Top 11 Best Bourbon Substitutes

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An All-American classic, Bourbon is one of a few liquors that is easy to like whether you’re drinking it straight up, on the rocks, or mixed in cocktails.

And it’s very possibly because of its flavor: the perfect combination of oak, vanilla, and caramel that warmly coats your throat after you take a sip.

It’s also those distinct flavors that make this a select ingredient in savory dishes like Maple-Glazed Green Beans and Kentucky Barbecued Chicken or scrumptious desserts like Pumpkin and/or Pecan Tarts, Bacon and Giner Cinnamon Rolls, and even Brownies.

Let’s also not forget that this is best served in hot beverages like chocolate and ‘Irish’ coffee and cold refreshments like Mint Julep, Apple Cider Smash, and Kentucky-style lemonade.

But what if you ran out of bourbon at home and you require a few sloshes ASAP for a drink and/or a dish?

Here are some of the best alternatives.

Does It Have To Be Alcoholic?

Do you want softer, more flavorful meat casserole?

Are you looking for that extra crisp at the bottom of the cake you’re baking?

Are you serving cocktails?

If the answer to all these questions is YES, then the substitute has to be any of these four:

Brandy

Distilled from wine then aged in wooden casks for at least two years, this is just as warm, sweet, and heady.

That’s why it is often drunk with desserts or mixed in the recipe – a spot-on replacement for our featured spirits.

When substituting brandy for bourbon, the ratio is 1:1.

If the dish calls for half a cup, that’s how much brandy you’ll add too.

Cocktails that can have brandy instead of our featured liquor are Hot Toddy and the Sidecar.

Many might disagree but Old-Fashioned will taste good too with aged wine.

Sweet and savory dishes that will taste great with brandy are Fruit-filled Crepes, Mince Pies, and Chocolate Mousse.

Cognac

This liquor is a pretty good sub too because this is just a superior version of brandy.

Cognacs are still distilled from wine made from a specific grape variety and then aged in wooden casks.

Also, the whole process must be done in the Southwestern part of France – the Cognac region.

Ideally, the ratio for substitution is also 1:1.

But because the flavor is deeper and stronger than brandy, it is alright to water down the alcohol just a bit.

Boulevardier and other Negronis and Special Eggnog mixes will still be tasty with Cognac.

The same is true for the following dishes: Sauteed or Grilled Shrimps and Chocolate and Walnut Torte.

Rum

It may surprise some that, beside the bottles of vanilla extracts and food coloring on grocery shelves is rum flavoring.

Believe it or no, this is an essential baking ingredient because of its underlying flavor – sweet, toasty sugar, and/or rich molasses.

When replacing our missing ingredient, the proportion is still 1:1.

You could also halve the amount of rum and replace that part with vanilla to come as close to the taste of our Kentucky whiskey.

Rum will work for Spiked Sweet Tea and Fruit Tea Punch.

It will also be incredible for Banana Bread, Raisin Pudding, and any Barbecue Sauce.

Scotch Whisky

Our featured liquor is actually under the big umbrella of whisk(e)y, but its closest relative is scotch because of the process it went through.

This is also aged in charred oak wood casks imparting that smoky, caramelized fruit flavor.

It also has an amber color but it is lighter.

The same 1:1 proportion can be followed when using scotch.

If you find this too strong – and some can be because these stay in the barrels longer – you can just water it down before pouring it into your batter or marinade.

Although Scotch is a bit sharper than our featured booze, the following cocktails will still taste great with it: Whiskey Sour, Manhattan, and John Collins will taste great with Scotch.

The same is true for these dishes: Sponge Cake with Caramel Sauce and Buttered Shrimps on Pasta.

When We Don’t Want To Get Wasted

If you are allergic to alcohol, are cooking for kids, or not a fan of intoxicating beverages, you don’t have to put the real thing in the dish.

Numerous other ingredients will hit your taste buds the same way bourbon will.

Vanilla Extract

This perhaps is the best non-alcoholic replacement since there are three important underlying flavors in our featured liquor: smokiness, caramel, and – you’ve guessed it! – vanilla.

There are numerous vanilla variants these days so you might get lucky and find a bourbon-flavored one in your local grocer’s.

For every teaspoon of our absentee booze, add two teaspoons of vanilla to your recipe.

This is best used for desserts like pastries and puddings.

Need to Know:

There are different kinds of vanilla-based products for baking and cooking: extracts, flavors, pastes, the real bean, and so many more. Measurements for substitution need to be double-checked, especially for baking.

Toasted Almond Extract

When toasted, almonds taste woody, nutty, and almost chocolatey.

Its similarity to the flavor that the oak casks impart to the liquor is possibly why some think this makes for a good substitute.

The ratio for substitution is similar to vanilla’s – one part of the bourbon is equivalent to two parts of the extract.

Use this for nut-filled treats like pecan pie or walnut and chocolate chip cookies.

Need to Know:

Just like vanilla, almond extract is different from flavoring, oil, and so on.

If you have other almond products in your cupboard but the extract, check the proper ratio for substitution.

Peach Nectar + Apple Cider Vinegar

The fruity sweetness of peach nectar with the sharp tang of apple cider vinegar is not the first thing that will come to mind when you require a substitute for Kentucky-style whiskey.

But this is something that you need to try as soon as possible because it really works.

When using this to replace our featured liquor, add a splash more than what is required in the recipe.

This will work well for roasted or barbecued meat dishes. It will also taste awesome with salsas and pickled vegetables.

Need to Know:

Peach nectar is different from peach juice.

The former is distilled from the pulp of the fruit and has a thicker consistency and a deeper fruity flavor than regular juice.

Hot Chocolate + Warm Eggnog

The nuttiness and creaminess of chocolate and the warm spices of cinnamon, nutmeg and, cloves in the eggnog surprisingly work well in recipes that call for bourbon.

To replace our liquor, add a tablespoon of this rich and creamy mixture on top of what’s required in the recipe.

This is perfect for cakes, nutty puddings, and fruity loaves.

Need to Know:

Unless you have extra eggnog prepared in the fridge any time of the year, this substitution is best done during the holidays – usually, the time when eggnog is on the menu.

Ginger Beer

This fermented carbonated drink has an aromatic, almost spicy flavor that may be unappealing to some.

However, it is a great replacement for our Kentucky whiskey.

You’ll also be glad to know that, while the word ‘beer’ is in its name, this beverage is not alcoholic.

To complete your recipe, replace a tablespoon of liquor with 2 tablespoons of ginger beer.

This is great for savory dishes like pork or beef stews and grilled chicken.

Need to Know Info:

There are numerous commercial ginger beer brands nowadays.

But if you chance upon handcrafted, homemade ones, go for those.

Apple Cider Vinegar

When any liquor is heated, the alcohol content evaporates and you’re left with just the flavor of the liquor.

This is why some people think that you can substitute Kentucky whiskey with apple cider vinegar.

The bourbon to apple cider vinegar ratio is 1:1.

Just like ginger beer, this will work best with baked, roasted, and grilled meat dishes.

This will also be perfect with fresh seafood and vegetable recipes.

Need to Know Info:

There is a whole array of apple cider vinegar brands sold in the market today.

Unfortunately, not all of it can be swapped with bourbon in recipes.

Go for organic, unfiltered, and unpasteurized types which contain the “mother”.

Water

If the liquor required for a recipe is less than a tablespoon (equivalent to 15 ml), you can go ahead and just use water.

You will still get the same moisture for the food and pretty much the same flavor.

The Lowdown On Liquor Substitution

Substituting in cooking is not easy.

Different ingredients will lend a different flavor, color, and consistency to your dish.

And if you make miscalculations, you could have a different dish for dinner or not have dinner at all.

It’s an even bigger challenge when we’re dealing with liquor like bourbon.

Although guides such as these are quite helpful and will point you to various foods that serve as worthy replacements, you must taste the food before you dump it into a mix.

Unless you’re baking wherein measurements should be strictly followed, you can make adjustments based on your personal preference.

Further reading:

Bourbon Facts: Everything You Need to Know

Last Updated on July 22, 2021

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My name is Andy Wang, and I'm a retired chef. I used to work at the City Vineyard restaurant in NYC. I also had a culinary degree from the Institute of Culinary Education in New York. And this blog is where I share my love for knives and cooking with people like you.