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The Orange Liqueur Discussion


lperry
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I was in the MoCo liquor store today and picked up a bottle of Cointreau (1.75 for $63 - deal!).  The bottle is a bit unwieldy, and I was carrying it less than gracefully with one hand under the base.  When I got to the checkout, the guy was teasing me a little about it being such a big bottle, and I felt obligated to explain, so said it was going to go into sangria at a ¼ cup per batch, which it undoubtedly will.  He then told me if I was "just going to pour it into sangria," I should buy something else, and he and the other guy suggested De Kuyper, saying it tasted "almost the same," just maybe a little sweeter.  I'm fairly certain I looked a little bit horrified, and I told them I also needed it for sidecars, and nothing else makes a decent sidecar.  There was a bit of discussion in which they backpedaled a little, told me they weren't trying to talk me out of it, it was a great deal, but they kept suggesting that next time I was in the market for a Cointreau-like liqueur, try the De Kuyper.

The odd habits of MoCo liquor store workers aside, I know that there are some nice orange liqueurs that some people like in the place of Grand Marnier, and I also enjoy Santa Teresa's Rhum Orange, but I don't think I've ever had anyone seriously suggest a substitute for Cointreau.  Thoughts?

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Horror might be an overreaction sometimes, but with DeKuyper you're justified.

I think Cointreau still stands alone for its sharply articulated, almost "hot" orange oil flavor.  It's almost too straightforward to be interesting to sip on its own.  Luxardo does make a "Triplum" triple sec that they've tried to position as an alternative, down to mimicking Cointreau's short, square bottle, but to me Triplum is weighed down by a strong malt note - almost moutwijn-like - that cannot be escaped.

I have a couple other orange liqueurs in the cabinet, mainly Cognac-based, but again they are trying to be something else.  Go with the real deal.  IMHO.

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Horror might be an overreaction sometimes, but with DeKuyper you're justified.

I think Cointreau still stands alone for its sharply articulated, almost "hot" orange oil flavor.  It's almost too straightforward to be interesting to sip on its own.  Luxardo does make a "Triplum" triple sec that they've tried to position as an alternative, down to mimicking Cointreau's short, square bottle, but to me Triplum is weighed down by a strong malt note - almost moutwijn-like - that cannot be escaped.

I have a couple other orange liqueurs in the cabinet, mainly Cognac-based, but again they are trying to be something else.  Go with the real deal.  IMHO.

Cointreau gives that nice peel flavor, while Grand Marnier tastes more like the flesh of the orange, at least to my palate.  Two entirely different tastes, both really lovely in the right context.

Troy Patterson in Slate recently did a piece on orange liqueurs, and put in a good word for dry Curaí§ao.

Interesting, one, because my parents also drink Grand Marnier straight, and two, because I have The Drunken Botanist and didn't recall that chart.  Looking at it now, other than "generic" brands of triple sec, Cointreau is in its own category.  As is Grand Marnier.  An interesting historical note, if you like trivia, is that both are made from Haitian-grown oranges.  (That's from Mr. lperry's work in Haiti, not from the book.)

DeKuyper????  10 years into the cocktail scene, and this is a discussion?  Seriously, the guys might as well said pick up a couple squeeze-bottles of ReaLemon and ReaLime, why use fresh fruit?  Might as well use the ice in the beer tub while we're at it.

I thought maybe they had done something recent and great about which I was unaware.  It would seem not.  They also told me it would be less than half the price, but I'm not sure why this would be such a selling point on an inferior quality product.  Most drinks use a half ounce or ounce per glass, which, with my cost for this bottle, is somewhere between a little over 50 cents or a dollar per cocktail.  Even if you add in another couple of bucks for the other ingredients, when compared to buying a drink in a bar or even drinking a glass of wine, the costs end up being fairly low for any cocktail you make at home.

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There is no less-expensive alternative that is roughly equivalent to Cointreau. There is a less-expensive alternative roughly equivalent to Grand Marnier, which is Gran Gala. I find an alternative to Cointreau that is not at all equivalent but very, very good is the Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaí§ao mentioned up above somewhere. As a cocktail ingredient, the Pierre Ferrand can probably stand in pretty well for either Cointreau or Grand Marnier. De Kuyper and Bols triple secs are mind-bogglingly awful and do not belong in any cocktail at any time anywhere.

The term "triple sec" has notoriously no broadly agreed-upon meaning, and I think that's probably true of "curaí§ao" as well. Neither Grand Marnier nor Cointreau calls itself by either term.

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For Orange Liqueur, Combier has to be a part of the discussion.  They are the original triple-sec, after all.  I've tasted margaritas made side-by-side, one with Combier and one with Cointreau, and the Combier had the brighter orange fruit between the two.

Jay Hepburn, in London, did a seriously extensive orange liqueur showdown several years ago, and his observations merit attention: http://ohgo.sh/category/cocktails/orange-liqueur-showdown/ (Note: the winner of his "showdown", the Giffard Premium Curaí§ao Triple Sec, is difficult to find in the United States; I, myself, relentlessly badgered a supplier who carried other Giffard products, to bring it in for us, but they never did, and now they're out of business, so...  At the time, it was imported by Christophe Barcat Selections, Manhasset NY, if anyone wants to try and chase it down.)

It should be noted (as Jay Hepburn did) that, while there are dozens, if not hundreds, of orange liqueurs, they're not all ideal for the same purposes.  If you need just ONE all-rounder, it's really hard to beat Cointreau.  I know of at least one top craft bartender here in D.C. who agrees with that statement.  That doesn't mean, however, that other options don't merit exploring and experimenting with.

The Pierre Ferrand Triple Sec of Curaí§ao is seriously fantastic stuff, and Jason Wilson did a nice column in the Washington Post about it in 2012.

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On 10/18/2013 at 7:45 PM, Joe Riley said:

For Orange Liqueur, Combier has to be a part of the discussion.  They are the original triple-sec, after all.  I've tasted margaritas made side-by-side, one with Combier and one with Cointreau, and the Combier had the brighter orange fruit between the two.

Joe: I meant to follow up on this when you posted it almost three years ago. I don't recall ever seeing Combier triple-sec on a store shelf. Do you stock it at Ace?

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On 10/18/2013 at 7:45 PM, Joe Riley said:

For Orange Liqueur, Combier has to be a part of the discussion.  They are the original triple-sec, after all.  I've tasted margaritas made side-by-side, one with Combier and one with Cointreau, and the Combier had the brighter orange fruit between the two.

 

Jay Hepburn, in London, did a seriously extensive orange liqueur showdown several years ago, and his observations merit attention: http://ohgo.sh/category/cocktails/orange-liqueur-showdown/ (Note: the winner of his "showdown", the Giffard Premium Curaí§ao Triple Sec, is difficult to find in the United States; I, myself, relentlessly badgered a supplier who carried other Giffard products, to bring it in for us, but they never did, and now they're out of business, so...  At the time, it was imported by Christophe Barcat Selections, Manhasset NY, if anyone wants to try and chase it down.)

 

It should be noted (as Jay Hepburn did) that, while there are dozens, if not hundreds, of orange liqueurs, they're not all ideal for the same purposes.  If you need just ONE all-rounder, it's really hard to beat Cointreau.  I know of at least one top craft bartender here in D.C. who agrees with that statement.  That doesn't mean, however, that other options don't merit exploring and experimenting with.

 

The Pierre Ferrand Triple Sec of Curaí§ao is seriously fantastic stuff, and Jason Wilson did a nice column in the Washington Post about it in 2012.

This is an interesting thread for anyone interested in cocktails, if only because orange liqueurs are probably or easily the most often used liqueur flavorings for more cocktails than anything else.  Having mixed and drank my share of cocktails I don't claim expertise, having never had Combier or used or had Gran Gala as a substitute for GM.

Ultimately Joe's taste test above is a terrific way to ascertain what you wish for what types of cocktails and use.  Frankly I've used DeKuyper and similarly priced liqueurs often and they can provide very acceptable results for cocktails with many ingredients and flavorings (ie tiki type drinks) or sangrias, again with many elements.  Meanwhile the comments above from LPerry re pricing were exactly on target as her home cocktails using 1/2 ounce cointreau would have run her about $0.50/ per cocktail.   Lot of home value relative to restaurant/bar cocktails using that high grade ingredient.  

Interesting discussion.  If I were as cocktail oriented as I once was I'd rush over to Ace Bev. and purchase some Combier or better yet volunteer for taste testing duty!!!!!

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Just to update this discussion....

  Since I last wrote that missive above, the Giffard Triple Sec of Curaçao HAS found a new U.S.A. importer, and we proudly carry it in our store.  Quite possibly, the best orange liqueur we've ever carried, and Jay Hepburn did not exaggerate its qualities.

  Also of note, while the Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao is lovely, we now also have the Golden Moon Dry Curaçao, from Colorado, and it gives the Pierre Ferrand a serious challenge, with the single biggest difference between them being that the Ferrand is blended with Ferrand Cognac, and the Golden Moon does not have any Cognac or brandy in it., so perhaps that's like comparing Cointreau with Grand Marnier, or Combier with Royal Combier, as they are not exactly the same products.

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