Today's orange liqueurs seem to fall into three categories when it comes to price: oddly dirt-cheap; moderately, but acceptably, elevated in price; and, finally, oddly expensive.
It may be tempting to simply grab a $5 bottle of triple sec and call off your search for a go-to orange liqueur, but, depending on your budget, you may be in the market for a product of much better quality and value. Here are three suggestions.
When to Buy a High-Quality Orange Liqueur
The way we observe the orange liqueur shelf, there are products geared toward high-volume use, where flavor and quality are less of a concern (your oddly cheap bottles); products that have a long and vaunted history and are known for using top-notch ingredients (your irkingly expensive stuff); and a small group of bottles, a few of them relative newcomers to the market, that offer fine quality at a price that's slightly beneath the upper echelon.
If your intent is to, say, blend up party-sized batches of frozen margaritas, in which the bittersweet orange notes of a nuanced orange liqueur might get lost, then there's no point in shelling out. A mixing-grade triple sec will deliver the sweetness and orange flavor you're after.
But for the classic cocktail recipes we've been featuring on The 9-Bottle Bar — such as the Pegu Club and XYZ Cocktail — you may want to sip on something that offers more complexity.
3 High-Quality Orange Liqueurs to Fit Your Budget
Pierre Ferrand Dry Orange Curaçao - $28 (750 mL)
Launched in January of 2012, this is a product from a well-known cognac producer that is based on historical curaçao recipes from the 19th century (hence the mentions of "ancienne méthode" on bottle's labels). The idea, hatched by cocktail historian David Wondrich and the proprietor of Cognac Pierre Ferrand, Alexandre Gabriel, was to create something that would mimic the stuff bartenders once used in the heyday of classic cocktails.
It's fresh and juicy on the nose, with just a slight alcohol tinge (it's 40 percent ABV), then warm, spicy, nutty, and mildly bittersweet on the palate.
Grand Marnier - $42 (1 L)
With a history that dates back to 1880, Grand Marnier is among the oldest surviving orange liqueurs on the market. It's made from a blend of aged French cognacs (the bottle is shaped like a cognac pot still), along with the bitter, aromatic, sun-dried peels of Caribbean-grown Seville oranges (what the French call Citrus bigaradia).
The result is golden-orange in color; heady and marmalade-rich in aroma; and complex and lingering in taste, with fruit and wood and caramel sweetness all swirling together. Grand Marnier lies much further down the sweetness spectrum than Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao.
Tip: If the price is too steep, consider seeking out a 375-mL half-bottle, usually priced around $23, to test the orange-colored waters.
Luxardo Triple Sec Triplum - $25 (75 mL)
This Italian-made triple sec is a another smart buy for the money. Its flavors derive from the mingling of three different citrus ingredients: bitter oranges from the island of Curaçao and sweet oranges and tangerines hailing from Sicily (some sources cite the third ingredient as mandarin orange, a close relative of the tangerine).
It exhibits a nice balance of bitterness and sweetness, with more bright, sharpened citrus flavors like lemon zest.
(Image credits: Roger Kamholz)