Technically Saturday: The Basics of Substituting Cocktail Ingredients

Basic Cocktail Ingredient Substitutions

There are few things quite as frustrating as finding a great cocktail recipe only to realize that you don’t have all of the ingredients to make it.  Or that some of the ingredients are so expensive that you will never be able to justify stocking them in your bar.  Lucky for you, many cocktails will not suffer from some substitution if you don’t have an ingredient.  Like many aspects of mixology, experimenting is key after you know the basics.

Basic Cocktail Ingredient Substitutions
If you don’t have Cointreau, try:
  • another orange liqueur
    • triple sec
    • curacao
    • Grand Marnier
    • Combier
  • cherry liqueur
  • pomegranate liqueur
  • a floral liqueur such as St.-Germain Elderflower Liqueur
  • a spicy liqueur such as Domaine de Canton Ginger Liqueur
If you don’t have maraschino, try:
  • other cherry liqueurs
  • Cherry Moonshine
  • triple sec
  • a floral liqueur such as St.-Germain Elderflower Liqueur
  • a spicy liqueur such as Domaine de Canton Ginger Liqueur
If you don’t have Chartreuse, try:
  • Pastis
  • Benedictine
  • Galliano
  • Strega
If you don’t have sweet vermouth, try:
  • Port
  • red Moscato
  • Wild Irish Rose
  • sweet Madeira
If you don’t have Lillet Blanc, try:
  • dry sherry
  • dry vermouth
  • Cocchi Americano

All of these substitutions go both ways.  If you need a substitution for Grand Mariner instead of Cointreau, then any of the liqueurs in that list could potentially work well as a substitution.  Use what’s in your bar or cupboard and find which liqueurs you like best.

If you don’t have the correct spirit for a cocktail:

The general rule of thumb for substitutions is replace white spirits like vodka with other white spirits such as gin, white rum, or tequila and replace dark spirits like cognac with other dark spirits like whiskey, spiced rum, and brandy.  I personally think this rule is incredibly limiting and a bunch of rubbish. Take a drink like the martini.  Sure the two common spirits used are gin and vodka, but with a bit more thought and a dash of bitters you get a great bourbon/rye based drink like the Manhattan.  If you are trying to recreate a cocktail using a different spirit, think of the characteristics of the spirit you are replacing.  Try to match the flavors for the best match and try in small quantities and don’t mix up batches of cocktails without tasting first.  This is an awesome process and you may amaze yourself and your friends with the drinks you serve.

Pro Tip: Instead of saying “oh,  I am out of bourbon so I used the spirits I had and through them in the glass” be a bit more thoughtful.  Perhaps instead serve “an old fashioned using dark rum.”  This not only sounds more thoughtful, but also has the potential to taste great compared to just pouring spirits in a glass or resorting to a rum and coke.

For more great tips on substitutions in cocktails, checkout a great article from my colleagues over at SeriousEats.

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Posted in Bourbon, Brandy, Cachaca, Canadian Whiskey, Cognac, Gin, Infusions, Irish Whiskey, Liqueur, Moonshine, Rum, Rye, Scotch, Spirits, Technically Saturday, Techniques, Tequila, Vodka, Whiskey, Wine & Champagne

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Nick McAfee
Nick McAfee is a student of Princeton University and is passionate about mixology. As a student with a low monthly income, he has developed ways to create simple cocktails with complex flavors from inexpensive ingredients. Learn more about Nick and Broke & Thirsty.
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