Sunday, February 12, 2012

Vanilla Beans

In my post on the American Double Chocolate/Oak/Vanilla Stout I made I briefly touched on vanilla and the it's complexities. This post is meant to expound on the information I shared there as well as to show the process for preparing and adding vanilla beans.  In my next post I will detail my recipe and process for the beer I'm adding these too after a lengthy extraction time.

Types of Beans

Vanilla beans are the fruit of Vanilla Orchids (Vanilla Planfolia, and Vanilla Tehenis) and are grown all around the world. The flavor characteristic of the region is known as terrior. Many fruits, spices, and herbs carry the terrior which is a combination of growing conditions such as temperature, humidity, air quality, and soil chemistry.

Vanilla Planfolia are the variety of bean that would be most associated with the idea of vanilla flavor. It is a long slender bean with the rich, buttery, bourbon, vanilla flavors that most people would associate with common vanilla flavored items. Tehenis is a shorter fatter bean with more flowery, sweet, even fruit like vanilla flavors.

(read more after the break.)


1.) To prepare a vanilla bean you'll take the bean pod and slice it in half length-wise. This is easy, just pin the bean stick the top of the knife in the middle and draw it to the end, now go the other way. Using a sharp knife, as always, helps.

2.) Lay each half flat separately and drag your knife gently across the skin to scrape away all of the seeds; reserve (seeds are on the lip of the jar). The seeds are black, gooey, and pleasent smelling. You'll see easily if you got them all or not by the color change between the seeds and the bean.

3.) Chop the leftover seed pod into small sections. Place all parts of the bean, seeds, and juices in a cup, glass, or small jar. You want to give this a good chop because it'll help the extraction.

4.) Pour in enough vodka(bourbon, rum, tequila, or other alcohol) to completely cover the pieces and cover the container. The alcohol is necessary to both sanitize the vanilla bean as well as to extract the volatile compounds.

The Experiment
The goal of this experiment is to create a brew with a relatively neutral and understated flavor in a two gallon batch size; each one gallon portion will then be combine with a half of a vanilla bean in secondary fermentation. The beers will be brewed and fermented together and then split into separate batches each in a 1 gallon jug. Then will be left on vanilla beans for 15 days to extract whatever flavors they extract and placed in front of my friends for a blind taste test.

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