You can make a pure vanilla extract from vanilla beans and vodka or neutral spirits, but you can also use vanilla beans, spices, and dried fruit to create delicately spiced spirits for drinking. Rum is excellent infused with vanilla, says Caralien, but “you don’t really want to use something that has a powerful scent on its own, as it kind of defeats the purpose.” Fresh, high-quality beans will impart the strongest flavor. Cut the beans in half lengthwise to make sure the spirits come into contact with the tiny seeds, where most of the vanilla flavor is hidden.

“You can make a nice vanilla infused spirit with light or golden rum, brandy, Calvados (aged apple brandy), whiskey, or any fine spirit,” says JMF. “The better the quality of spirit you use, the LESS vanilla you should use.” Just a touch of vanilla will bring out the notes of vanilla that may already be present in spirits from barrel aging.

To make a spiced rum, start with a decent golden or aged rum—one you like a lot, suggests JMF. Then add a miniscule amount of spices and dried fruit. Clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, allspice, black pepper, dark raisins, prunes, dried cherries, and apricots are all good choices, but remember you only need a little bit. “You could also use dried pineapple, blueberries, apples, cranberries, coconut flakes, or anything else that strikes your fancy. Just start with small amounts and taste after a few weeks,” says JMF. “Then you can adjust and let age more.”

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