makes a delicious sweet-and-sour mix for margaritas. But the triple sec in the cocktail always bothered me: I dislike spending a lot of money on alcohol I intend to use as a mixer, but I didn’t want to taint my fabulous margs with cheap artificially flavored and sweetened stuff. Then one day I stumbled upon people who were making their own triple sec at home. This launched me into a new level of kitchen adventures that now has me playing with homemade bitters and tonics.

Like home-infused vanilla extract, the ingredients and process for homemade liqueurs are simple. All you really need is patience. If you plan to make a lot of summer cocktails, start your first batch now. Once you’ve sampled it, make any tweaks and start up your next batch—or a double or triple one. Those tweaks might include a higher portion of brandy (if you love Grand Marnier) or pure vodka (if you’re a Cointreau fan), less sugar (if you plan to use other sweet ingredients in your drinks), or more care in the zesting (if your batch is bitter from too much pith). You also may need to tweak your favorite cocktail recipes: your homemade triple sec will have far more alcohol in each ounce than most commercial brands.

Ready to give it a try? Full details are in the recipe below, but here are the basics:
You just need some zest and alcohol to get started.
1. Mix the zest and alcohol and then ignore it for 3 weeks.
2. Strain and add simple syrup (sugar water).
3. Shake and enjoy.

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Homemade Orange Liqueur

  • Servings: 2 cups
  • Difficulty: 2
  • Print
2 tablespoons orange zest
1/2 teaspoon grapefruit zest
1/2 cup brandy
1/2 cup vodka
2 whole cloves (optional)
1 cup raw cane sugar
3/4 cup water

Combine the zests and alcohol in a pint canning jar. Top with a plastic storage lid and shake. Set the jar in a cool, dark place for 3 weeks, shaking it occasionally if you think of it. On day 21, add the cloves, reseal the jar, and shake again. Let the infusion steep another day.

Make a simple syrup by combining the sugar and water in a small saucepan, bringing them just to a simmer over medium heat, and stirring to dissolve the sugar; let cool to room temperature.

Pour the infused alcohol through a strainer lined with butter muslin into a clean wide-mouth quart jar; compost the zest and cloves. Pour the simple syrup into the jar, screw on a plastic storage lid, and shake. Let sit for a day before transferring to one or more bottles, if desired, and using. The orange liqueur will keep indefinitely but is best used within a few months. Makes about 2 cups.

Tips & Tricks
  • I like the depth of flavors provided by the brandy–vodka pairing and the sweet orange and more bitter grapefruit zests, plus the hint of clove. If you reach for Cointreau instead of Grand Marnier when you need an orange liqueur, you might prefer an entirely vodka base. If you usually buy a cheap off-label triple sec, you might find this version tastes boozier, as well as more flavorful.
  • My preferred vodka for infusions, including Homemade Vanilla Extract, is Luksusowa potato vodka. This Polish brand is affordable and although I wouldn’t drink it straight, it lacks the harshness of ultracheap wells. I’m less of a brandy connoisseur, but I again look for a low- to midprice bottle.
  • I usually use whatever sweetener I have at hand to make simple syrups, but turbinado and darker sugars will darken your liqueur, which may not be appealing in your final cocktail. Raw cane sugar is a good compromise if you don’t want to go with plain white granulated sugar.
  • I use this liqueur in Grilled Tomatillo Margaritas, which already want a boost of sweetener, and in other unsweetened cocktails, so I make the mixture fairly sweet. If you plan to mix it with other sweet ingredients, you could add less simple syrup to the mix.
  • My mom says she loves this homemade liqueur but doesn’t drink enough margaritas—instead, she adds a splash to fresh strawberries and serves them over ice cream. You could do the same, subbing it for the orange juice and sugar, for Strawberry Shortcake with Lilac Cream. You could even add a bit to Quick Cranberry Bread or Crepes with Wild Berries and Lemon Cheese for a mimosa brunch.

Want to play with more cocktails? It’s the perfect time for a Twice as Tasty workshop where you learn to make sweet, tangy, and savory mixers. Learn the techniques in a workshop held in your own kitchen, among friends—and with my personal help. Click here to learn more.


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