Vanilla has become a go-to ingredient by brewers and sought after by drinkers. On this episode of the Brewer to Brewer podcast Preston Thoeny of Wren House Brewing interviews Kyle Harrop of Horus Aged Ales and the two talk about brewing with various adjuncts. Eventually the conversation turns to vanilla and the dizzying amount of choices available on the marketplace.

Choosing the Right Vanilla

Preston Thoeny: Let’s move on to adjuncts. I want to ask you about a few ingredients but one of them has to be vanilla.  What is your ethos?

Eight years ago when we were doing stouts it was easy to pick Madagascar, Tahitian, and  couple other ones would pop up. But now I go through a vanilla broker who’s got 60 different varieties from every reasonable continent. Dozens of countries, different varieties, genetically [modified] vanilla, and in different growing regions and terroir and stuff like that.

So how are you able to navigate the world of vanilla right now?

Kyle Harrop: Honestly, I’ve just been experimenting and then sticking with what I’ve liked. I’ve loved Congo. The few Brazilian ones I’ve had have been really cool to me. But for a consumer palette, I don’t think people are looking for tobacco and earthiness from vanilla as much as they are sweet and fruity.

So I use Ted Jones’ Vanillas of the World quite a bit. And I’ve noticed stuff from Fiji and Comoros and just all these crazy places lately but haven’t even tried any of those yet.

I want to I think the way I’m approaching it is just being a nerd and wanting to try all of them and hoping some of them are great. And some of them are good. And none of them are terrible

Vanilla Beans. Photo courtesy of Kyle Harrop.

When you have that many things to choose from now it’s hard. Admittedly I do them on smaller batches with the new ones. But I have used Congo quite a bit lately. And I used to use Ugandan primarily before that.

Finding Flavor

Preston Thoeny: Is there a tried-and-true application for vanilla?

Kyle Harrop: It’s all to taste. For some varieties two days contact time is enough and then others need weeks. It’s heavy research. Everything is to taste and that’s how I’ve gotten to these ginormous scary adjunct ratios. I use real stuff and it takes a long time or a lot of product to have that flavor come through.

A lot of the time and just tasting it until I’m satisfied with it. I’ve said it a lot. If I put something on a label, I want somebody to be able to taste it in there. And it’s not always cheap, as you know.

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The above transcript was condensed and edited for clarity.