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The Best Bourbon Substitution

Maria Foster
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by Maria Foster

Bourbon can add a ton of flavor to a recipe. It is incredibly versatile, so you can use it in both sweet and savory foods.

Whether you don’t have any bourbon or you want to avoid the alcohol, there are great bourbon substitutes that can help you finish a recipe and maintain the flavor minus the bourbon.

A glass of bourbon alcohol drink

What Flavors Does Bourbon Bring to a Recipe

When looking for a bourbon replacement, you want to make sure you replace the right flavors. Bourbon is one of the most complex alcohols for taste, but most will have a base of smoky caramel and vanilla flavor. Specific brands and styles can add more notes, but these are the basic ones you will be trying to replace.

Different kinds of bourbon work better with specific recipes. Wheated bourbon works well in sweet dishes, spicey high-rye bourbons are great in dressings and fruit-based recipes, and you will use malted barley bourbons for bread. The style of bourbon called for in the recipe can help you determine how to replace it.

Best Alcohol Substitutes for Bourbon

1. Scotch


Scotch and bourbon are remarkably similar alcohols. In fact, some more cynical cooks and connoisseurs claim the only difference between the two is the geographic location where they are made. In general, bourbon is made in the US and uses more corn, at least 51 percent in its mash, and scotch is made in Scotland using malted barley mash.

The flavors between the two will be very similar, and like bourbon, you may want to find the proper flavors to complement the dish you are making. Scotch’s use of malted barley works best as a replacement in bread dishes. When using scotch to replace bourbon, you can substitute it one for one meaning one tbsp of scotch for one tbsp of bourbon.

2. Whiskey


Bourbon is just a specialized form of whiskey. Bourbon has to use a more than half corn mash, and it has to be aged in oak barrels. This similarity makes whiskey a great substitute for bourbon. Some of the flavors may be slightly different, but overall they work in a very similar fashion.

Wheat whiskey is a wonderful bourbon substitute in sweet dishes, and rye whiskey helps with fruit dishes and dressings. When you are using whiskey as a substitute for bourbon, you can use it one for one. So add as much whiskey as you would bourbon to your recipe.

3. Brandy


Brandy is a wine that has been aged in oak barrels. The use of oak barrels in its creation gives brandy its distinct brown color and makes it an excellent substitution for bourbon. The two spirits share many of the same flavor notes.

You will want to try to match the flavors as best you can, and it works as an excellent replacement for bourbon in savory dishes. Brandy has less of a caramel flavor than bourbon, so it may not help as much in some sweet dishes. Use brandy one for one when replacing bourbon.

4. Cognac


Cognac is a brandy made in France. It has to be aged in oak barrels for at least two years. The extra time in oak barrels helps make it share some flavor profiles with bourbon and makes it an excellent replacement option.

Cognac has more caramel flavor than brandy, which helps capture the same tasting notes as bourbon. It will work as a replacement in almost every dish you would use bourbon. Like with most alcohol substitutions, you can switch this out one for one with your bourbon.

5. Rum


Rum is made from distilled sugar. It can have many different flavors, and thanks to the prevalent use of spice when making rum, you can often find replacements for bourbon’s vanilla flavor notes. Rum’s molasses taste replaces the caramel from bourbon. It’s not a perfect trade-off, but it can work in most recipes.

When you find the right flavor combinations in your rum, you will be able to replace it one for one with the bourbon. It works best on sweet dishes and dipping sauces. It is not great in savory dishes because it will not add any smokey flavor.

Non Alcoholic Substitutes for Bourbon

If you want to skip the alcohol entirely, there are many options out there. Using an alcohol-free substitute can be great for dishes that you don’t cook. They are also nice for saving time from cooking the alcohol off of the recipe. You will want to pick your non alcoholic bourbon substitute based on what flavors you are most looking for from the bourbon in the recipe.

The extracts mentioned in this list specify the non-alcoholic kind. However, you can also use the regular kind, but understand that extracts can have 35 percent alcohol. So if you don’t plan on cooking your recipe, you may want to find the non-alcoholic variety.

1. Non-Alcoholic Vanilla Extract

Vanilla Extract

Many recipes that call for bourbon use it for the vanilla flavor that it adds. This flavor makes replacing bourbon with vanilla extract an easy choice. Vanilla is such a popular replacement that they even sell bourbon vanilla extract. This combination gives even a more authentic flavor substitution by adding some smokiness to the vanilla.

Some people suggest a one to one switch with vanilla extract, but others mention cutting it with a little water to add the same amount of liquids but a little less vanilla taste. If you like strong vanilla flavor, use it one for one. If you want only a hint of vanilla, add half the vanilla extract and half water.

2. Peach Nectar Mixed With Apple Cider Vinegar

Peach Nectar

When you are making a fruit-based dish, your bourbon substitute can be peach nectar and apple cider vinegar. The vinegar helps add the bite that you are sometimes looking for from the bourbon, and the nectar adds the sweeter flavor notes. You can use other juices and nectars with this substitute to help find the perfect combination of flavors.

To make this mixture, you want to use three parts nectar to one part vinegar. This substitute works best when you are making recipes that don’t call for baking, and it can be used as a one for one replacement with the bourbon, though sometimes you may want to add a little more if consistency isn’t an issue.

When you are only looking to replace the bite that bourbon would add to something, apple cider vinegar can be used by itself. Apple cider vinegar works great as a replacement in pork dishes. You will want to use about a third of the vinegar to bourbon in the recipe.

3. Non-Alcoholic Almond Extract

Almond Extract

Almond extract works well as a bourbon substitute for any dish that uses heavy nuts in the recipe and baked goods in general. The almond can have great synergy with other nut flavors and bring out the pecans and walnuts in a dish.

When using almond extract, some cooks like to replace it one for one, but others use about half the extract amount. If you are worried about the consistency, you can add water to make up the difference. You can mix the almond and vanilla extract to get a near-perfect bourbon substitute as well.

4. Ginger Beer

Ginger beer

Ginger beer is great to replace bourbon in recipes that call for the spicier bourbon, like savory dishes and fruit recipes. Ginger beer is usually made with vanilla, so you get the vanilla notes in the recipe. The ginger adds a punch of extra flavor too. The carbonation isn’t a problem because it boils off very quickly, leaving just the flavors. It does add additional sweetness, especially if you don’t get the dry option.

When using ginger beer as a substitution, it is best to reduce it first to minimize the extra fluid. If you don’t, your recipe may be more watery than you want. Ginger ale can also work, but it will add even more sugar to the recipe. When reduced, you can replace it one for one with the bourbon in the recipe.

5. Non-Alcoholic Bourbon Extract

This one feels like a bit of a cheat, but bourbon extract is an incredible replacement for bourbon. It was made specifically to offer the same flavors and notes as bourbon. The flavors are almost exactly spot on, so bourbon extract can be used with virtually any recipe that you would use bourbon.

When using the bourbon extract, the flavor can be incredibly intense. If you are a huge fan of bourbon, you can swap it one for one, but many people cut the extract in half with water for the best results.

There are plenty of suitable bourbon substitutes for you to choose. There is a good chance you have at least one of these alternatives in your cupboard. You can find one that will fit into your recipe and make it delicious. Try them out today, and enjoy your meal.

About Maria Foster
Maria Foster
Maria Foster is a mother of 3 and she and her husband of 23 years share their home with 2 faithful dogs. Besides being CEO of the household and active in her community, Maria is the lead contributor to Food Champs and loves to try new food ideas and kitchen accessories to make easier and more delicious meals.
Maria Foster
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