bourbon substitute

Top 6 Substitutes For Bourbon That Make For Fantastic Drinks and Recipes

Who doesn’t enjoy a good glass of bourbon? Perhaps you are more of a cocktail person. Or maybe you even use it to make a tasty dish, like ribs or stews.

Not everyone can drink or use bourbon though, and in these cases, you must know what to use in its place. Before you decide, you’ll want to take into account what bourbon does to the dish and how it is meant to be used.

What Is Bourbon?

Bourbon whiskey is an American whiskey distilled from corn. In the beginning, bourbon was produced solely in the state of Kentucky, but these days, you can find distilleries everywhere. 

While bourbon isn’t necessarily aged for a specific amount of time, it usually has been in a charred oak barrel for at least four years.

This spirit contains no coloring or additives, but the flavor includes notes of vanilla, oak, caramel, and even a hint of heat, almost like cinnamon.

Bourbon is traditionally served on its own or over ice, and in many cocktails, including the famous Old Fashioned, Mint Julep, and Boulevardier. In cooking, bourbon is often used to add flavor to sauces and meats, such as ribs, mustard, brisket, and pudding cake.

Why Replace Bourbon, Anyway?

There are many reasons why someone may decide to replace bourbon. These are some common ones:

  • Alcohol-Free Diet: While not everyone is strict about alcohol in cooking, some people consume no alcohol at all, and that includes sweet and savory dishes. In these cases, using a non-alcoholic choice is the only option.
  • Flavor: Bourbon is a strong spirit, which means that not everyone will like it. While it may be dissipated when you cook, the flavor may still be too strong for some individuals. 
  • Cost: As with any other spirit or alcohol, the cost may be high depending on what brand you choose. Still, when you are cooking and baking, buying bourbon may be out of the price range you want.

What Can I Replace Bourbon With?

Whether you need to use another spirit, or you are trying to stay away from alcoholic choices, these bourbon substitutes will work wonders for you:

Best For Cooking, Baking, and Bourbon Chicken

#1. Brandy

Brandy is an aged wine that is made in oak barrels, giving it its signature brown color. The flavor is somewhat close to bourbon, but it is much sweeter. You can use brandy when you cook things like sauces, ribs, chicken, and when baking desserts, like pie, crepes, and mousse. 

You can find brandy in any liquor store, usually by the port and vermouth. This liquor is considered a digestif, so it is meant to be on its own and works as a dessert drink.

If you want to substitute bourbon, use about half the amount of brandy, so you don’t overwhelm the dish with sweetness.

#2. Rum

Rum is another good alcohol to use when you need to cook or bake and don’t have any bourbon around. This liquor comes from sugar cane, and it has a distinctly sweet, slightly molasses flavor. 

Like bourbon, however, rum has a warm aftertaste which works great in cooking and baking.

If you need to substitute two tablespoons of bourbon, use the same amount of rum. This drink goes well in sweet dishes, including pie, banana bread, and rum cake, or ribs, pork roast, and brisket.

#3. Dark Beer

While it seems unconventional and out of the question, using a dark beer, like a porter or dark ale, can yield very similar flavors to bourbon. Using this type of beer will go well in dishes like fried chicken, meat stews, ribs, and cheese dip.

You can find beer more easily than any other alcohol, as they sell them even in convenience stores in some places.

We suggest using a darker beer because it is sweeter and usually contains notes of caramel or coffee. To substitute one tablespoon of bourbon, use ½ tablespoon of dark beer.

Best For Pecan Pie, Mint Julep, and Eggnog

#4. Scotch

Scotch whiskey is distilled from malted grains, unlike bourbon, which comes from corn. Scotch is a bit smokier but other than that, the characteristics are very similar.

You can use scotch when you prepare cocktails like a mint julep, Manhattan, or Old Fashioned, but you can also use it in sweet drinks and desserts, like eggnog and pecan pie.

Finding scotch shouldn’t be a problem, but you can try a liquor store. You can also use scotch in savory dishes, like ribs, brisket, and BBQ sauce. Use the same amount of scotch that your recipe indicates.

#5. Vanilla Extract

For those that want a non-alcoholic choice, vanilla extract will do the trick when it comes to substituting bourbon. You can find vanilla extract in the baking section of any store, but you most likely already have some at home.

Use it when baking pecan pie, cookies, cakes, and in sauces, like brown sugar bourbon sauce, or even in non-alcoholic eggnog.

You can use as a bourbon substitution with the same amount of vanilla extract, but you may want to keep in mind that this choice is sweeter. In some cases, you can also mix a little vinegar if you want to create a more astringent flavor.

#6. Apple Cider Vinegar + Brown Sugar

While it seems a little weird to use apple cider vinegar instead of bourbon, this choice can be good when it comes to cooking certain things. All you need to do is mix ½ tablespoon apple cider with ⅓ teaspoon brown sugar for every one tablespoon of bourbon.

This is another alcohol-free option that works wonders if you have to prepare BBQ sauce, ribs, pecan pie, eggnog, and pulled pork.

You can find apple cider vinegar anywhere these days, especially because it is considered healthy food that aids your digestion. The brown sugar is not necessary if you don’t mind the acidity, but it can be a sweet addition to mimic more of that bourbon flavor.


What alcohol is similar to bourbon?

The closest alcohol to bourbon will probably be scotch, which is also a whiskey. Some other options are rye whiskey, brandy, or rum. In cooking, the sweeter spirits like brandy and rum are better options.

What can I substitute for bourbon in cooking?

When it comes to cooking, you can use any of these six options to substitute bourbon. Your best bet is cognac, brandy, or rum. If you want a non-alcoholic option, try vanilla extract or apple cider vinegar.

Can you substitute rye for bourbon in a recipe?

Yes, you can substitute rye for bourbon and vice versa. Rye is dryer and much less sweet than bourbon, so you may want to add some brown sugar. When it comes to replacing rye, use bourbon but add a bit of water.


There is nothing better than a good glass of bourbon, whether you want to drink it or use it in your cooking. Still, these days it is always a good idea to have some alternatives in mind just in case. These six substitutes are all easy to find and will each add unique flavors to your dish, dessert, or drink.

See more: Whiskey vs bourbon

bourbon replacement

*image by

About The Author

Scroll to Top