8 Best Substitutes for Brandy in Mulled Wine: Full List

Last Updated on November 15, 2023 by Lydia Martin

As someone who loves experimenting with flavors, I’ve often explored alternatives to traditional ingredients in classic recipes.

Recently, I found myself pondering what could be a good substitute for brandy in mulled wine. This warm, spiced drink is a staple in my kitchen, and tweaking it with different liquors gives it a fun twist.

Here, I’ll share my top picks for brandy substitutes, each bringing a unique twist to your mulled wine.

Top 8 Brandy Substitutes in Mulled Wine

1. Tawny Port

Pouring Wine on a Glass

Star Rating: ★★★★★

Ratio: 1:1

Why I Like It: I like Tawny Port for its rich, aged characteristics, adding a depth of flavor to a mulled wine recipe.

The hints of dried fruits, nuts, maple syrup, and brown sugar in this red wine blend seamlessly with the spices, creating a complex yet luxurious, well-rounded drink.

“Experimenting beyond brandy in mulled wine uncovers hidden notes of comfort.” – Liquor Laboratory

My tip – avoid boiling the mixture; just a gentle simmer is sufficient to extract ample flavor from the spices without evaporating all the booze.

This recipe doesn’t need much preparation time; you can prepare about an hour or two in advance. 

For reheating, use a large saucepan over medium-low heat on the stovetop or keep the wine in a slow cooker on a low setting. Place a spoon and serving glasses nearby for convenience.

2. Cognac

Henessy XO and a Glass

Star Rating: ★★★★★

Ratio: 1:1

Why We Like It: Cognac, brandy’s close relative, naturally fits well in mulled wine. If you want to make mulled wine rich with a woody taste and hints of sugar, nuts, and dried fruits, Cognac is the perfect sub.

Upon using it, I like how it complements the complexity of wine and the mulling spices. Additionally, the smoothness and depth of Cognac elevate mulled wines to a more luxurious experience.

3. Rum

Man Pouring Appleton Estate Rum on a Glass

Star Rating: ★★★★☆

Ratio: 1:1

Why I Like It: Rum, with whole spices and sweet notes, makes an excellent apple brandy substitute. It adds a robust, molasses-like flavor to mulled wine recipes, enriching the overall profile.

I would suggest choosing a dark or spiced rum since it has all the spices and is one of the closest alternatives to brandy.

The result? You get to enjoy a cozy and inviting recipe for chilly evenings, especially this holiday season.

4. Cointreau

Bottle of Cointreau and a Glass of Drink

Star Rating: ★★★★☆

Ratio: 1:2 (Brandy: Cointreau)

Why I Like It: Cointreau, a type of Triple Sec, adds a delightful citrusy zing, complementing the mulling spices. You can add orange juice or whole orange to the mix for an extra layer of zestiness.

This orange liqueur exudes a subtle orange note that pairs beautifully with the different spices in mulled wines, creating a refreshing and lighter version of the traditional recipe.

Tip: Serve with orange slices (or orange peel) and cinnamon sticks.

5. Bourbon

Bottles of Nulu Bourbon Whiskey

Star Rating: ★★★★☆

Ratio: 1:1

Why We Like It: Bourbon brings a unique, smoky sweetness to spiced wine recipes. Its vanilla and caramel notes add a comforting richness to the red wine, making it more indulgent.

The tasting profile of bourbon matches well with whole spices in spiced wine, like star anise, whole cloves, cinnamon, and cardamom pods.

With its alcohol content, Bourbon-infused spiced wine is perfect for sipping by the fire on a cold night.

6. Grand Marnier

Pouring Grand Marnier on a Glass

Star Rating: ★★★★☆

Ratio: 1:2 (Brandy: Grand Marnier)

Why I Like It: Grand Marnier, a blend of Cognac and bitter orange, introduces a sophisticated, bittersweet note to mulled wine.

It complements the spices beautifully while adding a complex, refined character to the drink.

Using this substitute, I find it complementing red wine, apple cider (or white wine), fresh cranberries, and brown sugar, especially if you replace apple brandy.

7. Triple Sec

Bols Triple Sec

Star Rating: ★★★☆☆

Ratio: 1:2 (Brandy: Triple Sec)

Why I Like It: Similar to Cointreau but slightly less refined, Triple Sec exudes a lovely citrus twist to mulled wine, especially when added with orange juice.

Its sweetness and orange notes make the drink more approachable and enjoyable for those who favor fruity notes.

Mixed with mulling spices like orange peel, whole star anise, and sugar, it’s a delightful substitute, especially when garnished with a cinnamon stick.

8. Vodka

Bottles of Vodka

Star Rating: ★★★☆☆

Ratio: 1:1.5 (Brandy: Vodka)

Why I Like It: Vodka is a versatile choice, providing a clean, crisp alcoholic kick without overpowering the flavors of the wine, regardless of whether you use red wine or white wine.

“I never thought I’d be into mulled wine.” – Jason Zuliani, Co-owner of Dedalus Wines in Burlington, Vermont

For those who prefer warm booze in their mulled wines [1] without altering the drink’s original taste profile too much, try Vodka.


What does adding brandy to mulled wine do?

Adding brandies to mulled wine enriches its warmth and depth, enhancing its flavors while leveraging comforting booze.

Apple brandy is a good choice for mulled wines for its fruity savor, especially with cinnamon sticks for an extra bite.

How do you take the bitterness out of mulled wine?

You can take out the bitterness of mulled wines by balancing the spices. Adding a bit of sweetness, like honey or sugar, can help reduce bitterness.

Also, you can add an orange juice for a zesty kick.

How do you not burn alcohol in mulled wine?

You won’t burn the alcohol (and sugar) in spiced wines using gentle heat and without bringing it to a boil. Stirring occasionally also helps while preserving the spirit while infusing the flavors.

In Summary

Exploring substitutes for brandy in mulled wine (or gluhwein in German) [2] opens up a world of flavors and possibilities.

Whether you prefer the rich warmth of rum or Cognac, the citrusy notes of Cointreau and Grand Marnier, the subtle kick of Vodka, or the aged characteristics of Tawny Port, there’s a perfect alternative for every palate.

So, if you want to serve mulled wine, experiment with these substitutes and find your new favorite. Your taste buds will thank you afterward!



Lydia Martin

Lydia Martin hails from Redmond, Washington, where you’ll find some of the best cocktail bars and distilleries that offer a great mix of local drinks. She used to work as a bar manager in Paris and is a self-taught mixologist whose passion for crafting unique cocktails led her to create Liquor Laboratory. Lydia can whip up a mean Margarita in seconds! Contact at [email protected] or learn more about us here or feel free to give Lydia a tip.

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