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Level up your cocktail game with these surprising spirit swaps

If you’ve nailed a repertoire of classic cocktails, embracing the art of substitution can open up a world of possibilities for your home bar. 

Simple spirit swaps can double your repertoire in a flash, and let you explore a variety of new and interesting spirits. Here are some interesting ways to swap out spirits to create brand new cocktails!

Understanding the basics

Before embarking on the journey of liquor substitution, it’s essential to understand the flavour profiles of different spirits. Each liquor brings its own character, ranging from the smoky depths of whiskey to the botanical elegance of gin. By understanding these nuances, you can make informed choices when substituting one spirit for another in your next cocktail.


Let’s start with the rich and robust world of whisky. Spelt that way, without the ‘e’, you’re referring to Scotch; add the ‘e’ and you’re talking about Irish whiskey, bourbon or rye. 

Traditionally associated with classics like the old fashioned or Manhattan, whiskey can be replaced to yield exciting variations. Try substituting bourbon for rye in a classic Manhattan, introducing a sweeter note that plays nicely with the vermouth. Alternatively, swap out the whiskey in a whiskey sour for a peaty Islay Scotch to add a smoky twist to this timeless cocktail.


Gin, known for its botanical infusion, is a versatile spirit that can be interchanged to create innovative concoctions. Experimenting with different gin varieties allows you to tailor cocktails to suit your preferences, whether it’s the herbaceous notes of a London dry or the fruity accents of a new western-style gin. 

You can also sub it out completely: try replacing the gin in a negroni with sparkling wine, preferably prosecco, for a bungled negroni (a negroni sbagliato in its homeland), or with bourbon to make a boulevardier.


Vodka, often considered a neutral spirit, can be easily substituted in various cocktails. Take the iconic martini, for instance, where gin can replace the vodka to create a cleaner, more straightforward version. You can also infuse your vodka with fruits, herbs, or spices to elevate the flavour profile in cocktails like the Moscow mule or the bloody Mary.


The world of rum boasts a spectrum of flavours, from the molasses-rich dark varieties to the light and crisp white rums. Experimenting with rum substitutions can bring a tropical twist to classic cocktails. Swap the usual white rum in a Mojito for a spiced rum to introduce warmth and complexity. Alternatively, replace dark rum with coconut rum in a Piña Colada for a luscious and exotic variation.


Tequila, with its vibrant and earthy tones, is a spirit that can infuse excitement into cocktails. Substitute the tequila in a Margarita with its lesser-known agave cousin raicilla for a smoky kick and flavours that can range from herbaceous to vegetal. 


Brandy, often enjoyed on its own, can be a surprising substitute in various mixed drinks. Swap out the gin in a sidecar for brandy to create a warmer version of this classic cocktail. Alternatively, use brandy instead of whiskey in a whiskey sour for a smoother and fruitier experience. Brandy’s inherent sweetness and depth make it a good choice for those looking to add a touch of sophistication to their libations.


When diving into the world of liquor substitution, keep certain rules in mind.

  • Pay attention to the balance of flavours in the original recipe and adjust accordingly when substituting spirits. You don’t want one element to overpower the others.
  • Consider the other ingredients in the cocktail and choose a substitute that complements the existing flavours. For example, if a cocktail contains citrus, think about how the new spirit will interact with those fruity notes.
  • Before making large quantities, start with small batches to refine your substitutions. This allows you to tweak proportions and find the perfect balance without wasting ingredients.
  • And don’t underestimate the power of garnishes. A well-chosen garnish can enhance the new flavour profile and add visual appeal to really level up your concoction.

By understanding the basic principles of flavour profiles and experimenting with complementary ingredients, you can craft cocktails that are not only delicious but uniquely your own. So, go ahead, raid your liquor cabinet, and embark on a journey of mixology that transcends tradition and elevates your cocktail experience. 

Cheers to the endless possibilities!

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