Substitutes for Brandy – What can I use instead?

Brandy isn’t too hard to substitute for if you know what you are doing. That being said, there are some pitfalls to be avoided that can absolutely ruin a recipe in no time flat. In this article, we will give you all of the hints and tips you need to avoid a potential culinary disaster. So, if this is the kind of information you have been looking for, you’ve come to the right place!

What makes brandy different from other spirits?

Brandy is quite unusual in a few regards. For one, it begins its life as wine. This wine is then distilled and then this spirit is aged for a few years, giving us the unique flavor we all know and love. So, as a spirit goes, it is much more complex in nature than the likes of vodka and gin. And this difference becomes apparent from the very first sip. However, it also works fantastically as a cooking ingredient for this exact reason. Once the alcohol is cooked off, the complex flavors remain but are less overpowering in nature. That being said, it is always nice to have a bottle of brandy lying around in the alcohol cabinet for an evening tipple too. Due to its strength, it is also relatively immune to spoiling and can be kept in the house for years.

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Common uses for brandy

Brandy is an incredibly versatile ingredient. It pops up from time to time in desserts, mains, and cocktails and seems to improve everything that it comes into contact with. There are infinite recipes out there using brandy, each of which has the potential to wow your guests. Here are a few of our personal favorites..

·         Coq au vin

·         French onion soup

·         Brandy snaps

·         Metropolitan cocktail

·         Crepes Suzette

The best substitutes for brandy

It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that an alcohol of similar strength will make for the best substitute for brandy in cooking. Unfortunately, however, this is simply not the case. Though vodka will have the same strength as brandy, it will have none of the underlying complexity of flavor. It is essentially flavorless and odorless. Gin fares slightly better as it does have some interesting flavor notes – the hint of juniper, for example. However, it really doesn’t work with nearly as many dishes as brandy does and is too different in character to be considered an excellent substitute. That being said, it does have its place in gamey recipes. On the contrary, some wines can make an excellent substitute for brandy. So, without further ado, here is our rundown of the top 5 best substitutes for brandy that money can buy!

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1. Marsala

Marsala is an incredible drink, just by itself. Originating from Sicily, this fortified wine has a delicious and complex set of flavors that is known and loved the world over. So, given that brandy is essentially just a wine that has been distilled, you will find many of the same flavors can be sourced by cooking with Marsala. There will be a decadence and a richness to the flavor that could easily be mistaken for that of brandy. Likewise, Marsala is great for such things as cooking meat dishes and deglazing a pan – characteristics that are commonly associated with brandy. Marsala is also versatile enough to fit right into more than a few dessert recipes. In fact, all in all, it is probably the best substitute for brandy that money can buy. The only thing that lets it down is that it can be hard to access a little expensive.


2. Tawny port

Tawny Port is one of those alcohols that seems to worm its way into alcohol cabinets without anyone’s knowledge. It is sort of an out of fashion drink at the moment and one that I would always seem to picture my eccentric aunt drinking. Nevertheless, it too is one of the stronger candidates out there as the best substitute for brandy. It is another fortified wine with a decent amount of complexity in its flavor notes. So, similar to how you would use Marsala as a substitute, the same applies here. Indeed, it can do pretty much anything that brandy can do when it comes to savory dishes. You should also find that it is much easier to source and a little bit cheaper than either brandy or Marsala. To use it as a substitute, simply use one cup for every cup of brandy that your recipe calls for.

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3. Dry sherry

In a pinch, a dry sherry can make for a great alternative to brandy. Just make sure to opt for one that isn’t so sweet in nature. To make sure, have a little taste test first. If it is dry enough, it will work perfectly in dishes such as a beef stroganoff. In fact, anywhere where brandy is used in a slow-cooked red meat-based dish, sherry will fill in the gaps just fine. In some cases, it works so well that you may not even notice that a substitution has occurred! Dry sherry is also much cheaper than brandy in the stores and really easy to use. Simply use one cup of dry sherry for every cup of brandy that your recipe requires.


4. Fruit juice

Some of us will need a substitute that contains absolutely no alcohol content whatsoever. Thankfully, this is entirely possible! Juices such as apple and pineapple juices can add that kick of flavor that your recipe would otherwise be lacking. Naturally, a juice won’t possess all of the complexities of flavor as a brandy, but we wouldn’t write it off as a substitute by any means. When using juices, always opt for a natural, unsweetened variety. A sweetened juice from concentrate will add unwanted sweetness to the recipe which can overpower and diminish the other notes. Perhaps the real strength of this substitute lies in its accessibility. If you don’t have it at home, you can easily source it locally for a fraction of the cost of brandy. When using juice as a substitute, simply use one cup for every cup of brandy that the recipe requires.

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5. Brandy extract

So, most of the other substitutes here aren’t really dessert focused. To combat that, we’re going to add just one substitute that should cover all of your sweet needs. Should you find yourself out of brandy, brandy extract will provide the exact same flavor for a fraction of the cost. However, it needs to be used a little differently from the other substitutes listed here. If your recipe calls for ¼ cup of brandy, use 2 teaspoons of brandy extract and fill the rest of the quarter cup with whatever liquid your recipe already has in it. Spirits like rum and bourbon will also work as a substitute for desserts. Just bear in mind that the overall flavor will be altered by using them.


How to substitute brandy with other ingredients?

When it comes to getting the measurements right, there isn’t too much to learn. Given that alcohol boils off during the cooking process, the strength of the alcohol used won’t have too much bearing on the overall outcome of the dish. Instead, what you should be considering is whether one flavor is much stronger or weaker than another. As such, in some cases, the best thing to do is to go with your gut. However, as a general rule that is pretty much fail-proof, what we would advise is this. With all substitutes listed here, with only the exception of the brandy extract, a simple 1:1 substitution is totally viable. However, if you are entering into unfamiliar territory and worried as to whether the substitute will work or not, try a little less at first and then add more later if it is to your taste.

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