Tequila, made from the blue agave plant, is a singular and unparalleled spirit -- meaning that it is not so easy to find suitable substitutes. Fret not, because in those desperate times of creative mixology or inventive culinary arts when you need to mimic tequila's distinct spicy and earthy flavors -- you might already have a good go-to substitute nearby.
Tequila isn't the only beverage made from the agave plant; both mescal -- also called mezcal -- and pulque come from the maguey plant, which is a form of agave. Mescal's flavor is smokier than tequila's because the agave plant is roasted before it is processed as a liquor. When using mescal as a tequila substitute, reduce the amount you pour by about one third and add a little sweetener. Pulque is fermented from the maguey plant instead of distilled. It's milky and viscous, and its natural flavor and scent are extremely strong. If substituting with pulque, only use a small amount -- otherwise, it will be overpowering.
Many recipes for food and drink that call for tequila can handle a different liquor. Substitute vodka in cocktails like margaritas and Mexican martinis -- they won't have the same kind of bite, but they will be still be tasty. Rum will also work in a pinch, though the results will be a little sweeter. A rule for rum substitution is white rum for white tequila and gold or light rum for gold tequila. Rum also works well in the kitchen because it gives the necessary alcohol-tinged flavor. Another good substitution is cachaca, which is a Brazilian rum-like liquor made from sugar cane juice. Cachaca's flavor is more bitter than rum and has a smokiness to it like mescal.
Wine About It
Wine might not give you the tequila kick, but it will bring some similar flavors. White wines like Chablis are dry enough and have the faint tequila texture that mixing it into things that need tequila won't be a complete no-no. Following the lead of mass-produced wine coolers, drinks with wine instead of tequila will need more wine -- about three times as much, and wine will also mix better with pre-made cocktail mixes than with fresh ones, because fresh juices will accent the differences between the two. You can also substitute dry, white sparkling wines, although their effervescence might be off-putting in subtler drinks.
No Frills, No Thrills
Not all tequila substitutes have to be adult-like. Other products made from the agave plant, like agave nectar or even cactus juice, will have some of the same essential flavors as tequila. Specialty products like rose essence have the floral taste of tequila, and mixing the essence with a little bit of honey and cinnamon will spice it up. A few splashes of a non-alcoholic tequila-flavored extract will also work, and rum- and bourbon-flavored extracts can give a little bite. Also in the tequila-flavored category is tequila syrup, which works well in both food and drink.