Many recipes for drinks and dishes call for the use of cognac. However, this is not something you may have on hand, and as expensive as it is, buying some for a one-off recipe is not always an option.
Luckily, there are many ways to make up for not having this spirit. Both alcoholic and non alcoholic substitutes for cognac are available, and each one has a unique effect on the flavor of a dish or drink.
What is Cognac?
Named after its place of origin, Cognac, France, this spirit is a type of brandy that goes through a unique process. Distilled twice and aged for a set amount of time, it must meet several requirements for consideration as a cognac.
These regulations, set by the Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac (BNIC), touch on everything from the storage location to alcohol percentage.
To officially be a cognac, a brandy must have a minimum alcohol content of 40 percent and no additives. Additionally, minimum aging of two years must occur in oak casks and only at a storage facility registered with the BNIC.
Each cognac bottle must have a label revealing the grapes’ harvest location and the producer’s name and address.
There are several categories of cognac to distinguish how long they went through the aging process. VS, VSOP, and XO cognacs are the three main titles you will see on a bottle.
- VS – Very Special – has aged for a minimum of two years.
- VSOP – Very Superior Old Pale – four-year aging minimum.
- XO – Extra Old – has spent at least six years aging.
As a drink, cognac is best either neat or with a drop of water. For cooking, cognac adds a rich flavor to both savory and sweet recipes.
Alcoholic Cognac Alternatives
If you do not have a concern with the presence of alcohol, several other types of alcoholic beverages can act as a decent cognac alternative. The amount of each replacement to use differs, but they are all viable choices.
Cognac is a type of brandy, so it only makes sense that brandy is an excellent substitute. While it means ‘burnt wine,’ it is a delicate, aged spirit. For cocktails and steak or beef dishes, this is an ideal choice.
Brandy, much like cognac, is sweet, okay, and fruity. Because of this, an unflavored brandy is best, unless you want to emphasize individual components of a meal or drink.
Cognac and whiskey are great alternatives to each other. Cognac is less sharp and astringent, however. It is vital to pay attention to the measurements when using whiskey as a cognac substitute. The difference in flavors require some playing with to get it right, so less is always better at first.
Dark rum is another great cognac replacement. Rum, like whiskey, is strong, so using a little at a time will give you the best results. You should only use around a third of rum in place of cognac.
Rum also tends to be a touch sweeter than cognac, so ensure that you find some balance between flavors.
While bourbon is a fantastic cognac alternative, it is much more robust in flavor. Just like with rum, a third of the amount of cognac is enough. Luckily, bourbon is easy to find, but make sure that you choose an unflavored one.
Vanilla bourbon works well, too, for it has a little more of the sweetness expected from cognac. A hint of vanilla extract or brown sugar can help to reduce how sharp this spirit can be.
Dry sherry can replace cognac in a flash, but something too sweet can cause the dish’s flavor to spoil.
As one of cognac’s closest family members, Armagnac is quite similar but has its differences. Distillation methods of the two differ, but the flavor is comparable. Additionally, Armagnac is a more affordable option since fewer regulations surround its creation.
7. Coffee Liqueur
For desserts such as tiramisu, a coffee liqueur is excellent. Best with desserts, this cognac alternative can bring something truly unique to a dish.
Overall, wine is a quick and easy cognac substitute. Cognac comes from grapes, so it is quite sensible to replace it with wine. However, it is critical to approach with caution. Not all wine is alike, and specific styles can end up being the wrong choice.
- Red wine
- For meat dishes, red wine is a much better alternative than white.
- White wine
- Desserts and sauces can benefit significantly from a fruity white wine.
- Any port that you choose to use as a cognac replacement should be full-bodied and not too sweet.
Non Alcoholic Substitute for Cognac
If avoiding alcohol is more your style, there are plenty of ways to get that cognac flavor still. There might be a little more experimentation involved, but you could run across something exceptional.
1. Fruit Juice
As a whole, juices are affordable, easy to find, and there are many varieties. The flavor is entirely up to you, but the juices that work the best are pear, apple, apricot, and peach.
Replacing cognac with juice only requires half of the amount due to sweetness.
For deglazing, desserts, sauces, and gravy, fruit juice is an excellent cognac substitute. If you need more acidity, the addition of some wine or cooking vinegar can help with that.
2. Cooking Wine + Sugar
While not 100 percent non-alcoholic, once heated up, cooking wine loses most, if not all, of its alcohol content. Gravy, deglazing, desserts, and even steak au poivre taste great with this substitution.
For every cup of cognac needed, two teaspoons of brown sugar and a cup of cooking wine do the trick. Cooking wine can be sweet even though it is tart, so brown sugar is unnecessary if it already has enough sweetness for you.
As long as you ensure enough cooking time for flavor development, cooking wine is an ideal way to substitute for cognac.
3. Alcohol-Free Brandy
If you are looking to maintain taste integrity, alcohol-free brandy is perfect. You can easily find it in the grocery store, and the only difference is the lack of alcohol.
4. Soy or Worcestershire Sauce
These cognac alternatives are a little strange, but they can be a delicious change of pace in certain dishes.
Substitute for Cognac in Cooking
In order to substitute for cognac in cooking, it is essential to keep in mind what you are cooking. Depending on the dish, some cognac alternatives work better than others.
1. General Cooking
For general cooking purposes, brandy, wine, bourbon, and fruit juice are the primary cognac substitutes. Their flavors are most similar, and they are easy to find.
You can take many of the alternatives listed and have fun with them if you have the time. Getting a little creative with what you have can result in something great.
Here are a few dishes that usually require cognac and the best replacements. These should give you an idea of what kind of substitutions work best with what kind of dishes.
2. French Onion Soup
For a great alternative in French onion soup, both soy and Worcestershire sauces are excellent.
Many options, including red and white wine, bourbon, brandy, and Armagnac, are perfect for adding to any gravy.
4. Steak Au Poivre
A combination of lemon juice and rum is delicious in steak au poivre. Brandy works amazingly here, as well.
5. Beef Bourguignon
White or red wine, brandy, and sherry are close in flavor profile to cognac and bring out this dish’s flavors beautifully.
When it comes to cocktails, sherry, wine, brandy, and fruit juices work the best. You can try whatever sounds best with the drink you are making and have fun with all of the different flavors.
Why Use a Cognac Substitute?
There are many reasons why you could be looking for a cognac alternative. Whether it is for cooking or mixing drinks, there is most likely a substitution that will work.
It might take a little bit of trial and error, but it is not the end of the world not to use or have this expensive liquor.
Because of the extensive distillation process, cognac tends to be relatively pricey. For this reason, many people look for affordable alternatives. Additionally, some may want to save what cognac they do have for specific occasions.
It is possible that you or someone else in your circle either does not like the taste of cognac. If a recipe calls for it, finding something to go in its place can be intimidating but possible. Depending on what you are making, a cognac replacement may even add an extra twist to your dish.
For many reasons, some people do not consume alcohol. This situation calls for a non alcoholic substitute for cognac, which is also relatively straightforward. If you do not have this spirit on hand, it is usually an easy fix.
Overall, finding an excellent cognac substitute is not too difficult of a task. With flavor profiles and compatibility in mind, you can get creative or stick with the most straightforward replacements.