Triple Sec: do you know what’s in it?

I want to call your attention to something that gets overlooked often: triple sec. It’s a basic ingredient in many cocktails such as the margarita, cosmopolitan, sidecar and hundreds of others. Triple sec is used as a flavoring agent and to make your drinks taste a little sweeter. Unless you’re paying attention to the label or drinking at an upscale bar, the triple sec that you’re probably drinking is poorly made. In fact, most name brand triple secs are made from vodka, artificial orange flavor and fructose.

I know what you’re thinking: why spend 2 to 4x more? Considering that triple sec can make up to 20% of the ingredients in your glass, you’ll notice a big difference if you use the good stuff. And, if you’re going to the trouble of juicing fresh lemons and limes for your drinks (which you should be doing in my opinion), then you want natural ingredients in your triple sec.

My advice when making drinks at home is to leave the triple sec at the store and upgrade to a higher quality substitution: Cointreau, Grand Marnier or Harlequin.

Cointreau is considered a premium triple sec, which is made with the peels of bitter Caribbean and sweet Spanish and Brazilian oranges with neutral spirits, cane sugar, and water. It also has higher alcohol content (40%) than regular triple sec (15-40%).

Grand Marnier is similar to triple sec, but is considered an orange-infused cognac. It’s richer and more complex than triple sec due to the distillation and aging process.

Harlequin Orange Liqueur is similar to Grand Marnier in that it is made with cognac. In fact, I prefer Harlequin for mixed drinks because it is less expensive and the difference is difficult to distinguish in cocktails.

Cointreau is lighter in taste than orange-infused cognacs, so it is nice for drinks that need a lighter touch—like a lemon drop or cosmo. I usually use Harlequin or Grand Marnier when I am looking for a richer taste, like in a margarita. Experiment and try out other high-quality brands of triple sec and orange-infused cognacs. Because at the end of the day, it’s all about what tastes good to you. Let me know which brands that you like.

3 thoughts on “Triple Sec: do you know what’s in it?”

  1. Cointreau everywhere. It’s the only thing I use when triple sec is called for (although I do occasionally dabble in Grand Marnier). The price tag is a little painful but it’s well worth it.

  2. Triple sec (or triple dry) falls under the broader category of Curacao, which is produced by steeping the dried peels of Laraha Oranges (with other spices) in neutral grain spirit, then adding sugar to sweeten the liqueur and water to bring down the proof.

    Although Curacao was named after the island in which it is said to have been originally produced, it can be made anywhere in the world. However Curacao is often much sweeter then triple sec and comes in a wide array of different colors. That being said, my advice is to be careful when switching out products like Grand Marnier for triple sec because they are produced using different base spirits. This can change the profile of your cocktail dramatically, which is not always a good thing.

    Remember, just because it costs more doesn’t mean its the best ingredient to use. It is all about finding the right orange flavored liqueur for the the cocktail that you are trying to make!

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