The task of comparing numerous orange liqueurs in various cocktails is not an easy one. Quite aside from the fact that consuming lots of cocktails (no matter how small) in a short space of time has certain side-effects, just choosing which cocktails to try proved to be a difficult decision. So many delicious, tasty and classic cocktails use orange liqueurs that I could spend weeks posting comparisons and still only scratch the surface.
You (along with my liver) will be glad to hear I won’t be spending weeks writing comparisons, but instead will be concentrating on three cocktails – the Margarita, Sidecar and Pegu Club – that all use orange liqueurs as a key ingredient. I chose these three cocktails partly because they are some of my favourite drinks, and also because they each have very different base spirits that have the potential to bring out different properties in the various orange liqueurs.
I also won’t be comparing all 23 orange liqueurs for similar reasons. Instead, I’ve chosen a selection of the most common, most palatable and most unusual and will only cover liqueurs that particularly stood out in the cocktails. It should be noted that these cocktails were not tasted blind, and were tasted in a far more subjective and casual manner than the orange liqueur comparison. Given the subjective and casual nature of cocktails themselves, I don’t think this was inappropriate…
For me the Margarita should be a very crisp, fresh drink and as such I expected the white spirits to produce the better cocktails. In general this proved to be the case, with the venerable Cointreau proving to be the liqueur to beat. The main issue with most of the liqueurs was a subtlety in their flavour which failed to penetrate the complexities of the tequila. The triple secs from Giffard and Combier, however, held their ground well, as did Senior’s Curaçao of Curaçao although this did yield a slightly sweeter drink.
The brandy-based liqueurs produced very different drinks that, for me at least, don’t have quite the same appeal as a triple sec based Margarita. Swapping to a reposado tequila yielded better results, creating a more fragrant, complex cocktail. Both the “Grans” worked well here, though the Gran Gala seemed to complement the tequila a little better. However, my favourite brandy-based liqueur for the Margarita was the Gabriel Boudier Orange Fine Champagne which produced a really lovely drink with a nice balance between the freshness of orange and the complexities of the brandy.
Of the other liqueurs, Clément Créole Shrubb produced a fine cocktail, unique in character and very tasty. It’s not the liqueur I’d use for a Margarita on a regular basis, but is a bottle I’d reach for when I fancied something a little different. Patrón Citrónge also worked nicely, providing a deep orangey flavour that really shows itself in the drink and combines well with the tequila. It’s tough to choose an absolute favourite, but this was definitely in the top three along with Cointreau and Giffard’s premium triple sec.
An honourable mention should also go to the De Kuyper triple sec, which did a pretty good job considering it is one of the cheapest bottles in the comparison. It lacks the nuances of some of the more expensive brands, but if you’re on a budget is certainly worth considering.
As a rule, and perhaps contrary to what you might expect, the brandy and Cognac based liqueurs didn’t work particularly well in the Sidecar. The heavier brandy notes tended to weigh down the drink, resulting in a drink that was smooth but a little flat. Two notable exceptions to this were the Gabriel Boudier Orange Fine Champagne and Filfar liqueurs. The Gabriel Boudier complemented the brandy well but also provided enough orange flavours to freshen the drink up, and the Filfar provided lots of spice and orange creating a very different, more aromatic Sidecar.
Clément Créole Shrubb proved to be something of a puzzler. I made the drink several times using the Clément, and each time my feelings about the mixture changed multiple times, alternating between enjoyable and slightly odd seemingly at random. With the right brandy I’m sure the Clément Créole Shrubb could create a very interesting Sidecar, but with what I was using (Rémy Martin VSOP) I couldn’t quite work out whether it worked or not.
The triple secs reigned supreme in the Sidecar, with Cointreau, Combier and Giffard all providing a nice orange zing to counter the richness of the Cognac base. Again Patrón Citrónge also worked well, though I felt unlike in the Margarita it failed to mix as well as Cointreau and Giffard did. Those two were the clear winners in the Sidecar, and probably the only two I will use to make Sidecars in the future, except perhaps for the odd one with Gabriel Boudier Orange Fine Champagne if I’m in the mood.
Some of the triple secs that were a little too subtle for the Margarita and Sidecar really shone in the Pegu Club, Edmond Briottet’s triple sec being one notable example. Others, like the Patrón Citrónge, were almost a little too strongly flavoured, though dialling down the orange liqueur by ¼ oz resolved this problem and created a really nice drink. Cointreau again proved formidable, and the Giffard and Combier triple secs continued to show their worth.
Of the brandy-based liqueurs, Gran Gala provided a deeply aromatic drink with a slight bit of funkiness that worked nicely, and Boudier’s Orange Fine Champagne produced a great cocktail straddling the differences between the triple sec and brandy-based Pegu Clubs.
The rum-based liqueurs further reaffirmed the link between gin and rum talked about during Mixology Monday last year, with both the Santa Teresa and Clément bottles creating great drinks, though it has to be said they are starting to move quite far from what a traditional Pegu Club tastes like. Unlike the previous drinks where Clément has been the clear winner I think in the Pegu Club the more subtle Santa Teresa was better suited.
The Pegu Club turned out to be a blank canvas for orange liqueurs, allowing each bottles nuances and subtleties to shine through. The triple sec, brandy-based and rum-based liqueurs all created very different but equally tasty cocktails. Choosing a favourite isn’t easy, but I think the classic Cointreau-based Pegu Club may just take the prize. It’s a close race though, and all the liqueurs I’ve mentioned create really great drinks.
It can be surprising how much the choice of orange liqueur can affect the overall taste of the drink, even when used in relatively short quantities. The choice of orange liqueur in a cocktail is therefore a very important decision, and this comparison has certainly revised my previous behaviour of just reaching for the bottle of Cointreau.
Next week in the final post in The Great Oh Gosh! Orange Liqueur Showdown I will offer my views on which liqueurs are worth adding to your bar, as well as my thoughts on triple secs, curaçaos and other orange spirits in general after this mammoth look at orange liqueurs. In the mean time, I’m off to drink anything that doesn’t involve an orange liqueur…
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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