Make Your Sazerac With Brandy or Rum
The rye-rum-brandy triangle of substitution.
Substitutions are an essential part of making cocktails at home. Sometimes this is because you just won’t have any access at all to certain ingredients that a recipe calls for. At other times, it’s because you ran out of something and don’t maintain a massive back stock of every ingredient. Or perhaps you just don’t have any more space on your bar cart. Unless you stick with a very small list of cocktails and never branch out, you often have to make drinks work without the exact ingredients a recipe calls for.
The flip side of this is that substitutions are also part of the process of making high-end cocktails. One of the surest routes to a modern classic is to find a novel-yet-delicious swap in a classic formula: a Gold Rush is just a whiskey sour with honey syrup instead of simple; a Final Ward is just a Last Word with rye and lemon instead of gin and lime; a Mezcal Negroni is just…well, you know.
The question, whether you’re working at the high end or at home, is: What makes a good swap?
You can certainly devote yourself to learning about the unique properties of every bottle of booze ever made, and then make careful substitution decisions based on production method and flavor profile and region of origin and so forth. But in general, I find it’s much easier to just work from some basic rules of thumb, employing some substitution sets that usually work well enough. Among these, the one I probably use most often is rye-rum-brandy, a trio that, with a little bit of thought and care, can be moved in and out of drinks with ease, as well as effectively paired and combined with each other. I think of this as the rye-rum-brandy triangle of substitution.
To be clear, they are not always perfect substitutes, and there are some caveats to this rule of thumb. But this trio can stand in for each other often enough that it’s almost always worth trying if you’re out of an ingredient, or trying to introduce some novelty into an old drink.
You’ve seen this combination in this newsletter in various forms before. But one of the easiest ways to demonstrate how well these ingredients work both together and as substitutes is to try them in the drink we looked at last week — the Sazerac.