The two liqueurs here each have their own claim to orange liqueur fame: Combier’s as the first triple sec, dating a full 41 years before Cointreau was first sold, and Senior’s as the only orange liqueur still distilled on the island of Curaçao using the islands Laraha fruit. The history is no doubt interesting but ultimately it’s what the liqueurs taste like that count, so how do they shape up? For details on how the comparison was performed, check the notes on the showdown.
Combier Triple Sec
Jean Combier began making spirits in his confectionery shop in 1834, and in 1848 they gave up the sweets and concentrated solely on their burgeoning alcohol business. Their Triple Sec was created the same year they began distilling, and is claimed to be the very first Triple Sec ever made – it certainly pre-dates any triple sec I’ve come across. It is made in 100-year-old copper stills using bitter orange from Haiti.
Combier Triple Sec has a mild bitter orange nose with little suggestion of the high-alcohol base. In the mouth you get an initial sweet orange flavour which is quickly overtaken by a powerful bitter orange hit with a medium burn. There is a strong dryness to this middle section, which lasts in to the long finish. There is a lingering heat at the end as well as a slowly emerging mild sweetness and some orange zest notes.
The liqueur is a little too fiery and intense to be enjoyed in sipping, at least to my tastes. However, it is a very interesting drink with plenty of powerful flavours and an interesting profile. This suggests it will make an excellent mixer in cocktails, and I am definitely looking forward to trying this in a Margarita.
Senior’s Curaçao of Curaçao
The Senior family has been producing their Curaçao on the very island the liqueur was named after since the late nineteenth century. While this date means they certainly weren’t the first Curaçao, they are the only remaining company to still use the original Laraha oranges that grow on Curaçao, and to produce their liqueur on the island. The recipe also contains additional spices, and is produced in the original copper still dating from 1896.
On the nose Senior’s Curaçao of Curaçao has a fresh nose of orange peel with a definite sweetness to the fragrance and a touch of bitterness. Upon sipping you get a sweetness and a bright orange flavour which is strangely lacking in bitterness given the fact this uses only the bitter Laraha fruit. The brief finish brings out a slight heat and mild bitterness, which quickly fades in to a syrupy sweetness.
Fairly one-dimensional, the liqueur is nonetheless pleasant and has a decent orange flavour. It is enjoyable to sip, with a very smooth character and almost no burn, though it is unremarkable compared to many of the spirits in the comparisson. In cocktails I imagine the bright orange flavour will work well in many drinks, though sweetness may be an issue.
Note: In the interests of full disclosure, the liqueurs included in this comparison are a mixture of bottles I have purchased myself, and samples solicited from their UK distributors.
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