Triple Sec or Curaçao: Which Orange Liqueur Is Best for Your Cocktails?By Stephanie Moreno
Of all the liqueurs out there, orange liqueurs are the ones that are most used in cocktails. As such, you should keep at least one in your bar arsenal at all times. But when going over those classic cocktail recipes, oftentimes triple sec will be what is desired. From the sounds of it, it’s not entirely clear that a triple sec is a subset of the orange liqueur family, but it is. And what about curaçao? Yes, it too falls under the orange liqueur umbrella.
These two products can be used interchangeably. However, choosing one over the other will impact the overall flavor — and sometimes color — of your drink. Read along to see a list of some of our favorite orange liqueurs and see how these two subsets differ from each other.
Triple Sec is a clear, orange-flavored liqueur typically made with a neutral grain base. Generally speaking, the higher the ABV, the better the quality and complexity of the liqueur. Please note that a lower ABV triple sec — like say 30 proof —will result in a sweeter cocktail than one at 80 proof, so adjust your drinks accordingly. Of course the price will also be higher due to the higher percentage of alcohol.
The clear color of the triple sec and the relative mild spice factor will often see it used with other unaged spirits such as vodka, gin and unaged or lightly-aged rums and tequilas. Common drinks made using triple sec are the Margarita, the Cosmopolitan and Corpse Reviver #2, among others.
By far Cointreau, which was the first registered brand of triple sec back in 1885, is the most popular triple secs on the market today. However the brand dropped the “triple sec” moniker from its name in the early 20th century. Cointreau is made with both bitter and sweet orange peels which are macerated in neutral alcohol and then distilled. The only other ingredients are sugar and water.
Combier Liqueur d’Orange was first created in 1834 in Saumur, France. It is made using sun-dried bitter and sweet orange peels which are macerated in neutral spirit before distillation. The recipe for this triple sec was created by husband and wife confectioners Jean-Baptiste and Josephine Combier.
Luxardo Triplum Triple Sec is an orange liqueur made from the distillation of three types of citrus fruits. The dried peels of curaçao, sweet oranges, and mandarins are used. Some other ingredients used in the liqueur, aside from sugar and water, are dried orange flowers, pennyroyal and vervain.
Curaçao is generally orange or blue, but you will find some clear curaçaos on the market. Historically curaçao has a brandy base and it is often flavored with additional spices, although there aren’t designated rules regarding its production.
That said, curaçao is often made in such a way that makes it more spice-forward than triple sec. Therefore drinks made with curaçao will be more flavorful beyond just the orange flavor. As a result, it’s best to mix them with aged spirits, especially rum and brandy cocktails. Examples include the Mai Tai, the Side Car and the Cadillac Margarita, which is made with añejo tequila. Punches are also a great drink for curaçaos.
As Cointreau is the most common brand for triple sec, Grand Marnier is for the curaçao family. It was originally named Curaçao Marnier when created in 1880 by founder Louis-Alexandre Marnier Lapostolle, and then shortly thereafter it was changed to Grand Marnier after friends declared it to be grand. It’s made from a blend of cognac (51%) and bitter orange distillate (49%). To make this distillate, the bitter orange variety citrus Bigaradia is harvested and the peels are sun-dried. The peels then macerate in neutral alcohol for ~10 days before it is distilled. This bitter orange distillate is then blended with cognac and further aged in large oak vats for 1-6 months. Folks in the bar industry lovingly call this product GrandMa.
This Dry Curaçao is based on a 19th century recipe and made in consultation with cocktail historian David Wondrich. First bitter Laraha orange peels are infused for one week in a grape spirit then that infusion is distilled. Separately, walnut skins and prunes are infused for several months in brandy and Pierre Ferrand cognac to create a vegetal infusion. Then the orange distillate and the vegetal infusion are blended along with brandy and Pierre Ferrand cognac. Toasted cane sugar which is barrel aged for several months is used to sweeten the blend. Finally, the Dry Curaçao is left to age for several months in French oak barrels before bottling.
Brandy is Copper & Kings’ bread and butter. Therefore it should come as no surprise that this orange liqueur would use a base of apple brandy low wines — the spirit from the first round of distillation. The apple brandy goes through a process of multiple macerations and distillations with orange peels, spices, honey, and lavender. Then the distillate is aged in the brand’s own brandy barrels for 3-6 months. The spirit is then sweetened and cut with orange blossom honey and then bottled.
You might be familiar with Rhum Clément if you’re a fan of Martinique rhum. But did you know that the brand also makes a rhum-based orange liqueur? They start by blending their own unaged and aged rhums together. Then they macerate créole spices and sun-dried bitter orange peels into the rhum distillate. This Créole Shrubb can be used as a substitute for any recipe calling for curaçao.
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