It has to be said of vodka that, although it may be used creatively by the bartender, compared with other spirits it does lack in flavour somewhat. This may go some way to explaining why the last three decades have seen a growth in the availability and popularity of flavoured vodkas, which can be anything from cinnamon to marmalade. But with novelty value aside, one vodka flavour that strikes enough of a chord to be taken seriously is that unique sweet spice, vanilla. We decided to investigate vanilla vodkas further to see just how useful they can be to the bartender.

Vanilla Vodka Picks

Vanilla vodkas may be infused with vanilla, before or after distillation, flavoured with extracts or with artificial flavourings. Some vanilla vodkas may also be sweetened, which will affect the taste.

Cariel Vanilla Vodka is a Swedish vodka distilled from wheat and flavoured with essence of Indian and Madagascan vanilla. It has notes of butter, pepper and nuts, and retails at around £22.

Ciroc French Vanilla Vodka is the product of French grapes distilled five times, with vanilla and natural flavours added. Its taste is smooth with hints of spices and cacao, and is priced at around £30.

Smirnoff, Stolichnaya and Absolute each produce vanilla vodkas at around £15-£20 that are slightly sweeter, while the vanilla vodka from Grey Goose is clearer and less sweet, but more expensive at £39.

Corsair Vanilla Bean Vodka from the U.S.A is flavoured with bourbon vanilla beans to produce a dry, creamy vanilla and chocolate taste, and is priced at £37.

Infusing Your Own

For those willing to put in a little time and effort, infusing your own vanilla vodka is a relatively simple process. Vanilla pods are the fruit of a tropical vine, they take around six months to mature and are then dried and conditioned for five to six months. The longer pods are higher in quality and can be up to 21cm in length.

Once you have found a vanilla pod sufficient in quality, the pod should be split open and inserted into a new bottle of vodka. The pod should be left to infuse for between three and seven days, and the bottle should be regularly agitated to help with extracting the vanilla. The length of time for infusion will determine the strength of the vanilla taste. After this time the clear vodka will become darker in colour and will have developed an aroma of vanilla. The vodka should then be transferred to a clean bottle.

Vanilla Vodka Cocktails

With such a distinct taste, vanilla is a spice that can be used effectively by any bartender looking to explore and expand their repertoire. Here are some of the most exciting vanilla vodka creations to get started with.

Like many vanilla vodka cocktails, the Snowfall was created relatively recently, in this case at a New York bar in 2002. It is made by muddling a vanilla pod in a shaker and adding 45ml vanilla vodka, 45ml single cream and 15ml sugar syrup, shaking with ice and straining into a martini glass. It is creamy, sweet and with a kick of real vanilla.

Created at The Townhouse in London in 2002, the Porn Star Martini is ideally made with the juice of three halves of fresh passion fruit, 60ml vanilla vodka, 15ml passion fruit liqueur, 15ml vanilla sugar syrup and 15ml fresh lime juice, all of which are shaken with ice and strained into a chilled coupe glass. A shot glass is then filled with chilled champagne and served on the side, and an extra passion fruit half is used to garnish. This is a popular, fruity and sweet cocktail experience.

The Vanilla Vodka Sour is a vanilla variation of the sour, and this can be made by shaking 60ml vanilla vodka, 22.5ml fruit liqueur, 22.5 fresh lemon juice and 15ml egg white with ice, before straining into a chilled flute glass.

Those with a penchant for the taste of coffee may find that vanilla is a pleasing complement to the flavour. The Vanilla Espresso Martini may be made with 45ml vanilla vodka, 30ml espresso coffee, 20ml coffee liqueur, 5ml sugar syrup and a pinch of salt, all of which are shaken with ice and strained into a chilled martini glass. An apt garnish can be made with two or three coffee beans.

For a cocktail with a touch of orange, the Thriller from Vanilla uses 22.5ml vanilla vodka, 22.5ml dry gin, 15ml orange liqueur and 60ml fresh orange juice, shaken and fine strained into a chilled martini glass. In this cocktail the gin and orange flavours combine with the vanilla to provide an interesting and potent mix.

While vodka alone can be limited in flavour so that vodka cocktails rely more on other ingredients, a vanilla infusion can bring the extra notes to give a drink more character. This can even lead one to view vodka in a completely different light, and add an extra paint to the bartender’s palette. Vanilla vodka can be the base of some tasty and robust cocktails, so keen bartenders should be resourceful, inventive and add it to the list!

If you’re interested in learning more about bartending and all of the spirits and ingredients that are used in crafting the perfect cocktail, have a look at the range of bartending courses that the European Bartender School has to offer.