Drink Up December:
Bourbon Butterscotch Hot Vanilla

December 30, 2021

Send 2021 out with a bang by enjoying Drink Up December! Five Thursdays, five cocktails perfect for chilly weather, the holiday season, and spending time with loved ones. Today, it’s all about staying cozy through the next three months of winter with a warm and creamy Bourbon Butterscotch Hot Vanilla.

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Hot vanilla is a lot like hot chocolate, with one major difference: there’s no chocolate. But that’s okay, because the vanilla allows the other flavors to shine, like butterscotch and bourbon in this case. But you don’t lose any of those rich, creamy, warm feelings that you would get from hot cocoa.

This drink is the one that’s going to get you through the winter once all the holidays have settled down. It’s the faux fur blanket of drinks, soft and cozy, but without being too overwhelming. So grab your favorite vanilla scented candle and a good book to go with this one.

What You Need to Get Started

You can easily find all of the ingredients for this Bourbon Butterscotch Hot Vanilla at your grocery store:

Let’s Make Bourbon Butterscotch Sauce

There’s a double dose of bourbon in this drink: first we’ll add it to the butterscotch sauce, and then we’ll add more again into the finished hot vanilla. When selecting a bourbon for this, I recommend something sweet and syrupy, like Maker’s Mark.

In a small to medium saucepan, combine your choice of bourbon along with the butter, brown sugar, and water. Butterscotch is similar to caramel in flavor. However, it’s made by using brown sugar, and not brought to as high of a temperature, since the molasses in brown sugar will burn faster.

Cook over medium heat, stirring as the sugar dissolves into the liquid and the butter melts.  Once the butter is fully melted and incorporated and all of the sugar is dissolved, you can stop stirring. At this point, bring the mixture to a boil. Let it bubble for just a couple minutes. We are not trying to thicken this butterscotch syrup too much, so you don’t want to cook off all the liquid.

Turn off the heat and then mix in both the cream and just a pinch of sea salt. Stir well to combine everything together until it is smooth. Transfer the butterscotch sauce to a heat-proof jar and set it aside while you work on preparing the hot vanilla. Note that the texture of this syrup will be fairly thin, more like the viscosity of an authentic maple syrup.

If needed, you can prepare the butterscotch sauce in advance. After transferring it to the jar, cover loosely to let it cool to room temperature. Then seal the jar and store it in the fridge. When you are ready to use it, reheat in the microwave or a hot water bath until it’s warm and liquidy.

If you are making this recipe completely alcohol free, and want to skip the bourbon in the butterscotch, you can replace it with a mixture of no-alcohol vanilla extract stirred into additional water. The flavor will be more vanilla-forward than the original.

How to Make Bourbon Butterscotch Hot Vanilla

Now that your butterscotch is good to go, it’s time to prepare the hot vanilla. Use a large saucepan, if you are making the full recipe. When cooking milk and cream, they can very quickly boil over, and a larger pot will help keep you from spilling.

Combine the cream, milk, sugar, and vanilla bean paste in this pot. Cook this over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved and the vanilla bean paste is fully mixed in.

If needed, vanilla bean paste can be replaced with an equal amount of vanilla extract, but you won’t have those cute little bean dots! The cream in this will help give it a bit of a heavier texture than using milk alone. This helps the mouthfeel be more similar to hot chocolate.

Bring this mixture just to a boil, then immediately turn off the heat, being careful not to let it boil over. I always suggest keeping a close eye on the pot when boiling milk, since it doesn’t give a lot of warning before bubbling up, but the vanilla bean paste will give you some visual clues in this recipe.

Set the pot aside briefly, and add a few spoonfuls of the butterscotch sauce to the bottom of each mug. You can use any mug for this, but I recommend something around ten ounces.

Ladle the hot vanilla from the pot into each butterscotchy mug. Fill them each to be about half an inch from the top of the mug, which leaves room for bourbon and toppings. Stir in the bourbon.

You can adjust this to taste, if needed, or to control the amount of alcohol. To lower the alcohol level, skip this step of adding the bourbon to individual mugs. This will cut down the alcohol percentage significantly.

Top your bourbon butterscotch hot vanilla with whipped cream and marshmallows as desired. If you’re like me, that means plenty! You can also use any extra butterscotch sauce as a drizzle on top. Or add some sparkling sugar or toffee bits for even more fun.

I don’t suggest making the hot vanilla portion of this recipe in advance. It tastes best when served the same day it is made, immediately after cooking. However, if you are not serving eight, no worries.

It’s super easy to cut this recipe down to make a batch of either two or four mugs. Follow the butterscotch recipe as written, and store any extra. Then for the hot vanilla, split ingredients in half or quarter. It’s designed to divide easily, and the instructions will be the same.

Snuggle up with this sweet drink, Bourbon Butterscotch Hot Vanilla. It’s creamy, cozy, and perfect for those winter days!

How to Serve Bourbon Butterscotch Hot Vanilla

Winter brunch is the perfect time to enjoy a bourbon butterscotch hot vanilla. There’s nothing like a spiked creamy beverage to warm you up inside and out. Try it with some flavorful dishes like a caramelized onion and apple upside down cake or bananas foster stuffed french toast.

Or drink it as a nightcap with a small dessert or snack, like bourbon brown sugar cut-out cookies or a scoop of decaf coffee ice cream.

You can also enjoy this drink at a winter gathering, like a cozy game night or Galentine’s Day celebration. Try serving it alongside an impressive-looking dessert like a cherry cheesecake napoleon or flourless chocolate miso torte.

Other Decadent Drinks to Try

Bourbon Butterscotch Hot Vanilla

A warm and cozy winter drink, featuring creamy hot vanilla made with vanilla bean paste, and a bourbon infused butterscotch sauce.
Prep Time10 minutes
Cook Time20 minutes
Course: Brunch, Dessert, Drinks
Cuisine: American
Servings: 8 drinks
Calories: 455kcal


Bourbon Butterscotch Sauce

  • 3 Tbsp Unsalted butter
  • ½ Cup Brown sugar
  • ¼ Cup Bourbon
  • ¼ Cup Water
  • ¼ Cup Heavy Cream
  • Pinch Sea Salt

Bourbon Butterscotch Hot Vanilla

  • 3 Cups Heavy Cream
  • 6 Cups Milk
  • ½ Cup Sugar
  • 2 tsp Vanilla Bean Paste
  • 8 oz Bourbon
  • Whipped cream and mini marshmallows optional, for garnish


Butterscotch Sauce

  • In a small-medium saucepan, combine the butter, brown sugar, bourbon, and water. Cook over medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves and the butter is fully melted and incorporated.
  • Bring the mixture to a boil and let it bubble without stirring for 1-2 minutes. Then turn off the heat and mix in the cream and sea salt well.
  • Transfer the butterscotch sauce to a jar and set aside. It will be fairly thin.

Hot Vanilla

  • In a large saucepan, combine the cream, milk, sugar, and vanilla bean paste. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved, and the vanilla bean paste is fully mixed in. Bring the mixture just to a boil then immediately turn off heat, careful not to let it boil over.
  • In each mug, add 2 Tbsp of the butterscotch. Pour in the hot vanilla to within half an inch from the top of the mug, and then stir in then bourbon. Top with whipped cream and marshmallows as desired.


  • Make ahead tips:
    • You can prepare the butterscotch sauce in advance, and store it in a sealed jar in the fridge. Heat until warm and liquidy before using.
    • The hot vanilla tastes best when served the day it is made. 
  • To make a smaller batch: Follow the butterscotch recipe and store any extra, as above. Split the hot vanilla ingredients in half for 4 servings or quarter for 2 servings. It's designed to divide easily, and the instructions are the same.
  • Make it without alcohol:
    • To lower the alcohol, skip adding the bourbon to each mug after adding the hot vanilla. This will cut down the ABV significantly.
    • For no alcohol at all, you can also replace the bourbon in the butterscotch with 1 Tbsp alcohol-free vanilla extract stirred into water to total 1/4 cup of liquid.

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