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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?!
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.
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.
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.
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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