Vanilla is an important ingredient, a complex ingredient, an expensive ingredient. Even if you’re not a big baker, the vanilla bean and its extract can be used to bring nuance, depth, and the implication of — but not the taste of — sweetness to any food or beverage. In addition to sweets, baked and otherwise, I like to use it in my lemonade, my salad dressings, and — unsurprisingly — my cocktails.
Much like bitters, vanilla brings that extra something to an alcoholic beverage, seasoning it and rounding it out with warmth and depth. Also, as with bitters, you don’t need a lot; a few drops will do. In fact, the tiny bit that’s left in an “empty” bottle of vanilla extract is the exact amount of extract required to flavour an old fashioned, a dark rum cocktail, or a simple shot of some sort of chilled bitter. (Fernet is an obvious choice, but vanilla does wonderful things to the burnt orange in Campari.)
I tend to execute this move with darker spirits, but there’s no reason it couldn’t be applied to something colourless. A bit of vanilla will work exceptionally well with a citrusy gin; vodka flavored this way would certainly be preferable to those cloying, artificially flavored vodkas that mid-range liquor companies churn out. (And honestly, vanilla extract is basically super concentrated vanilla vodka — why not dilute it with more vodka?)
Just pour 30mL of booze into the bottle, shake it up real good to get every last drop of extract, then pour it into a cocktail shaker, stirring glass, lowball, or directly into your open mouth.