With the surge of cocktail culture has come a tremendous adoption of unique and interesting ingredients to help push the envelope on flavor and balance in drink mixing. While this can lead to all sorts of exciting outcomes in the best bars around the country, the challenge for the everyday drinker has been magnified. For one, many of these ingredients can read as foreign and confusing as learning another language; orgeat and cynar sound more like monsters than they do cocktail ingredients. But even worse, once we become accustomed and even learn to love them, buying a full bottle can seem a bit daunting. But don’t worry, we’ve got you covered with our new series, highlighting our favorites and squashing the misconceptions. It’s time to introduce, The Modifiers…
The irony of orange liqueur, as it relates to being a key member of the Modifiers, is that you probably have a bottle of the stuff somewhere in your liquor collection as you read this. There is also a pretty high chance that the bottle in question is a $12 bottle of triple sec. You know, the one you bought in preparation for mass margarita consumption for last year’s Cinco De Mayo blowout. No shame my friends, you are not alone.
But orange liqueurs can and should play a much larger role in your cocktail creation and you’d be surprised what a little investment in quality will do for you. First and foremost, a bit of semantics: The orange liqueur family can be broken down into two common descriptors. A curaçao which, yes, historically originated on the Island of Curaçao, typically includes brandy as a base spirit. On the other hand, a Triple Sec (actually a descriptor, not just the shitty $12 bottle) is typically made with a neutral spirit as the base and historically was marketed as a dryer (hence the sec) alternative to curaçao. At the end of the day, you don’t need to care too much because I’m going to make this simple.
You need two bottles of orange liqueur, and two bottles only. For adding that citrusy sweetness to your favorite margarita, I’ve honestly had no better luck than with Cointreau. I know it’s a safe pick, but why mess with a good thing. It’s surprising how easy it is to make a shitty margarita so no need to tax yourself even further by starting with mediocre ingredients. I know it’s hard not to be tempted by that cheap-ass Triple Sec, but trust me, leave that crap on the bottom shelf. For your second selection, find yourself a bottle of Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao and get to mixing. This is one of my favorites for it’s color and mixability with aged spirits. It’s a bit spicier than the Cointreau and it’s dryness is a perfect compliment to shake up your classic Manhattan or even a Dark and Stormy.
There are many more brands on the market and more and more pop-up each day it seems so if you get into mixing with orange liqueurs feel free to test and share your own experiences. But as a necessity in your list of Modifiers, you can’t go wrong with the two above. Happy Mixing!