Best Spirits to Use as Whiskey SubstitutesBy Anna Archibald
Home bartending is the ideal time for experimentation. Whether it be with new ingredients or untested recipes, it’s the time to hone in on exactly what kinds of drinks you like best. However, it’s easy to fall into a rut—particularly when it comes to classic, standby whiskey cocktails. Certainly the Old Fashioned and Manhattan are simple to make and big on flavor. But what about when you are jonesing for something a little different? Swap out the whiskey and swap in…something else.
These five spirits—and many others of their ilk—make wonderful updates to tried and true whiskey cocktails. Perfect for those times you’re feeling a little bold, or discover at the last moment that you’ve run out of your go-to rye or bourbon. Just remember to take your cocktailing slow: different spirits may require more or less of any one ingredient to keep the balance on point.
Often a touch sweet and viscous, Old Tom gins aren’t always an easy feat for home bartenders. But in certain situations, this fantastically aged and piquant take on Old Tom gin from Ransom Distillery lends itself beautifully as a whiskey substitute. It has the botanical heft you’d expect from a gin, but with an underlying heat and oakiness from aging in a barrel for up to a year. Like many Old Toms, this one is slightly sweet. Be sure to the adjust syrups and liqueurs in your cocktails accordingly.
Best used in: Old Fashioned, Whiskey Sour, Presbyterian
As alternate interpretations on its name suggest, Oh Fudge (let’s keep this PG), That’s Delicious! While you can certainly sip this overproof rum on the rocks or in myriad tiki cocktails as it is intended, this particular expression is a delight in many spirit-forward classics as well. At 69% ABV, it has enough heft to stand up to sweet, sour, or any flavor in between. Its underlying notes of tropical fruit and subtle, natural sweetness add vibrancy. It’s a wonderfully versatile rum to have on hand when inspiration—or desperation—strikes.
Best used in: Just about anything, but is particularly good in a Manhattan or Old Fashioned.
Before whiskey and gin became the gold standard in many classic cocktail recipes, brandy was a go-to spirit. In many 19th Century cocktail books, you’ll find dozens of recipes that call for a base of brandy. In recent cocktail history, however, it’s often gone under-appreciated. This particular brandy is made in whiskey country and even aged in American oak bourbon barrels. As a result, it lends rich oak and vanilla qualities that makes it a natural fit in bourbon and rye cocktails. When using brandy in place of whiskey, brace yourself for more stone fruit and honey and less caramel and toffee.
Best used in: Julep, Old Fashioned, Whiskey Sour, Hot Toddy
Unaged tequila is key to creating a number of classic agave cocktails. However, it doesn’t lend itself quite as well to subbing into whiskey drinks as a reposado or añejo. When aged tequila is used in place of whiskey, you’ll find that drinks maintain their heft and complexity, while also benefiting from tequila’s unique vegetal notes. Suerte’s reposado offering benefits from time spent in Jack Daniel’s barrels, which impart some of the warmer notes present in whiskey, like caramel and vanilla.
Best used in: Manhattan, Presbyterian, Old Fashioned, Boulevardier
Unlike Old Tom gin, barrel aged gins don’t typically have any added sweetener. Its particular flavor comes from whatever type of wood its aged in which is the case with FEW Barrel Gin. It gets its distinct personality from aging in both new barrels and those that have been previously used for rye and bourbon. Though you may not have to account for extra sweetness in this type of spirit, you’ll want to be aware of prominent juniper and coriander notes if you decide to mix it with other herbaceous ingredients like vermouth.
Best used in: Whiskey Smash, Perfect Manhattan, spirit-forward whiskey drinks like the Old Fashioned