Sun-Drenched Orange: The Color of Cocktail SuccessSeptember 26, 2011 By: Robert Plotkin
In a country that passionately adores Margaritas, it was only a matter of time before the bright light of public scrutiny locked in on lowly triple sec. After all, where’s the sense in modifying a cocktail showcasing world-class tequila and handmade lime sour with a generic cordial produced using bulk alcohol and synthetic flavorings? While conventional triple sec still may have a place behind the bar, it doesn’t belong in classy cocktails prepared with top-shelf brands.
Bartenders and mixologists increasingly are coming to the same realization. In response, new and well-established orange liqueurs have seized the moment and snagged the spotlight. The influx is good news even beyond its impact on the country’s Margaritas. Orange modifiers are called for in more classic and contemporary cocktail recipes than any other type of liqueur.
Although new to the American market, Combier Liqueur d’Orange is a veritable fixture behind European bars. In addition to its brilliant and thoroughly engaging character, Combier is distinguished for being the first triple sec and the world’s oldest clear orange liqueur. The brand was created in Saumur, France in 1834. It’s triple-distilled in the original, 175-year-old copper alembic stills from the same blend of bitter orange peels from Haiti.
Comparing Combier with conventional triple sec is like comparing a Monet to a kid’s finger painting. The handcrafted gem features a satiny body, a wafting citrus nose and a vibrant, immaculately balanced palate. Its long-lasting finish is warm and citrusy, the perfect complement to a top-notch Margarita. The 80 proof liqueur retails for around $30 per 750 ml. Combier, welcome to the States.
Direct comparisons between Combier and Cointreau are inevitable. They’re similarly conceived products with shared character traits. Both liqueurs hail from the Loire Valley, and have served as the epitome of their class for the past 150 years. However, Combier and Cointreau are sufficiently distinctive and perform differently in cocktails. Each will have separate followings. Viva la difference!
Cointreau is made from a complex blend of sweet orange peels from Spain, France and Brazil combined with bitter, unripe orange peels from South America. The peels are macerated in alcohol before being double-distilled in one of the distillery’s 19 copper alembic stills, all of which were designed specifically to produce the 80 proof liqueur.
Orange You Glad…
Everything about Mandarine Napoléon Grand Liqueur Imperiale is enthralling. The liqueur is made in Brussels from tangerines grown on Sicily and the coast of Spain. The peels are macerated in fine spirits to capture their essence. That oil-infused alcohol is distilled with herbs, spices and botanicals before being aged in French oak barrels for two years. The spirits are blended with well-aged cognac, filtered and bottled at 40% alcohol by volume. The liqueur bathes the palate with a warm luxurious array of tangerine, spice, vanilla and brandy. Its persistence of flavor is one reason the elixir is a highly sought-after ingredient in cocktails.
Ultra-premium Solerno Blood Orange Liqueur is a remarkably refreshing break from convention. Imported from Sicily by Wm. Grant & Sons, the all-natural liqueur has the look of blood oranges and a spicy bittersweet palate tailor-made for use in cocktails. It’s produced in three small-batch distillations — first using only Sanguinello oranges, then the zest and outer peels and finally with Sicilian lemons. The resulting 80 proof liqueur is highly aromatic with luscious citrus notes and a lingering, tart/tangy finish. Solerno marches to a different beat and thank goodness it does.
Italian Gran Gala also is benefiting from the orange revival. The liqueur is a blend of V.S.O.P. brandy and the distilled essence of triple orange peels. It is then barrel-aged to ensure full integration. Gran Gala has a fresh citrus nose and an exuberant orange and lemon palate with warm brandy notes. The brand has secured a place on American backbars as an outstanding and reasonably priced modifier in top-shelf Margaritas.
Produced in the highlands of Jalisco, super-premium Citrónge Extra Fine Orange Liqueur also has generated widespread popularity for its role in modifying Margaritas. The liqueur’s flavor is derived from organic Jamaican orange peels and small bittersweet oranges from Haiti. Its focused citrus nose and spicy, zesty orange palate work well in cocktails.
Another high-end contender is Royal Combier, an alembic liqueur from Loire brimming with sophisticated charm. It’s a skillful blend of cognac, Combier triple sec and Elixir de Combier, a 19th century restorative compounded with aloe extracts, nutmeg, myrrh, cardamom, cinnamon and saffron. Royal Combier has a satiny lightweight body, a generous herbal and citrus nose and a long graceful finish. It’s exquisite both as a postprandial dram or showcased in a gourmet cocktail.
Grand Marnier Cuvee du Cent Cinquantenaire is one of the Grand Dames of the backbar. Introduced in 1977 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Marnier-Lapostolle, this magnificent liqueur is the company’s crowning achievement. It’s crafted with exceptionally old Grande Champagne cognacs ranging in age up to 50 years. The liqueur then is aged at least two more years in Limousin oak barrels in the Marnier-Lapostolle cognac cellars.
In 1927, the company celebrated its centenary with the release of Grand Marnier Cuvee du Centenaire. It is made on a base of Petite and Grande Champagne cognacs that have been aged a minimum of 25 years in Limousine oak barrels. To these exquisite brandies is added the distilled essence of wild Haitian orange peels. After blending the liqueur is further aged in oak casks.
With all due respect, triple sec has had a grand run. But time catches up to us all and perhaps it’s caught up with our pedestrian orange friend as well. With so much talent on the free agent market, why weaken your beverage line-up with a timeworn cordial? Keep moving or get out of the way.