Vodka and Vanilla: How to Make Homemade Vanilla Extract

What’s better than chocolate chip cookies? Chocolate chip cookies made with homemade vanilla extract, of course! 

Homemade Vanilla Extract in Upcycled Bottles

Sometimes I feel as though I am the last remaining individual on Earth who waits until December to start celebrating Christmas. My mother and I have a tradition of calling each other when we see our first Christmas commercial of the season. This year, my mother rang me in August. Call me old fashioned, but I am a one holiday at a time kind of gal.

Blame it on my parents. My father’s birthday is December 10th, so in my household the Christmas season did not begin until December 11th. That’s right, two whole weeks of Christmas. When my brother was born on December 22nd, there was likely a serious conversation about starting the holiday season two days out. One celebration at a time, please. One at a time.

So it is with a heavy heart that I admit this post is about Christmas gifts…in November. I have good reason, however, to break my one holiday rule. This upcycled Christmas present needs time, and lots of it. At least a month of time to be exact.

I had these tiny little wine bottles lying around, uncertain as to their repurposed future. The wine is long gone, but the bottles were so adorably miniscule that I had to put them to good use. Drained of one type of alcohol, I’m ready to fill them back up with another. This time with vodka and vanilla (although, I could probably stop at vodka. I mean, who wouldn’t love a tiny little bottle of vodka?)

Homemade vanilla extract exudes a gourmet essence, yet making your own is simple.

Vanilla Beans

I began by seeking out whole vanilla beans. These can be quite expensive, but if you find yourself making large batches, you can purchase them wholesale online for a decent price. I needed just enough for three bottles, so I went with the pricier option of purchasing them at my local organic grocery store. The vanilla bean to vodka ratio is 5-8 beans for every about 8 ounces of vodka.

Beans in hand, I prepared the bottles by soaking off the label a bath of hot water. I used steel wool to scrub off the labels and any residual glue. I then ran them through the dishwasher to ensure their cleanliness.

Before adding the beans to the bottle, I carefully cut the beans in half and then sliced them lengthwise, taking caution to just score one side of the bean, not entirely slice it in two.

Homemade Vanilla Extract in Upcycled Bottles

I placed the sliced beans inside the bottles and then filled them to the top with vodka, ensuring that the beans were completely submerged. The original metal lids were rather unsightly, so I purchased cork bottle stoppers at a craft store. I gave the bottles a little shake and retired them to my cool, dark pantry. Now, I let them sit for at least a month (with the occasional shake) until this trio of extracts find their new homes.

Homemade Vanilla Extract in Upcycled Bottles

Like wine, vanilla extract only improves with time. I recommend that the recipients of this gift finish their current bottle of store-bought vanilla extract before trying the homemade variety. This will allow the vanilla to infuse the vodka for several months, developing a rich vanilla flavor.


To finish it off, I made festive tags for the Vanilla Extract (download here). The back of the tag has a recipe for Vanilla Sugar Cookies.

While I may have broken my no-Christmas-before-Thanksgiving rule, the end result was well worth the breach.


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