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What is triple sec? and why are there squeeze bottles of sugar on the supermarket shelfs?
When we hear the name triple sec, it generally refers to an orange flavored liqueur, but before we get into it, let’s back up and get a bit of history under our belts.
Orange liqueurs were first on the sein sometime in the late 19th century when Dutch settlers came to an island named curaçao and started to produce liquor steeped with the fruits previously planted by the Spanish conquistadors. The fruits known as curaçaos are dwarf oranges. The Dutch settlers would use a beat-sugar based spirit and steep dried peels in the liquid for several days, then distill the solution in copper pot stills three times to create only the purest flavors. Pierre Ferrand is a current producer of dry curaçao, and a brand that I would highly recommend to getting to put on your back bar at home. The brand teamed up with Dave Wondrich and Alexander Gabriel to creature the long lost orange liqueur that started it all. The orange flavor has a greater complexity to it being accompanied by spices, roses, and orange of course. Dry curaçao is specifically called for in many popular tiki cocktails and does lend a certain twang to these drinks that’s not easily imitated.
Next up we must talk about Cointreau. This spirit brand is synonymies with the “tripe sec” style. Although there is much debate over the name “triple sec”. Because “sec” in French means “Dry” or to distill, some say the name means triple distill, (although it doesn’t apply to this preparation) others think it refers to the third iteration and final recipe of Cointreau itself. Whatever the case Cointreau was first sold in 1875 and uses a mixture of sweet and bitter orange peels steeped in beet-sugar alcohol and bottled at 40% ABV or full proof. It is colorless but packs a great punch, and I would recommend you get this bottle for any cocktail that calls for “triple sec” it’s the crux in a margarita and it will set your lemon drops off and blow the cocks of you and your guest. You probably won’t be able to pick up on the orange notes in a cocktail, but you will most definitely know if it’s not there. Whenever you see a recipe that calls for triple sec, use Cointreau instead
Coming up next is Grand Marnier. This orange liqueur was released in 1880, bottled at 40 %ABV and also from France. The biggest difference from Cointreau is that Grand Marnier is cognac based, giving it a fuller body and more complexity in its flavors. The brand recommends that you sip on their spirit neat, and you could absolutely do that, with the rich colors of aged spirits and the sweet orange flavor it more certainly is an after-dinner sipper, however it is called for in come cocktails such as a Cadillac margarita, or a B52 shot. You could swop out the triple in other cocktails to give this spirit a try. I would recon that with the robust flavor of the cognac this might upstage the other flavors that are in the drink.
We should also talk about the bottles of liquor you see on the bottom shelf of the liquor store, the ones called triple sec, or blue curaçao. These are less expensive versions of the products listed above and are usually way lower ABV usually around 11%-15% the extra sugar in them is used to mask some of abrasive flavors you get from using cheaply distilled spirits. Now they do have their place and obviously people buy them or else they wouldn’t be there. We use Arrow triple sec in the bar for our well, and while it has a decent orange flavor it is so overbearingly sweet that we have to modify our sugar ratios accordingly. And if you’re after a AMF (this is a blue version of a long island pretty much) you’ll have to get a bottle of that artificially blue curaçao. I would suspect however if you’re reading this blog, you probably will skip that drink. Now I have seen a sugar called triple sec in the supermarket stores. I have yet to try it, but my best guess is that it’s just orange based sugar, and If you’re going that route just go by the cheap triple secs in the liquor store, they’ll keep longer singe they have alcohol in them.
With all that, I would get a bottle of both dry curaçao, and Cointreau to keep on your backbar at home.