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How to Substitute Ingredients in Cocktails

Using Substitutions in Cocktail Design:

In this section we’re going to actually use the concepts we’ve discussed earlier to turn a simple “Sour” into a really elaborate drink.

The Basic Margarita

Margarita Example Screen 1

Substituting the Spirit:

Part 1: Like-for-Like Substitution for Flavor

I’d like to make this cocktail more interesting by adding flavor.  So I’m going to substitute “normal” Tequila with Tequila that’s been infused with Serrano Peppers and Celery.  This will result in more depth of flavor.

Margarita Example Screen 2

Part 2: Partial Substitution

I’d like to add a smoky element to the drink, but I don’t want to lose the flavor we just introduced with the Serrano and celery Tequila.  So I’m going to substitute just some of the Tequila out for some smoky Mezcal.  This adds even more flavor.

Margarita Example Screen 3

Substituting the Lime Juice:

In my experience, Lime Juice is almost always the best citrus to choose when working with Tequila.  So I’m going to leave the Lime juice as it is.  If you wanted to, you could substitute some of the lime juice but I’d recommend keeping lime juice as the main acid in this drink.

Substituting the Sweetener:

Part 1: Like for Like Substitution

When working with Tequila there’s a sweetener that’s almost always a good choice, and that’s Agave nectar.  So I’m going to substitute my Simple Syrup for Agave Syrup instead.  This adds a little bit more flavor to the drink as well.
Margarita Example Screen 4

Part 2: Like for Like Substitution for Flavor

If the cocktail needed even more flavor, I could use a Flavor substitution with the Agave nectar to do that. (At this point we’re really just doing this for the sake of the example.  This cocktail is likely over-flavored already!)  So I’m going to substitute out the “plain” Agave Nectar and put in a Ginger infused Agave Syrup.

Margarita Example Screen 5

Part 3: Substituting the Sweetening Agent with a Sweet Liqueur

Changing sweeteners into Liqueurs can be a little trickier, as sweet liqueurs are generally about half as sweet as a traditional sweetener like simple syrup or agave nectar.  That means you’ll need to use twice as much to maintain the balance of the drink.  In this example, we’re going to remove 1/4 oz of the Ginger Agave Syrup and replace it with 1/2 oz of Cointreau.

Since Cointreau also adds alcohol, we’re going to reduce the base spirit by 1/4 oz to ensure the drink doesn’t taste overpoweringly of alcohol.

Margarita Example Screen 6

The Final Cocktail:

The final cocktail has almost no resemblance to the simple 2-1-1 Margarita that we started with.  It’s likely much too flavorful (which you can see in the chart by looking at all of the “+” signs under “Depth of Flavor)  And now that we’ve mapped it out, we’d likely adjust down the flavor and then make the drink once we suspect it’s “just right.”  It’s likely some final adjustments will be needed after it’s made, as nothing can really be perfectly mapped out on paper.  But this method should be able to get you close.

I hope this section has given you a great overview of how to use the various substitution types to change a simple cocktail recipe into something completely original.