12 Delicious Bourbon Substitutes for Cooking

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Using alcohol for cooking is nothing new. Although they seem otherwise, many dishes tend to taste much better with a pour of alcohol in them. You can’t cook with alcohol, but those that work, work excellently. 

Popular alcohol for cooking includes wine, beer, whiskey, bourbon, and beer. Each has a specific purpose and does a specific thing to the dish. However, bourbon seems to be the universal cooking alcohol, as it doesn’t alter the dish’s flavor much but doesn’t leave it the same. 

You can consider bourbon the truth-teller among cooking alcohols, as it doesn’t improve the taste but intensifies it. Therefore, the bourbon will make it even better if your dish is well-cooked.

The same goes for a badly cooked dish; the bourbon will intensify everything wrong with it, which is why bourbon is known as cooking alcohol in the fine dining department. 

Bourbon also tends to thicken the dish, although it isn’t what you would consider a thickener.

The alcohol in the bourbon evaporates quickly and pulls other liquids from the dish, making it thicker. A regular thickener doesn’t eliminate moisture, but absorbs it, which results in a thicker dish. 

Furthermore, when I say that bourbon doesn’t change the dish’s taste, it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t leave a trace.

On the contrary, it leaves a flavor mark that isn’t so intense to alter the taste but supplements it. So, you will feel a slight caramel note and the recognizable alcoholic tone in your dish. 

Although bourbon is a great cooking alcohol, it isn’t a regular condiment in the kitchen, so you may not have it when needed.

Also, bourbon has been shown to be heavy on the stomach, so some people feel discomfort after their bourbon dish. Below, I will share bourbon substitutes for cooking, so let’s dive right in.

Also check: 14 Best Cognac Substitutes

So, What Are Some Bourbon Substitutes for Cooking? 

When substituting for bourbon in cooking, you need to substitute for the intensity and the thickness, so you need something that would make up for these features.

Often, you need to combine a few ingredients to make the best bourbon substitute, as only one ingredient may not cut.  As promised, here’s a list of the best bourbon substitutes for cooking.

1. Brandy

brandy bottle

Brandy has an already established use as a cooking alcohol and is a regular part of many dishes, the recipes of which call specifically for brandy. Nevertheless, it’s also a great bourbon substitute for sweet and savory dishes. 

Brandy has the same quality as bourbon regarding the smokiness and the slight and balanced vanilla notes. Moreover, many brandies age in ex-bourbon barrels, so they pick up the bourbon essence.

However, as with bourbon, you may notice a slight difference, as brandy tends to modify the dish’s taste instead of simply intensifying it. 

Brandy is sweeter and fruitier than bourbon, which transfers to the dish’s taste. Nevertheless, you will achieve with brandy what you intend to do with bourbon. 

2. Scotch

Belonging to the same spirit category, i.e., whiskey, Scotch, and bourbon have more in common than what meets the eye. They’re both sharp and smoky, with slight vanilla notes and grainy tones. 

You can use Scotch instead of bourbon in cooking any dish. It isn’t restrictive as rum tends to be, and you will get almost the same results. Therefore, it is only natural to add Scotch to this list. 

In addition to Cognac, Scotch is one of the best bourbon substitutes for cooking. 

3. Apple Cider Vinegar and Brown Sugar

Apple Cider 

Use apple cider vinegar and brown sugar if you’re after thickness and smokiness. Don’t add too much sugar; warm up the mixture before adding it to your dish. 

The trick is to homogenize the ingredients and add them as a single flavoring agent. Don’t add them separately to the dish as they won’t bond well, and your dish will not be what you wanted, though it doesn’t necessarily mean it will taste bad. 

Use this bourbon substitute for savory dishes, as vinegar doesn’t agree with desserts. 

4. Almond Extract and Honey

The almond extract and honey combination make a great substitute for bourbon in cooking sweet and savory dishes.

However, it works better for desserts and meaty dishes, particularly when you need something glazed.  The amounts of honey and almond extract you need to add are entirely up to you but don’t go overboard with the almond extract, as the mixture will get overly bitter.

The beauty of this combination is that you get the smoky sensation of the bourbon from the almond extract, and the honey balances everything out. 

5. Vanilla Extract and Apple Juice

Apple juice 

Using vanilla extract and apple juice as a substitute for bourbon in cooking is self-explanatory. Many bourbons have that natural and slightly herbal note that the apple has, and the vanilla flavor is a given for bourbon. 

These two mixed will make your dish taste slightly tangy and amplify your included flavors. Perfect for both sweet and savory dishes, this bourbon substitute fits perfectly anywhere where you would use bourbon.

6. Rum

Rum is an excellent bourbon substitute for sweet dishes. Savories don’t do as well with rum as with bourbon, as rum is expressively sweet and leaves a strong trace in the dish sweetening it up. 

However, in sweet-savory dishes, especially containing brown sugar or syrup, rum does a great job substituting for bourbon. In desserts, rum has established itself as a cooking alcohol and made an excellent name.

7. Sherry


It’s common for bourbon to age in ex-sherry casks. Therefore, sherry and bourbon often share the same essence. Therefore sherry is a great bourbon substitute for both sweet and savory meals.

You will get nearly the same result with sherry as you would with bourbon. However, the dish will taste sweeter than you may have expected, which is great for desserts but may not be what you want in savory dishes. 

It’s best to use sherry in meaty savories this way. The meat will tenderize and absorb the sweetness without becoming overwhelmingly sweet.

8. Amarula

Amarula is a liqueur combining chocolate, vanilla, cream, and nut flavors. It’s thick and viscous, making it a perfect bourbon substitute for desserts.

Nevertheless, Amarula has proven to be a great bourbon replacement for savory dishes, especially meaty ones.  Amarula has the signature bourbon smoky note, which makes savory dishes taste slightly burnt, intensifying the flavors already at play.

It also thickens the dishes, making it a favorable option for sauces.

9. Water, Honey, and Barbecue Sauce


Water and honey are standard cooking mixture and part of many dishes.

One of its many uses is substituting for bourbon in cooking. Add barbecue sauce to this combination, and it will provide you with the creamy and slightly smoky sensation of the bourbon. 

The water and honey aren’t smoky separately, but together they tend to deliver that vibe. It goes without saying that the barbecue sauce will add even more smokiness to the dish. 

Make the amounts of the ingredients as you see fit, but see that you balance them well so that neither the honey nor the barbecue sauce dominates the mixture. 

10. Apple Juice, Orange Juice, and Grape Juice

If you have at least two of these juices, you’re sitting on a gold mine.

Apple juice is the most essential here as it spikes the sweetness of the orange and grape juice. Make the apple juice amount the dominant one, and if you don’t have apple juice, add more orange juice. 

Don’t add them individually, but mix them all and pour them inside the pot. This mixture will substitute for the bourbon’s slight sweetness, as many bourbons tend to have a citrus and apple string.

The grape juice will make up for the alcoholic vibe of the bourbon.

11. Cognac

Cognac is probably the best substitute for bourbon in cooking.

It’s smoky and evaporates as soon as it touches the pot, so you will get a thicker dish as you would with brandy, and you will get that irresistible smoky note that bourbon gives the dish. 

Moreover, Cognac may also sweeten the dish without making it too sweet and will do a great job of intensifying the already included flavors.

You can use Cognac as a bourbon substitute for sweet and savory dishes. 

12. Peach Nectar and Apple Cider Vinegar

Peach Juice

Peach nectar is a sticky and viscous delight that has a permanent residence in many recipes. Apple cider vinegar is known to provide a light alcoholic vibe and make things taste edgier and zingier. 

This bourbon substitute is suitable for savory dishes, as sweets taste sour with this mixture. Vinegar is sometimes used for desserts, but for a whole different purpose. So, don’t add these bourbon substitutes to sweet dishes. 

Make sure you’re using more peach nectar than apple cider vinegar, and if you need to make it more liquid, add water to thin the mixture.

What Can I Use Instead Of Bourbon In A Recipe?

Which bourbon substitute you will use depends on the recipe, as not all recipes use the same one.

If you want to substitute bourbon in a savory dish, your best options are sherry, Scotch, brandy, or Cognac. Nevertheless, try apple cider vinegar combinations, honey, and juices. 

You can use the same substitutes in sweet dishes but don’t use apple cider vinegar, and make sure you adjust the quantities of the ingredients well.

Is There A Non-Alcoholic Substitute For Bourbon In Cooking?

There is a non-alcoholic substitute for bourbon in cooking, but you need to mix and match, as one ingredient won’t do.

Often the non-alcoholic bourbon substitutes include combinations of honey, water, barbecue sauce, apple or orange juice, grape juice, brown sugar, and apple cider vinegar.

What Flavor Is Similar To Bourbon?

If you know what you’re doing, you can combine ingredients to achieve a flavor similar to bourbon. However, if we’re talking about a single ingredient that tastes similar to bourbon, the closest thing would be Scotch.

They’re both sharp and assertive, with a recognizable vanilla note and a smoky finish. Furthermore, the good bourbons and Scotches have a certain leathery dimension, making food taste more intense.

What is the Closest Thing To Bourbon?

The closest thing to bourbon would probably be Scotch. They’re very similar in taste and texture, as well as viscosity. You can easily use one instead of the other in cooking and get nearly the same results in the same dishes.

You can also substitute bourbon with brandy and Cognac, known as some of the best bourbon substitutes for cooking.

What is the Best Bourbon Substitute for Pecan Pie?

If you want a bourbon-free pecan pie but want it to have the recognizable bourbon essence, then your best options include bourbon extract or vanilla extract, or both.  You can also use sherry or rum mixed with vanilla extract.

Chad Smith

Meet Chad Smith, a seasoned bartender with a passion for mixology. He's the founder of Tin Roof Drink Community, a blog where he shares expert tips, creative recipes, and fosters a vibrant community of cocktail enthusiasts and aspiring bartenders. Join Chad as he takes you on a flavorful journey through the world of drinks. Cheers!

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