Vanilla Bean added to Vodka Made it Bitter; What Happened?
I had some fairly old vanilla beans (about a year old), that looked to be in still good shape and added them to a bottle of Tito's Vodka.
By itself, the Tito's had a nice smooth taste to it, but after 10 days with the vanilla, a certain bitterness crept it. It didn't taste "off," rather more like cheaper vodka.
So, what would cause the bitter taste? Is that just somehow part of the vanilla bean experience?
I'm not sure what happened - but I have to disagree with the "too much" or "too long" explanations on this one. While I absolutely agree that those can be explanations for things going wrong with infusions (e.g. citrus, herbs, etc), this isn't my experience with vanilla.
I say this because I make my own vanilla extract and have been for years (tahitian vanilla beans in either white rum or vodka - have done both). And for that I use MANY beans (10+ per bottle - probably overkill but I got them on the cheap and lots of them so had to do something with them) and it takes a good 6 months until it is as strong as I like it. It turns both alcohols deep amber/brown and doesn't taste bitter at all.
So it might be just the opposite - not long enough. I've never tested this but using the same logic of "too long/too much" and how that impacts the rate of different flavors being extracted - I wonder if you haven't let it infuse long enough. It could be that the first flavor compounds extracted from the bean are the most bitter ones and the more floral/sweet notes come later. Again, I don't know if that is true but . . . . that is my experience with vanilla for what it is worth.
Wow. With that much vanilla, you're not drinking liqueur, you're drinking vanilla EXTRACT. Here's a Chow recipe for vanilla extract, so you can compare to your home version. But to each his own - drink what you like. :)
My own vanilla vodka has a slight bitterness to it, but I used crappier vodka. I think I had the beans in there for about a week. I'm pretty sure adding sugar to it will take the edge off, I just haven't got to it yet.
Extractions and infusions are also time dependent. For example, a 30 minute lavender infusion will be floral and pleasing and a 6 hour one will be bitter. Most of the flavor comes out before the bitterness though.
What Alan said about concentration is also key. The bitterness level of one bean might not be too great, but the bitterness that many beans adds can be noteable.
Keep in mind that many infusions that have bitterness are also liqueurs (spirit + sugar) since sugar helps to counter our tongue's negative impression of bitter. This can be used to your advantage when mixing with the bitter vanilla vodka -- mix with sugary ingredients and don't drink straight.