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Important Liqueurs: Cointreau

March 26, 2010

Last month I thought it was a good idea to start writing about a few important liqueurs.  Now, as the weather is starting to warm up, and people are starting to think about spring and summer, there is no better time to talk about one of the hardest working liqueurs in the business, Cointreau.

There is no better time because people will soon be heading to beaches.  And where there are beaches there are margaritas.  And sadly Cointreau will be absent in far too many of those drinks as lazy bartenders throw together tequila and some gussied up sour mix.  Stay tuned for a post dedicated to the margarita in the near future.

But this liqueur is not being featured because of its necessity in America’s favorite cocktails (Cointreau plays a key role in the ubiquitous cosmopolitan as well).  Rather, it is at the top of its class and is an amazingly versatile ingredient for both classic and modern cocktails.

Cointreau is technically a curaçao.  Michael Jackson, the author of the Simon & Schuster Pocket Bartender’s Guide (1987), has this to say on curaçao:

25-40% ABV The only generic orange liqueur.  All the others are proprietary brands. Curaçao is made in several different degrees of dryness, the best known of which is triple sec, made with distinction by the French house of Cointreau…Although curaçao appears in a variety of colors, these strange hues have nothing to do with its taste, and merely serve a splendidly decorative purpose.

Cointreau is also a person. Adolphe Cointreau is long dead, but he and his brother set up the distillery in France.  It was the next generation of Cointreaus, also long dead, that eventually came up with formulation of sweet and bitter orange peels that we enjoy today.

But how does it taste?  Well, for that we head over to my spirit guide F. Paul Pacult who has this to say in his amazingly lurid work, Kindred Spirits:

Clear in color, very pure; the crisp, acidic bouquet is all about orange peel and nothing else from start to finish—this seductively simple nose has no flash, no dash, yet it is exotic in its acute presentation of freshly cut oranges—this is a no-holds-barred aroma that lays it right on the line saying, “I am orange peel, and you are not”; the mildly bitter flavor reflects the nose, as the opulent, but remarkably fresh, taste of orange peel leaves no room for any other flavor, except maybe a faint hint of spice at the very end of the mid-palate; the finish is, you guessed it, orange; one of the great cocktail components, especially in the making of dynamite margaritas.
4* Highly Recommended

No home liquor cabinet should be without at least a small bottle of this liqueur.  Since it is typically used by the spoonful, a 375ml bottle will last a long long time.

I just tested two bottles back to back.  One bottle was just opened this evening for the occasion.  The second bottle, well, that has been around for a while.  I can’t say exactly when it came into the house, but it has certainly been with me for at least six months, likely longer, and possibly much longer.

What was striking about this Pepsi Challenge was that the older bottle actually had a much more pronounced orange aroma and flavor out of the gate.  However, after allowing the new bottle several minutes of aeration, it began to match the aromatic intensity of its elder cousin.

So the conclusion of this is, don’t worry about buying a small bottle of Cointreau and keeping it around for a while.  It will not wither.

And when you get it and bring it home, you can make yourself a Pegu Club cocktail, which is one of my favorites.

But if you don’t have limes, don’t worry.  As I mentioned before Cointreau is very versatile.  If you think of it as an aromatic substitute for simple syrup, and use it to add sweetness to balance out acidity, you will be inventing cocktails in no time.

I’ll just make one up off the top of my head:
2 ounces of gin, 1 ounce of passion fruit puree, dash of orange bitters and a tablespoon of Cointreau, shaken over ice and strained into a chilled cocktail glass.

You need something strong, something tart, something aromatic, and something sweet.  If you want to get all fancy, you can start messing around with rimming the glasses and adding garnish.  But getting the proportions right is all about judgment and taste.  So take a taste of what you created, and adjust accordingly.  Easy peasy.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. maltnsmoke permalink
    March 26, 2010 9:14 am

    Summer’s coming and soon the outdoor refrigerator will be stocked with Newman’s Own Virgin Limeade. It’s made with water, real sugar, lime juice concentrate, lemon pulp and lime oil. I’m a little fussy about limes, but carting, cutting and squeezing twenty-five of them to make a round of drinks is not my idea of time well spent when the sun is shining.

    Fortunately, the outdoor freezer is stocked year round with Tequila and Cointreau.

    So, take a chilled glass, add ice, a squeeze of lime, an unhealthy dose of Tequila and a bit of Cointreau. If you’ve taken adequate care, there will be some room left for the limeade. Stir or shake as you see fit. Salt lovers refer to the FLB’s prior post on Rimming. I call it the Cheetareeta and it gets you back the the pool before sundown. Advanced users can pull out their pitchers.

  2. Jennifer permalink
    March 26, 2010 10:28 am

    You had me at passion fruit puree.

  3. March 28, 2010 8:50 pm

    Cointreau…never, ever, ever triple sec. I sometimes have servers repeat back my order to me to make sure I get Cointreau and not that vile triple sec.

  4. maltnsmoke permalink
    July 17, 2010 12:30 pm

    If you’ll permit, a follow-up to the post above:

    The heat was on and the time had come to replenish my summer booze stock; my Cointreau was gone.

    It has been a while since I’ve gone Cointreau shopping. Either the price has gone way up or my priorities have undergone some kind of realighnment, but $40.00 for a liter of a liqueur that I will not be sipping neat just did not seem right.

    My research has led me to an acceptable alternative. Patrón has a product called Citrónge, which I found for about $15.00 in the 750 ml size at BJ’s. After chilling a bottle in the refrigerator, I poured a bit into a small cordial glass. The first deep whiff was vaguely medicinal, then cough syrupy. Subsequent whiffs were pure alcohol astringency. Then there was a pronounced softening. The taste was not an intense orange, but more of a mellow orange zest, accompanied by the slight heat of a nondescript brandy and not much in the way of sweetness (a plus for me). Not awesome, but as I said, I’m not one to sit around sipping orange liqueur. Also, to be fair, I’ve never really scrutinized Cointreau in this fashion.

    In a Margarita, the Citrónge worked well, with the orange flavor punching through just enough, complementing the lime and tequila.

    Perhaps I’ll be able to do a side by side comparison one day. Cointreau may still be king, but then it commands a king’s ransome.

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