Bourbon Substitutes: What Can You Use?

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Bourbon is a wonderful ingredient when you cook. While it adds a unique flavor to a dish, it also helps highlight some flavors, especially if you are cooking protein or making a dessert. But not everyone likes to cook with alcohol, or maybe you just don’t have bourbon in your pantry at this very moment. 

So what are the best bourbon substitutes? 

If you don’t have bourbon or prefer a non-alcoholic alternative, use brown sugar (or peach nectar) and apple cider vinegar, bourbon vanilla extract, or almond extract. Alcoholic substitutes for bourbon include brandy, cognac, scotch whisky, and rum.   

To still make a mouthwatering dish, it’s essential to know what else you can use when you don’t have bourbon on hand. Here’s the ultimate guide to bourbon substitutes. 

What Is Bourbon?

Bourbon is a kind of American whiskey made from a barley, rye, and wheat mixture that’s usually 51% corn. 

The amber whiskey is aged in oak barrels for a minimum of 2 years. Once ready, bourbon has a sweet and rich flavor with smoky caramel and vanilla notes. 

While bourbon is a classic ingredient in cocktails such as the Manhattan and the Old Fashioned, it can also be enjoyed on the rocks or neat. 

But while you sip on your bourbon, you can also add a dash (or three) to the dish you are whipping up.  

Using bourbon in recipes helps: 

  • Break down protein enzymes and add flavor to the meat
  • Marinate the meat for a rich and warm flavor
  • Add crispness and warmth to a cake 

7 Best Bourbon Substitutes

Here are the best bourbon alternatives you can use, as well as how many of these ingredients to use when you don’t have bourbon in your liquor cabinet. 

1. Brandy

Brandy is one of the best alcoholic substitutes for bourbon in cooking. It has a similar flavor and aroma, but beware, there are different types of brandies, from apple and peach to cherry and apricot. 

While the fruity flavors are subtle, it can change the overall flavor profile of your dish. It’s best to match the brandy to the other ingredients in your recipe and see what works best together. 

In general, use 1 teaspoon of brandy for every teaspoon of bourbon. 

2. Brown Sugar and Apple Cider Vinegar

For a non-alcoholic bourbon alternative, use apple cider vinegar and brown sugar. The apple cider vinegar adds a tartness that just works with the sweetness of the brown sugar, making for a yummy combo. 

It’s best to use this substitute as a glaze or marinade for meats, in cocktails, and in sauces. 

Mix the same amount of brown sugar with the same amount of apple cider vinegar, and then substitute it for bourbon in a 1:1 ratio.  

You can also combine apple cider vinegar with peach nectar for a delicious bourbon substitute, especially if you are making a chicken dish.

3. Rum 

Rum is another ingredient you can use if you don’t have any bourbon. It’ll add that sweetness your dish needs, even though it doesn’t have the same vanilla, caramel, and oak flavors of bourbon. 

Try different kinds of rum, and use it in a 1:1 ratio.  

4. Cognac

Cognac is a kind of brandy that’s produced only in the French Cognac region. It’s similar to bourbon because it’s also matured in oak barrels. 

This alcoholic substitute for bourbon does have more of a caramel-y flavor, so it works better in sweet recipes or those that include fruit.

When you use cognac instead of brandy, use it in a 1:1 ratio.    

5. Scotch Whisky

Scotch whiskey is also barrel-aged, meaning that the flavors are well-rounded and complex, just like the flavors in bourbon. 

Use this bourbon alternative in a 1:1 ratio in meat marinades, desserts, and in meat dishes. 

6. Almond Extract

Almond extract is an interesting non-alcoholic bourbon alternative. It’s quite nutty but works well when you are making bread or other recipes that call for nuts, especially walnuts or pecans. 

Use 1 teaspoon almond extract for 1 teaspoon bourbon, or use equal parts water and almond extract in a 1:1 ratio to replace the bourbon.   

7. Bourbon Vanilla Extract

Another great non-alcoholic alternative to bourbon is bourbon vanilla extract because you’ll get a sweet, vanilla, and caramel-y flavor. 

Use this substitute in pastries, desserts, sauces, and soups, or if you want a subtler vanilla flavor, then dilute the extract with water.   

Use a tablespoon of bourbon vanilla extract for a ¼ cup of bourbon, taste, and adjust as necessary.

What Alcohol Is Similar to Bourbon?

Brandy is the closest to bourbon since it is also aged in oak barrels. Plus, brandy has a similar flavor profile to bourbon, but you can try different kinds of brandies to add a unique taste to your dish. 

If you don’t want an alcoholic substitute, then try Kentucky 74 non-alcoholic bourbon in lieu of traditional bourbon. 

Kentucky 47 has the same flavor profile as Bourdon does, so it’s a safe alternative to use in your dish.

Can I Substitute Whiskey for Bourbon in a Recipe?

Bourbon is a whiskey, so you can substitute other types of whiskey if you don’t have any bourbon. 

However, it’s good to know that bourbon is sweeter than other whiskeys, so you may need to add some sugar, honey, syrup, or molasses to fully replicate the bourbon’s sweet flavor profile.   

Can You Substitute Rum for Bourbon?

Rum is a good alternative if you don’t have any bourbon in the house. Rum has sweet with some caramel and vanilla notes; however, it’s best in sweet dishes and dipping sauces. 

When you use rum instead of bourbon in savory dishes, you may find that the smoky caramel flavor that you’d get from using bourbon is missing. 

But you can experiment with different kinds of rum in your recipe. 

In general, use a 1:1 ratio when substituting bourbon with rum.  

My Last Foodie Thoughts 

Bourbon is an essential ingredient in quite a lot of recipes and for good reason. But you may have run out of bourbon or maybe your grocer doesn’t currently have stock. 

Luckily, you don’t have to fret. There are various bourbon substitutes you can use, and you can rest assured that your dish will be just as delicious. 

Use brandy, cognac, rum, or scotch whisky if you want alcoholic bourbon alternatives, and opt for brown sugar (or peach nectar) with apple cider vinegar, vanilla extract, or almond extract if you prefer a non-alcoholic substitute for bourbon. 


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