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What does it mean to “Substitute” and why is it Important?

Introduction to Substitutions

Substitutions CocktailsThe most challenging part about cocktail design is to incorporate flavor while keeping a cocktail balanced – even though each of the ingredients interacts with one another in many, sometimes confusing ways.

Substitution is a great technique that can allow you the flexibility to change existing recipes into entirely new drinks, without throwing off the balance entirely.

Substitution in cocktail design is exactly what it sounds like – removing an ingredient (or part of it) and replacing it with something else.


Four Types of Substitutions

MargaritaIn my opinion, there are four main types of Substitutions, and we’ll go over each below.

1) Like for like

This type of substitution is the simplest.  This is when you substitute an ingredient for another ingredient of the same type.

Here are a couple examples:

  • Substituting Lime Juice for Lemon Juice
  • Substituting Reposado Tequila for Silver Tequila
  • Substituting Celery Bitters for Angostura Bitters

2) Substitutions to Add Flavor

This is one of the most common types of substitution I use when designing cocktails.  Basically what you’re doing is replacing an ingredient with a more flavorful option.

For example:

  • Substituting a Flavored Simple Syrup in the place of “normal” simple Syrup
  • Substituting a Rosemary-Infused Vodka instead of “normal” vodka

3) Substituting a Sweetening Agent with a Sweet Liqueur

Since many liqueurs have a significant sweetness to them, they can be substituted for other sweetening ingredients.  A great example of this is the Classic (3-2-1) vs. more modern (2-1-1) Margarita:

Classic Margarita Modern Margarita
  • 3 Parts Base Spirit
  • 2 Parts Sweet Liqueur
  • 1 Part Acid
  • 2 Parts Base Spirit
  • 1 Part Simple Syrup
  • 1 Part Acid

As you can see in this example, the same drink can be made but in one case it’s with simple syrup, and in the other, no simple syrup is used at all – all of the sweetener has been replaced with sweet liqueur.

4) Partial Substitution

A “Partial Substitution” is what it’s called when you substitute just some but not all of an ingredient.

For example:

  • A Manhattan has 1.5 oz of Bourbon
  • If you were to replace 0.5 oz of that Bourbon with Islay Whiskey, it would change the cocktail dramatically.

Since you didn’t substitute all of the Bourbon, it’s considered a “Partial Substitution.”