Orange Liqueurs, Part I

I wrote a couple articles on orange liqueurs for another site, and I'm going to republish them here.

When many of us start acquiring a collection of liquor so that we can have a drink in the evening or offer guests a cocktail, mixers tend to stump us.  What mixers should I buy?  Does my liquor cabinet need to look like the bars that Tom Cruise works in Cocktail?

Fortunately a few basic mixers are called for in the majority of cocktails that you will want to shake up or stir, such as a daiquiri or a margarita or a cosmo.  This article will make you an expert on the most commonly found orange-flavored liqueurs that should be found in every home bar.

Triple SecTriple sec (which means distilled three times in French) is the most widely used orange-flavored liqueur, used for flavor and sweetness.  If you’ve drunk  a Between the Sheets, Cosmopolitan, Long Island Iced Tea, Margarita, or Sidecar,  you’ve tasted triple sec.

Triple sec was invented in 1834 by Jean-Baptiste Combier.  A Combier brand of triple sec is still made today, using oranges from Haiti that are distilled in 100-year-old copper stills.  Nineteenth-century bar guides sometimes called it “white curaçao”  (see below for more on curaçao liqueur).

All brands of triple sec are distilled from the dried peel of Caribbean oranges.  The higher-priced brands use brandy or cognac as a base.  Many brands are colorless, but some of the ones you will find have an orange color.

Today triple sec tends to be 60 proof (30% alcohol by volume).   The brands that you will find in your local liquor mart tend to be Bols, DeKuyper, and Hiram Walker.  Bols has a higher alcohol content, 42%, and sometimes is drunk straight up or on the rocks.

Triple sec has a decidedly OJ-like smell when you sniff it, and it tastes a bit like an orange gumdrop: very sweet and orangey, although not overpowering. The sweetness makes a big contribution to sweet drinks such as cosmos and margaritas.  If you are making a sweet dessert orange sauce, consider using triple sec to give your dessert a little unexpected kick.

Triple sec will run you under $10 a bottle and is a must-have for every liquor cabinet.

Curaçao and Blue CuraçaoCuraçao, in its blue version, is what makes that Smurf cocktail blue.  An orange-flavored liqueur like Triple Sec, curaçao is distilled from the laraha, a bitter citrus.  The laraha was developed from Valencial oranges on the island of Curaçao, off the Venezuelan coast.  Its fruit is so bitter as to be inedible, and only the dried peel is used.

Curaçao was first distilled by the Seniors, a Jewish family of Spanish and Portuguese descent.  The Senior brand is still sold today as the original curaçao.

After the peel is soaked with alcohol and water, spices are added.  Some manufacturers add other flavors, such as rum-raisin and chocolate, but the predominant flavor is orange.  Curaçao ranges from 40 to 80 proof (20 to 40% alcohol by volume).

Orange or green coloring is often added to curaçao, which is naturally colorless, but blue curaçao is probably best known.  Both blue and green curaçao are used to add color to mixed drinks, but all colors have basically the same flavor with just slight differences in bitterness.

The main manufacturers of triple sec also make curaçao: Bols, DeKuyper, and Hiram Walker.  You can also find higher-quality versions made by Marie Brizard and Bardinet.

Curaçao is sweet, similar to triple sec, but with a more mellow flavor.  Some brands have a very strong rubbing alcohol taste, like the orange-flavored cough medicine that you may have had poured down your throat as a child. Blue curacao, like the orange variety, has very little smell.  It has a slightly different taste from the orange, with not as much of the cough medicine flavor.

Orange curaçao can be used where triple sec is called for in a recipe.  Popular drinks made with the blue version include the Blue Hawaiian,  Blue Lagoon, Electric Lemonade, and Zombie.  Like triple sec, curaçao will run you around $10 a bottle.

Other Orange-Flavored MixersBesides Cointreau, Grand Marnier, and Mandarine Napoléon, higher-quality (and higher-priced) orange-flavored liqueurs that will be discussed in a follow-up article, a few other orange flavorings are worth investigating, although they aren’t must-haves for your liquor cabinet.

Torani Amer is a San Francisco–distilled aperitif with a bitter orange flavor and notes of gentian and cinchona.  It is a good substitute in recipes that call for Amer Picon, a French orange liqueur that is unavailable in the United States.  Torani Amer has become a popular ingredient in the cocktail revival of the last few years.

Orange bitters cannot be used as a substitute for triple sec or curaçao, but you can give a few dashes for a slight orange flavor in recipes where bitters are called for, like the Manhattan. You may have to order them over the Internet; I couldn't find them locally or even in a nearby, fairly well-stocked liquor mart.

Orange flower water is a very intensely orange-flavored clear liquid.  It is usually used in baking and is not a substitute for triple sec or curaçao, but a few drops will give a definite orange flavor to any drink.

And, of course, there is always fresh-squeezed orange juice (please don’t use the stuff from concentrate in your cocktails) or, better yet, blood orange juice.

If you are putting together a liquor collection for everyday use or buying an assortment for a special occasion, triple sec and curaçao are basic, inexpensive mixers that you will want to have on hand.

Parfait Amour Cocktails

I have a bottle of hardly touched Parfait Amour (Marie Brizard brand) in my liquor closet, so I thought I'd see what I can do with it.

You might have trouble finding Parfait Amour; I couldn't find it locally or even nearby locally, but I finally located a bottle in Indianapolis.  It's a deep purple liquid with a very sweet vanilla flavor.

The first cocktail I made with it is probably the classic PA drink, the Parfait Amour Cocktail--equal parts gin to PA with half a measure of maraschino liqueur.  This is very sweet, almost too much for me.  The flavor of the maraschino does manage to poke through.

I wondered how this would be with a little acidity, so for my second attempt I squeezed a half of a lemon, not quite squeezed dry, into it.  This made the drink into a sweet and sour concoction.  It was OK, a lot better that the no-lemon version.  Amaretto might make for an interesting stand-in for the maraschino.

The second drink I tried was the Jupiter Cocktail, which was one of the cocktails on my drink-a-day calendar 2 years ago when I started this blog.

This calls for 1 1/2 oz gin (I used Bombay), 1/2 oz dry vermouth, 1/4 oz PA, and 1/4 oz orange juice.  I don't tend to drink OJ and I didn't want to buy even a small bottle at the Kwikee Mart just for 1/4 oz.  I did have on hand some orange sherbet, so I spooned about a tablespoon into my shaker.  You just want the orange flavor, after all.  I also drizzled in a little more of the PA than the Internet Cocktail Database recipe calls for.

This tastes like a sweetened up martini.  The color isn't particularly attractive (sort of a greenish-brown); I can hardly imagine ordering it out.  It's an OK drink to try once, but unless you have a mixologist with a magic touch, it's not a drink that's going to win people over as a martini or mimosa replacement at brunch. 

I'm going to continue with a few more PA cocktails this week, some calling for yellow Chartreuse and pastis, and even egg white.  I'm girding my loins.

2008 Yali Sauvignon Blanc

This wine comes from Chile's central valley just a tad south of Santiago, specifically the Rapel Valley.  The Rapel River flows into the Pacific and is the confluence of the Cachapoal and Tinguiririca rivers, which divide the valley into two subregions:  the Colchagua Valley and the Cachapoal Valley.  You'll find these two valleys listed on wine labels more often nowadays than the more general Rapel Valley.  This area gets a lot of minerals that the various watercourses bring down from the Andes (no Incan treasure, I'm guessing).

This Sauvignon Blanc ran me in the $10 range, so a reasonable price for a Chilean SB.  The nose stood out more than a few that I've tried this summer.  I thought I detected a 'fruity' nose, and that's what the wine label says better schnozes than mine have whiffed.

The wine itself is a little more acidic (perhaps what the label means by 'crisp').  I thought I caught the famous SB asparagus in this one, but no great subtleties of flavors, a pretty average SB.  Not a bad summer or picnicking wine for the price.

More 1 on 1 Amaretto Mixed Drinks

This weekend I tried 3 more 1-on-1 combos using Amaretto; see my last post for the first 2 or 3 that used Scotch and bourbon.

The French Connection is brandy to amaretto, 2 to 1, shaken on ice, though stirring it would work just as well.  This one was a frog with no hope of ever becoming a prince.  The brandy overpowers the amaretto, and it's just a waste of good brandy (esp. when you use Hennessy Privilege).

The Zorba is Metaxa to amaretto, 2 to 1.  Metaxa is an interesting spirit from Greece if you're not familiar with it:  It's a mix of brandy and Muscat wine with various secret herbs and spices, including rose petals, bay leaf, and cinnamon.  I like Greek spirits (ouzo not so much).  I'm one of the 7 Americans not of Greek ancestry who like Retsina, especially with a piping hot Greek mixed meat platter.

The Zorba is way better than the French Connection.  It's pretty sweet, with the amaretto coming through more, but you also get a bite from the brandy.  Make sure the bartender takes out the bay leaf before he serves yours.

Last is what Internet Cocktail Database calls an Italian martini variation:  2 1/4 oz gin (I used Boodles) to 1/4 amaretto.  How do you dole out 1/4 oz, you ask?  Half a tablespoon.

This is better than I thought it would be.  You get just the right sweetness from the amaretto cutting the gin.  I'm vodka-less at the moment or I'd see how it works with that.  Amaretto is a surprisingly good substitute for the usual vermouth, though I think it's missing one ingredient that would make it a really standout drink.  Lemon curl?  Olive?  Try it sometime and see what you think.

2008 La Fortuna Sauvignon Blanc

This 2008 Chilean Sauvignon Blanc comes from the Lontue River valley in Curico in the middle of the country (both north-south and east-west).  This is the first SB I've had that's made from organically grapes; I think I picked it up at Whole Foods but forgot to jot down the price.

This bottle had more nose than the last 2 or 3 SBs that I've tried.  Generally herbally, no asparagus or cat pee jumped out at me.

The flavor was very nice.  Slightly more acidic than recent SBs but not overwhelming.  Very fruity; I think I finally caught the melon tones that so many tasting notes mention.

A gook choice for a summertime SB.  I liked it.

Amaretto Cocktails

I bought a bottle of Lazzaroni amaretto at the liquor mart the other day.  Lazzaroni is the one made by macerating amaretto cookies.  It looked interesting (and was cheaper than Di Saronno) so I figured it'd give it a swirl.

A quick review of three 2-part mixed drinks that I made with it.

The first is 2 to 1 Southern Comfort to amaretto, which Internet Cocktail Database calls a 'Sicilian Kiss'.  I like SC, but this was too overly sweet for me.  I was reaching for the insulin.  I'd drink an amaretto sour before I'd order or mix up one of these.

The next one is 1 1/2 oz bourbon (I used Jim Beam single barrel) to 1/2 amaretto, called either 'Boss' or 'The Godfather'.  In this one the bourbon overpowered the amaretto, which didn't come through very strongly.  A bourbon and branch would have been better.

Last, a variation on the Boss using blended Scotch; I pulled out Johnny Walker Black.  I'm not a big blended Scotch fan, but this wasn't bad:  the amaretto came through, and the sweetness took some of the edge off the Scotch.  I wouldn't order it out, but not a bad drink.

2005 Attitude Sauvignon Blanc

The last part of last week I was drinking a 2005 Attitude Sauvignon Blanc.  This $16 wine hails from the Pascal Jolivet vineyards in the Loire valley.  The label doesn't have any tasting notes on it, just, mainly, a URL.

For a 5-year-old (more or less) wine this didn't taste noticeably more distinguished from the younger SBs I've drunk.  The nose wasn't particularly fragrant.  My notes say just light and fruity.  There's no great subtlety of flavors.

Not an outstanding SB but drinkable, and I'm glad I caught it onsale at $12-something.

2008 La Florencia Sauvignon Blanc

I tried my first Sauvignon Blanc from Argentina, a 2008 vintage from La Florenzia.  Their vineyards are located pretty high up, 3,000+ feet, near Mendoza in the north-central part of the country. 

The label says that they pick the grapes in 18 kg cases (roughly a little under 40 lb), which they cold process and leave on the yeast lees after fermentation.

They claim the wine tastes of pink grapefruit and lime, which I didn't pick up.  My notes say I thought this was a little sweeter than many of the SBs that I've tried, and the acidity is just right.  I didn't think there was any great subtlety of flavor, but it's a nice summer wine for a BBQ or a picnic.  This SB runs in the $14 range.

And now for something completely different

I want to post occasionally on using liqueurs, not just wine and beer, in cooking, and in baking in particular since I like to bake (more so in the winter than this time of year).

I bought some very nice pie cherries at the farmers market Saturday morning.  After checking my options on Epicurious, I decided to make a cobbler.  This was a pretty standard cobbler recipe except that the dough was a little sweeter than I'm used to - calling for a half cup of sugar and some vanilla - and included corn meal with the white flour.

I hadn't pitted cherries in many a year, and remember why now.  It's a time-consuming, messy job, with juice going everywhere.  At least it washes out.  I have a pitter, but it's more suited to olives than the smaller red pie cherries.  It did the job though.

Besides the usual base of cherries, sugar, and corn starch, I decided to add some sliced almonds, about half a cup to 4 cups of cherries.  The recipe called for 6 cups of cherries, so I was a little short.  It also called for either amaretto or Frangelico.  Somehow I'm out of both; the amaretto would have gone well with the almonds.  If I'd had Frangelico on hand, I would have added filberts instead of almonds.

As a substitute, I added some Licor 43, which has a combination herbs and spices-vanilla flavor, and left out the vanilla from the cherry base.

To make a long blog short, the cobbler was good.  A little too much topping in proportion to the base, since I was short on the latter, but both were pretty tasty.  I took some over to my mom's, and she really liked it.  I'm not sure I could taste the Licor 43, but I'm sure it added to the great flavor.  I should add that the recipe also called for a small amount of allspice.  I wouldn't have thought of using allspice in a cherry dish, but it added a nice hint of spice.

Two Campari Variations on the Manhattan

The last couple days I tried a couple variations on the Manhattan that called for Campari.  (See my write-up from a while back of the Belle of Camille cocktail, which is a cousin to these.)

The first one from Internet Cocktail Database is called the Special Manhattan: 1 3/4 oz bourbon (I used Russell Reserve), 1/2 oz sweet vermouth, and 1/4 oz Campari.  When a recipe calls for 1/2 oz, I use a tablespoon; for 1/4 oz, half a tablespoon.

This wasn't bad, not overly sweet but the Campari didn't overwhelm it with bitterness either.  Not a shabby take on the classic Manhattan.

The next one is called a variation on the Special Manhattan: 1 3/4 oz rye (I used Russell rye), 3/4 oz sweet vermouth, and 2 dashes of Campari.  Now, how do you dash Campari?  Just in the last day or 2 I read that 6 dashes equal 1 teaspoon, I think it said.  Or maybe it was a tablespoon.  I guess I'd better find that again 'cause that's a big difference.  Anyway, I just drizzled in some Campari and called it a double dash.

This recipe wasn't nearly as good:  pretty bland and lacking in flavor all around.  If I'm going to order a Manhattan, I'll just stick with the classic bourbon, sweet vermouth and bitters, maybe a cherry if I'm feeling extravagant.