Continuing the break from traditional triple sec and Curaçao liqueurs, a look at two more unusual orange liqueurs that defy the traditional characteristics. For details on how the comparison was performed, check the notes on the showdown.
Filfar orange liqueur comes from Cyprus and has something of a strange history. Takis Philippou, the original producer, learned the recipe from his grandmother as a young child. This recipe had allegedly been passed down from generation to generation, originating from Cypriot monks in the 12th century. Many years later in the 1940s he had forgotten the recipe but set about trying to recreate it, and after several failed attempts came up with the current product which apparently tastes exactly like his grandmother’s old recipe. I am, to put it mildly, a little dubious of this story.
Filfar is a light copper colour, with a strong orange zest nose. The fragrance also suggests some aromatic spice, and has a mild burn at the end. In the mouth, an initially mild orange flavour bursts in to an intense mixture of sweet and bitter orange, spice and a deep aromatic tone. There is a notable burn though it works with the other flavours and isn’t unpleasant. The finish is fairly long, full of bitter notes and a fair amount of heat.
While orange is a major component in the liqueur, the extra spice and aromatics set it apart from the standard orange liqueurs and give it enough distinctiveness to make it stand up to the other oddballs like the rum-based orange liqueurs. It’s a pleasant sipper, if with something of a kick, and the flavours are intense enough to make it an interesting potential for cocktails. For some reason, the idea of a Sidecar made with Filfar seems particularly appealing.
The Spanish Torres family have been involved in the wine and spirit business since 1800, and now produces wine in Spain, Chile and the US, as well as a range of brandies. The bottle’s label is unusually descriptive about their orange liqueur, which sometimes goes by the name “Gran Torres”: “In the 19th century Jamie Torres recovered a secret recipe for an ancestral liqueur that had reached the Antilles islands during Columbus’ travels. In the Torres cellars he macerated bitter orange skins in vintage brandy, adding wild herbs, cinnamon, cardamom, clove, Cienfuegos coffee, Cuban molasses and orange blossom honey.”
Torres Orange has a strong grape brandy nose, with just a subtle orange zest background. This profile is mirrored in the mouth, with a strong brandy flavour with some mild sweet orange and spice notes, which then give way to a more bitter orange flavour, lots of spice and a pretty hefty kick of alcohol burn. The finish is dry and dominated by the brandy, with some spice and a real heat on the tongue which lasts a good while. There is an underlying sweetness which isn’t overpowering, though it does leave quite a sugary mouth feel once the finish has faded.
This liqueur is an odd one. I will admit I am not much of a brandy or Cognac drinker and rarely drink it neat, so I’m perhaps not the best judge, but for me the Torres is a little too hot and fiery to be sipped alone. Which presents a problem as the relatively subtle orange flavourings suggest it won’t work well to use in cocktails, at least when used as a traditional orange liqueur. That said I’m sure it could work well in the right drink – there are a lot of interesting flavours going on, but they just need taming and balancing.
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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