Orange liqueurs are a tasty essential for any bar, but there is a lot of confusion about the sweet, fruity liquor. Here is a breakdown of the differences between triple sec, cointreau, and grand-marnier.
What Is Triple Sec?
Triple sec is a type of strong, sweet, and colorless orange-flavored liqueur that is made from dried peels of bitter and sweet oranges. It can be consumed neat, on the rocks, or as an ingredient in any number of cocktails.
Triple sec refers more to the type of orange liqueur rather than the name of the brand. Some of the major brands are include Cointreau and Grand Mariner (a blend of triple sec and cognac).
Triple sec was first introduced in France as Curaçao triple sec, but that’s about the only part of the liqueur’s history that is agreed upon.
The origin of the name “Triple Sec” has been disputed since the 19th Century, with some experts attributing the name to a translation of the words “triple dry,” while others claim the name is a reference to the third evolution of French liqueur Cointreau’s recipe.
The invention of Triple Sec itself is even called into question with two companies claiming they first created the recipe at different times in the 19th Century.
According to the Combier distillery in Saumar, France, Triple Sec was first created by Jean-Baptiste Combier in the 1834, which is more than 40 years prior to a claim made by Cointreau, which first introduced a variation of the liqueur in 1875.
This combination of both bitter and sweet tastes make it a great addition to popular drinks such as sangria, margaritas, Long Island Iced Tea, and cosmopolitans.
The lower quality Triple Sec variations are often those mostly used as mixers, but some of the higher end types can be enjoyed neat or on the rocks.
What Is Cointreau?
Cointreau is one of the most famous triple sec brands, with the distillery behind the orange liqueur claiming to be the first to come up with the recipe, though as previously mentioned, this is disputed.
Though the Cointreau Distillery had some success in the years following its founding Angers, France, in 1849, it found its most successful venture with the creation of Cointreau Triple Sec in 1875. Made by blending sweet and bitter orange peels with pure alcohol from sugar beets, Cointreau had a recipe for success.
People often say that the imitation is the greatest form of flattery, and that couldn’t be more true for Cointreau in the years following the creation of its triple sec. With distilleries all over the world creating triple sec of their own, Cointreau wanted to separate its product from all of the substandard quality of its imitators and dropped “Triple Sec” from its name.
From that point forward, the liqueur would be known simply as Cointreau.
Cointreau is often described as having an intense, sweet, and clean orange taste that is considered much lighter than some of its competitors. The overall lightness of Cointreau makes it ideal for cocktails with lighter spirits like rum, gin, tequila, and vodka.
What Is Grand Marnier?
Grand Mariner is a French brand known mostly for its production of Grand Marnier Cordon Rouge, an orange-flavored liqueur that is similar to other triple secs, but also quite unique.
Unlike Cointreau and other trip secs, Grand Mariner is created by combining triple sec with cognac, and sugar. The combination of the cognac makes Grand Mariner heavier than its competitors.
Grand Mariner Cordon Rouge was first created in 1880 by Alexandre Marnier-Lapostolle, and gets its name from the red ribbon that hangs across the front of the bottle.
The distinctive look of the bottle – not to mention the great taste – quickly became popular with royal families all across the European continent, including King Edward II of England and Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria. But the popularity of the spirit wasn’t reserved for only royal and noble class of Europe, as Grand Marnier became popular with much of the European populace and abroad. Grand Marnier remains one of the most popular brands of triple sec even to this day.
Thanks to the presence of cognac, Grand Marnier is often considered to be heavier and sweeter than most of the other triple secs. Described as having a sweet orange oil flavor with hints of vanilla and oak tones, Grand Marnier offers consumers a rather complex and robust taste.
Because of its heaviness, Grand Marnier isn’t ideal for lighter cocktails such as the cosmopolitan, but it can still be enjoyed in other drinks or on its own, whether it’s neat or on the rocks.
Since Cointreau and Grand Marnier are both variations of a triple sec (and orange liqueur for that matter), you’ll often see people saying that two the styles can be interchanged for one another. That may be true, but here are a few things you should know first before you start making substitutions in your favorite cocktail calling for a triple sec.
How They Compare
Well, for starters, Cointreau and Grand Marnier are both triple secs, so they are both 40% ABV, flavored with orange peel, have been sweetened with natural sugars, and originate in France.
Upon a further look into the two famous triple sec brands, it becomes apparent that Grand Marnier is far sweeter than Cointreau, which can throw people off if they’re used to one over the other.
When compared to other (read: cheaper) brands of triple sec, Grand Marnier and Cointreau both contain more alcohol and are less sweet, which can make the two popular brands ideal for sipping on their own.
Can They Be Substituted For Each Other?
Grand Marnier and Cointreau can substituted for one another if an at-home bartender finds themselves in a tough spot, but there are some differences that should be noted.
If you find yourself in a situation where you need to use Cointreau instead of Grand Mariner, it would be wise to use more of the triple sec (maybe 1/8oz per ounce), to add some additional weight and sweetness to the cocktail.
If you find yourself in the opposite situation, try cutting back on the Grand Marnier in order to avoid an overly sweet and heavy cocktail. If possible, take a small taste of the cocktail and make adjustments where needed before serving.
Since triple sec refers to type of liqueur opposed to the brand, you can find different bottles for prices all over the spectrum. From cheap bottles like Juarez Triple Sec with a price tag of $4.49 per liter all the way to Grand Marnier Quintessence at $800 per 750ml bottle, there is a bottle for any budget.
Cointreau, on average, will cost around $32 for a 750ml bottle, $23 for a 375ml bottle, or $3 for a 50ml bottle, which could be a good method to use if someone wanted to test the flavor before committing to one of the larger bottles.
Grand Marnier, on average, will cost a little more than $32 for a 750ml bottle, $20 for a 375ml bottle, and $5 for a 50ml bottle. Like Cointreau, it wouldn’t hurt to start with the smallest size bottle to see if triple sec is right for you.
Whether you are drinking triple sec neat in a glass, on the rocks, or mixed with other spirits to craft the perfect cocktail, you’ll need to know a few recipes so you don’t make a fool out of yourself when mixing drinks.
Here are just a few of our favorite recipes.
Triple Sec Drinks
Margaritas are probably the best known cocktail to use triple sec, and they are super simple to make. A class margarita consists of 1 part lime juice to 1 part triple sec to 2 parts tequila shaken with ice and served in a salt-rimmed glass. You can add simple or agave syrup if you like a sweeter drink.
Another classic is the cosmopolitan. If you want to impress the biggest Sex and the City fans, trying mixing 1 part lime juice to 2 parts each triple sec and cranberry juice to 3 parts vodka.
Grand Marnier Drinks
Want to become the MVP when you host your next Sunday brunch? Try adding a dash of Grand Marnier to your mimosas to help it rise above the rest.
If mimosas aren’t your thing but you still enjoy a nice cocktail at brunch, try out this blood orange vesper martini that takes gin, vodka, Grand Marnier, and blood orange juice to create quite the experience.
Cointreau can easily upgrade your margarita, and is a great addition to a classic sidecar cocktail which features cognac and fresh lemon juice.
And finally there’s this seelbach recipe that includes cointreau, bourbon, bitters, and champagne that will certainly spruce up any social event. Plus, you’ll look like a master mixologist.
The Rest Is Up To You
Now that we know that triple sec is a type of alcohol and not necessarily a brand of alcohol, the different brands that make up the triple sec market, and ways to incorporate triple sec into our favorite drinks, we’re well on our way to getting the most out of the bold and flavorful orange liqueur.
Go out into the world and share what you’ve learned about triple sec and let people know that it is much more than a brand of booze, which it is not.