Vanilla goes best with darker beers but can be added to other styles. A great way to make vanilla-flavored beer is with FDA-certified pure vanilla extract from Madagascar.
Vanilla flavor works well in dark beer styles such as stouts, porters, and brown ales. Bourbon barrel-aged beers in particular are well complimented by adding vanilla.
The best vanilla extracts are considered “pure” by the FDA. Avoid synthetic extracts as they can taste inferior. Quality vanilla will include only three ingredients: water, alcohol, and vanilla bean extractives. Sometimes sugar is added in small amounts to improve clarity.
Once you have your vanilla of choice, adding it to your homebrew beer is relatively simple. However, there are certain methods you can use to get the most out of it.
The best way to use vanilla extract is to add it before packaging. Extract does not need time to be absorbed as beans do. Start with a recommended amount of extract for your batch size then add to taste.
When adding vanilla to beer, use approximately 1.5 tsp per gallon. Beers with strong competing flavors will require more vanilla. Lighter or sweeter beers will need less. You can add more or less depending on your taste. If adding before carbonating, add more since carbonation will balance flavors.
To use vanilla beans for flavoring your beer you can either add them directly or make a tincture. The first requires you cut them lengthwise, scrape the seeds out and add both contents and pods to secondary fermentation.
The best way to clean vanilla beans for brewing is to soak them in as little vodka as possible overnight. This should be done after cutting open the pod and scraping out the insides.