Gran Gala and Grand Marnier

March 31st, 2008

The Great Oh Gosh! Orange Liqueur Showdown

Regularly compared together by cocktail geeks like me, Grand Marnier, the worlds most famous brandy-based orange liqueur, and Gran Gala, the Italian underdog, are bitter rivals in the spirit world. Is Grand Marnier the more famous for good reason, or does Gran Gala just need a little more press to usurp the French king? For details on how the comparison was performed, check the notes on the showdown.

Gran Gala

40% ABV

Gran Gala liqueur

Gran Gala is made by Stock Spirits of Trieste in Italy, and has been in production since 1884. Stock are perhaps most famous, aside from Gran Gala, for their Maraschino liqueur, but they also produce a large range of vermouths, brandies and liqueurs. Gran Gala is made using Stock VSOP brandy and Sicilian oranges.

Gran Gala is a rusty orange colour, with a vivid nose of bitter-orange zest and Cognac. There is also something else in the background which reminded me a little of Maraschino, though it is very subtle. In the mouth an initial mild orange sweetness gives way to a more bitter orange along with some Cognac notes, aromatics and a mild burn. The finish is long, with a mixture of sweet and bitter orange, Cognac and spice.

Gran Gala is an interesting drink which has many of the typical brandy-based orange liqueur characteristics, yet also has a few surprises up its sleeve. The additional spice and aromatic notes, as well as a certain sort of must from the brandy, give it a slightly pungent nature. I don’t mean pungent in a bad sense at all, and indeed I enjoyed Gran Gala a lot, but it’s certainly not an indistinct liqueur.

Grand Marnier

40% ABV

Grand Marnier liqueur

In 1827 Jean-Baptiste Lapostolle founded a fruit-liqueur producing distillery in Neauphle-le-Château, and in 1876 Louis-Alexandre Marnier married Jean-Baptiste’s granddaughter creating the Marnier-Lapostolle family. Louis-Alexandre soon came up with the Grand Marnier recipe, and in 1880 it began to be sold, initially by the name Curaçao Marnier. The spirit is made by blending the result of a maceration of bitter orange skins and neutral alcohol with Cognac, and then ageing this further in oak barrels.

Grand Marnier is a deep golden amber colour, with a medium Cognac nose that has a slight heat to it. There is a a mild orange background, which has a notably bitter edge. On sipping you get a strong bitter-sweet orange flavour which is followed up by some Cognac notes and a slight burn. This burn continues through a long finish that has a nice mixture of bitter and sweet orange hints behind the Cognac.

I wasn’t surprised when I learned this one was Grand Marnier. It has a nice complexity but remains balanced and approachable, making it a really good orange liqueur for sipping. In cocktails I’m not so sure, as the orange is fairly subtle and may not hold up against spirits. We will learn more once I start trying these liqueurs in a few mixed drinks.

Grand Marnier and Gran Gala are often compared to one another – indeed Gran Galas marketing campaign focuses fairly heavily on a tasting which ranked it much higher than Grand Marnier when used in a Margarita. While my views on these liqueurs in cocktails await a tasting I have yet to perform, as sipping spirits I think both work nicely but are fairly different in character.

They share the same brandy/Cognac characteristics, but where Grand Marnier goes for a fairly smooth and balanced approach Gran Gala has a little more kick, and also a little more going on flavour wise. I’m not sure I could pick a favourite – it would depend on what mood I am in. I don’t really want to sit on the fence, but sipping them side-by-side now it really is hard to choose between them. So similar, yet so different…

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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Posted in Orange Liqueur Showdown, Reviews

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11 responses to “Gran Gala and Grand Marnier”

  1. Alan Alan says:

    Grand Marnier is not made from maceration of peels in cognac.
    2 steps:
    - maceration of orange peels in neutral alcohol, then distillation to reach an orange essence
    - blend with cognac up to 10 years old

    So they don’t share the same characteristics for brandy: VSOP Italian brandy versus XO Cognac.

  2. Alan Alan says:

    Ho and for me Grand Gala is just cheating on the name, bottle, wax, ruban, idea of the product…


  3. Jay Jay says:

    Alan, my description of Grand Marnier states exactly that – “The spirit is made by blending the result of a maceration of bitter orange skins and neutral alcohol with Cognac, and then ageing this further in oak barrels.”

    While the production process may (or may not, Gran Gala aren’t overly clear on their production methods) vary, they do share many characteristics.

    At to whether Gran Gala is “cheating”, Grand Marnier certainly weren’t the first to produce a Cognac-based orange liqueur, though I concede the name and bottle are similar. However for me it’s what the spirit tastes like that counts, and in that department both Gran Manier and Gran Gala deliver.

  4. Alan Alan says:

    Grand Marnier with a “d”… ;-)

    the orange essence is not aged
    cognac is aged
    the blend is aged few months in barrels but just for GM to be perfect in taste, not for any additional color or taste from big oak barrels.

    to say that a VSOP brandy and a n XO cognac share many characteristic is really surprising for me! (talking about grapes, distillation process, taste, age…)

    I didn’t say GM was the first, but brands are copying it’s image as Gran Gala do.

    As for you, the most important for me is the taste!

  5. Jay Jay says:

    Sorry Alan, I perhaps could have been more clear, I didn’t mean to imply that the orange essence is aged, though I see how you can read that from the sentence.

    Regarding the XO cognac, do you have a source that says Grand Marnier uses it? I’ve never seen an age claim in a description for the Cordon Rouge (though the more premium offerings like Cuvée du Centenaire do), and the GM website merely states that the Cognac is aged up to five years which I believe makes it VSOP? I’m no Cognac expert though, so happy to be corrected!

    I agree that VSOP brandy and XO Cognac do indeed have many differences. However, they are all grape brandies and inherently share certain qualities. As I say in the review, Grand Marnier and Gran Gala have many differences, but they also have many similarities. The brandy or Cognac base no doubt affects both the former and the later.

  6. Alan Alan says:

    Yep, I met a guy working for GM who explained me that in fact they use cognac up to 10 yo (blend of different vintages) for the regular.
    Centenaire is up to 25 yo
    Cent Cinquantenaire is up to 50 yo

    A cognac of 6yo and more is an XO

  7. Jimmy Jimmy says:

    Whoa! When you say “in 1876 Louis-Alexandre Marnier married his granddaughter”, you mean he married Jean-Baptiste Lapostolle’s granddaughter, right?

  8. Jay Jay says:

    Ha, well spotted Jimmy. I have amended that sentence so it’s a little clearer exactly who married who!

  9. ManxJack ManxJack says:

    First, thanks to Alan for providing this comparison, and to Jay et al for their contributions.
    Second, an admission. I’m not so interested in the qualities of GM vs GG as stand-alone drinks, or cocktail bases, as I am for use in cooking. In particular, for Sauce a l’Orange to spark up duck, etc.
    Most recipes for Sauce a l’Orange call for Gran Marnier … but I’ve substituted Cointreau with (to my taste) excellent results. However, using cupfuls of either GM or Cointreau to make sauce (and of course, evaporate much of the alcohol in the process) is a costly proposition. In these economically stressed times, I’ve therefore tried using much less expensive Orange liqueurs, such as Curacao or Triple Sec. The results have not been to my liking.
    Therefore, based on this review, I think that I should invest in a bottle of Gran Gala, because it sounds as if it will offer most of what GM does, but at a significant saving.
    But has anyone tried this? If so, any guidance?

  10. Gini Gini says:

    ManxJack,I have tried Gran Gala and I personally choose GG over GM not only for the value, but the taste is awesome, especially in cocktails. The only thing I have cooked it in was a batch of orange brownies and it was yummy!

  11. Travis Travis says:

    I concur with Gini; Gran Gala’s taste is on par for sipping as well as in cocktails, and costing roughly 50% less than Grand Marnier, it’s a sealed deal. Let’s not forget about Cointreau though!

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