Orange liqueur is often mistreated by professional and home bartenders alike. Often when people think of this cordial, they immediately think of the cheap triple sec of $1 margarita specials from their college days. Orange Liqueur has a bad reputation similar to vermouth—it’s not going to be good anyway, so you might as well spend as little as possible when you’re shopping for one.
Luckily for cocktails and drinkers everywhere, the myth that no orange liqueur is worth the money is just that—a myth. While there are certainly cheap, low-quality bottles on the market, there are also plenty of brands that will greatly improve the flavor of your margaritas, sidecars, and any other cocktail you love!
Grand Marnier is one of the most popular orange liqueurs in the world. While the version we think of as Grand Marnier today was first created in 1880 in France, the first distillery was opened in 1827.
This liqueur is a blend of cognac and and bitter-orange making it much richer and denser than a triple sec or dry curaçao. It also sits at 40% ABV, making this bottle much closer to acting as a spirit than a modifier. Because Grand Marnier has more sugar and is much thicker than other orange liqueurs, when adding it to certain cocktails (such as sidecars and margaritas) be prepared to adjust sugar and acid levels accordingly.
Cointreau is one of the oldest orange liqueurs in production, winning its first spirit award in 1857. The modern version of Cointreau was released in 1885 and immediately became wildly popular because it was much less sweet and more concentrated than other brands available at the time.
Cointreau uses a mix of fresh and dried orange peels to create their signature flavor. Cointreau is the signature liqueur in a cosmopolitan and is the favored bottle for a traditional margarita. This liqueur is ideal for any citrusy cocktails that use a lighter spirit such as vodka, tequila, or gin.
Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao
While the Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao is also blended with cognac, it isn’t nearly as rich or viscous as Grand Marnier. Based on the traditional method of making French triple sec, this dry curaçao is triple distilled with spices, bitters, orange peels, and a blend of Pierre Ferrand Cognac and brandy.
Pierre Ferrand Curaçao is more bitter and leans heavier into bitter orange peel and dried spice flavors than other bottles. This creates a complex curaçao that is especially suited for complex tiki drinks such as the Mai Tai. Less sweet, more zesty, and more bitter, this orange liqueur is my recommendation for the ultimate bottle to keep at home for a wide range of drinks.