Orange Liqueur Awards

June 3rd, 2008

The Great Oh Gosh! Orange Liqueur Showdown

So after several months, 23 different spirits and countless cocktails, what has my orange liqueur odyssey taught me? Well firstly that trying so many cocktails and liqueurs isn’t nearly as much fun as it sounds. I love Margaritas, Pegu Clubs and Sidecars as much as the next cocktail nerd, but I also love variety and after trying so many different variations on the same theme I did find myself tiring.

I’m still glad I did it though. If nothing else it has reinforced the fact that I have come across time and time again when making cocktails – that every single ingredient in a cocktail has a major part to play in the final taste of the drink. It’s something that people new to cocktails sometimes fail to grasp, and I know it’s something that took me a while to appreciate – no matter how small the amount is, everything you put in your drink makes a difference.

One of my main goals when starting the comparison was to try and get a clearer idea of the differences between curaçao and triple sec, though unfortunately I don’t think I’m much closer to my goal of a single, exclusive definition of each. All of the triple secs in the comparison matched a general profile similar to my original definition of being clear, relatively dry and with bitter orange hints. The curaçaos, however, were more of a mix ranging from brandy-heavy mixtures to liqueurs verging on triple sec territory. It seems whatever the original definition of curaçao was, today it’s merely a catch-all term for orange liqueurs.

So what do you do if a cocktail recipe calls for curaçao? The short answer is to experiment until you find something that works. There is so much variation both in the products that are today called curaçaos, and in the old cocktail recipes that call for these products, that without simply trying the different liqueurs in the drink in question you are essentially playing potluck. With that said, I found that there were certain liqueurs that really stood out during the comparison, and with that in mind I present The Great Oh Gosh! Orange Liqueur Showdown Awards

Lots of orange liqueur bottles

Best in class

The following liqueurs represent the best liqueur within the three main categories – triple sec, curaçao and “others”. I have taken the curaçao category to represent all liqueurs that label themselves as curaçaos (but not triple secs) as well as all spirits that are notably brandy-based. Triple-secs include all clear liqueurs that don’t identify themselves otherwise and the unusual orange liqueurs cover everything else.

Best Triple Sec

Giffard Premium Curaçao Triple Sec

The Edmond Briottet triple sec was a close contender, but Giffard’s offering excelled in both the straight comparison and when mixed with cocktails which made it a real winner. Strong natural flavours of both sweet and bitter orange make for an interesting flavour that stands up well to other spirits, yet despite being 80 proof it remains smooth when sipped alone. Priced fairly similarly to Cointreau, choosing which one to replace will be a serious dilemma.

Best Curaçao

Gabriel Boudier Orange Fine Champagne

I expected Grand Marnier and Gran Gala to be top of the pile in this category, but the real stand-out for me was Gabriel Boudier’s Orange Fine Champagne. Like the “Grans” it has a prominent Cognac taste, but rather than let that dominate it has plenty of orange flavour which works really nicely, especially in mixed drinks. Indeed, it acts almost as a bridge between the heavier curaçaos and the triple secs, encompassing the best of both worlds.

Best Unusual Orange Liqueur

Clément Créole Shrubb

The liqueurs that didn’t fall in to the triple sec and curaçao categories were some of the most interesting for me, and provided a welcome surprise when they turned up in the comparison. Several stood out in either the tasting (Santa Teresa Rhum Orange) or in the cocktails (Filfar in the Sidecar) but Clément Créole Shrubb aced both tests and soon became one of my favourite liqueurs in the comparison. With an amazing mix of rum, orange, vanilla and spice flavours and a long, long finish it was a pleasure to sip, and while not your usual orange liqueur created some interesting variations when mixed in cocktails.

Giffard Premium Curaçao Triple Sec, Gabriel Boudier Orange Fine Champagne and Clément Créole Shrubb bottles

Best overall

Ignoring the product categories, the following liqueurs are, in my opinion, the absolute best you can buy. If you only ever buy three orange liqueurs, these should be the three, though they should eventually be followed by the other liqueurs mentioned within this post… after all, who wants to own just three orange liqueurs?!

Best Orange Liqueur for Mixing

Cointreau

For pure mixability it really is impossible to beat Cointreau. While I happily awarded the best triple sec to Giffard, if you need a standard orange liqueur for mixing drinks Cointreau is the one. It’s what almost every quality bar in the world will be using, and while it’s not much of a sipper the intense orange flavours make it an excellent mixer. If you only own one orange liqueur, make it Cointreau – just don’t buy the squat orange bottle and think that’s your orange liqueur collection finished.

Best Orange Liqueur for Sipping

Clément Créole Shrubb

This one was a difficult decision, as the Edmond Briottet Curaçao Triple Sec, Gran Gala and Grand Marnier all made for enjoyable neat drinks, but Clément Créole Shrubb won out as by far the most enjoyable and unusual liqueur for sipping. The incredible mixture of flavours makes every sip something to enjoy, and I’m pretty sure you won’t find a single liqueur anything quite like it.

Best Orange Liqueur Overall

Giffard Premium Curaçao Triple Sec

So which is the best liqueur out of all 23? It would be easy to award Cointreau, the ubiquitous spirit that is perhaps the most famous of all orange liqueurs. Certainly Cointreau is an excellent cocktail ingredient, but the best orange liqueur? I think that award belongs to Giffard Premium Curaçao Triple Sec, a spirit that combines the mixability of Cointreau with a smoothness that made me rethink how appropriate triple secs were for sipping.

It’s not got the advertising budget, and it’s not stocked in nearly as many locations, but in my opinion Giffard Premium Curaçao Triple Sec represents all the most important features of an orange liqueur, and is therefore the best available today.

Giffard Premium Curaçao Triple Sec, Cointreau and Clément Créole Shrubb bottles

Honourable mentions should also go to Combier Triple Sec, Edmond Briottet Curaçao Triple Sec and Patrón Citrónge. For those on budgets the Bols range represents good value and is well worth considering.

Of course this entire series represents just one opinion of orange liqueurs… and I’m sure there are plenty of others out there. What orange liqueurs do you think are best, both for mixing and sipping?

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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25 responses to “Orange Liqueur Awards”

  1. Matthew Kayahara Matthew Kayahara says:

    It’s been great fun following along with this project Jay! I tend to use Cointreau almost exclusively, but that’s mostly because the government-run liquor board where I live carries only Cointreau, Grand Marnier and several cheap, low-proof triple secs. (I keep Grand Marnier on hand, too, but I find it harder to mix.) Fortunately, Cointreau does seem to meet all my orange liqueur needs, and I’m glad your exploration came to the same conclusion.

  2. gilrain gilrain says:

    I also use Cointreau across the board, whenever an orange liqueur is called for — even if the recipe specifically calls for Grand Marnier! Every once in a while, I scold myself and experiment with using Grand Marnier or another orange liqueur, and, every time, to my palate the results are inferior.

    I wind up feeling a little guilty, but, on the other hand, having at least one area in which one bottle covers the genre is a blessing, considering how stuffed full my cupboards are already.

  3. gilrain gilrain says:

    I almost forgot to say: thanks for doing this, Jay! It was a doozy, and very interesting! Now you can blog about something other than orange liqueurs again. ;)

  4. Marleigh Marleigh says:

    Wow, just…wow. Good work, Jay!

  5. Dood Dood says:

    Fantastic series! And I agree with you on the Clemente Creole Shrub…wonderful liqueur either in a cocktail or on its own.

  6. Kingsley Kingsley says:

    thanks for doing the taste test. I LOVE drawing comparisons as im an avid Margarita, Cosmo, (basically anything with orange liqueur) fan. I tend to think that Cointreau, while wonderful is a bit too “hot”. Combier Triple Sec on the other hand has a similar tasting profile but the alcohol is more balanced, and there is a far greater bright orange flavor. I didnt know that Combier was the first ever triple sec either (dating back to 1834); thanks for that tidbit of info, Jay. Anyway, the bright all-natural flavor of Combier triple sec was the winner for me. Im hooked!
    oh and it looks like they just came to the USA recently. http://www.combierusa.com

  7. Jay Jay says:

    Thanks for all the kind comments guys.

    Kingsley – The Combier triple sec was a pretty decent performer, though it didn’t grab me like the Cointreau and Giffard did. I’d definitely put it near the top of the “also rans” though. That new bottle they have for US distribution looks gorgeous!

  8. Cuban Linx « says:

    [...] The Orange Liqueur Awards [...]

  9. niels niels says:

    remarkable series, really amazing project! – and most informative.
    and so little to add to your conclusions, im all with you.
    excapt for one thing, i like to have a barrel chested triple sec on hand, one that really manifests itself, not by being brandy based, or being different (as the clement is different), but simply by being intensely triple-sec-ish.
    for that i use cusenier’s triple sec, would you know about it?
    (not that i expect you run out and try ANOTHER triple sec…)

  10. Jay Jay says:

    Thanks Niels.Not come across the cusenier, no. What exactly do you mean when you say “triple-sec-ish”? I’d say Cointreau is pretty barrel chested and intense, as are amongst others the Combier and Citronge…

  11. Cocktails & gadgets Cocktails & gadgets says:

    Now that’s what I call research – well done!

  12. Beth-ann Roth Beth-ann Roth says:

    Giffard Liqueurs are being imported into the United States and distributed by Calypso Imports of Washington, D.C. The Giffard Curacao Triple Sec will be available stateside soon, along with Vanilla, Banana, Muroise, Ginger, Apricot and Cassis, all equally as beautiful as the Triple Sec!

    http://www.calypso-imports.com
    (703) 464-5550
    (202) 664-7171

  13. Will Will says:

    Giffard and Cointreau are very pricey. Whenever I go to my local liquor store, I ache to convince myself to get the bottle of Cointreau…But then I spy the Dekuyper on few shelves down…

    I just don’t have budget to compete with the big boys…

  14. niels niels says:

    the cusenier is simply more penetrating and intense than any other triple sec ive come across. i havent seen it anywhere outside france except here in denmark; it might have historical reasons: danish cocktail recipe books from the 60′ties specify cusenier in some cocktails where the triple-sec-ish-ness is supposed to shine through, and simply ‘triple sec’ in other recipies – i suppose that’s why that brand is still imported here. it makes sense: the cusinier will almost overpower the rhums in a mai tai, but does wonders in a margerita.

  15. Jay Jay says:

    You’ve certainly pipped my interest niels. I’ll be keeping an eye out for cusenier, it sounds interesting…

  16. Lestat Lestat says:

    Did you test with Gran Gala
    It’s an Italian Orange liqueur that is mighty tasty

  17. Vidiot Vidiot says:

    This is neat. I need to pick up a bottle of the Shrubb!

  18. Jay Jay says:

    Lestat – Gran Gala was indeed tested, you can read the review here.

  19. Drew Drew says:

    How did Senior curaçoa measure up? I always thought that it was the only original curaçoa left, so I was surprised that it was not mentioned.

  20. Jay Jay says:

    Drew – Senior was tested in the comparison, you can read my review of it here.

  21. The Margarita - America’s #1 Tequila Delivery Device | The Mixoloseum says:

    [...] yourself a favor and trade up that old Triple Sec for something better. Jay over at Oh Gosh! has a great write-up of bottlings. Continuing on with the ingredients, you absolutely must use fresh limes, and if [...]

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    [...] yourself a favor and trade up that old Triple Sec for something better. Jay over at Oh Gosh! has a great write-up of bottlings. Continuing on with the ingredients, you absolutely must use fresh limes, and if [...]

  23. Anthony Anthony says:

    Has anyone got experience with homemade curacao? I’ve heard GrandMa with equal parts 1:1 simple works pretty great… Any thought?

  24. Tim Tim says:

    I am looking for a orange liqueur the come in a bottle shaped like a women. Anybody know the name? My neighbor had it and I want to get it as a gift for somebody.

  25. Mixology Monday: Bourbon says:

    [...] you may remember this liqueur as Jay’s choice for “Best For Sipping Neat” in his exhaustive search for the best orange liqueurs.  It’s a personal favorite of mine…and the orange flavor seemed like it would be a [...]

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