Liqueurs Mixology

A Guide to Orange Liqueurs

CointreauI'm fascinated with orange liqueurs. Whether it's triple sec or curaçao, dry or sweet, orange or blue, I love the stuff. Not to drink on its own — I've never really cared for that — but for use in cocktails. Orange liqueur is one of the most important cocktail ingredients, adding depth and flavor to so many great drinks. (Two of my favorites are the Mai Tai and the Margarita.)

I've been meaning for some time to do a comprehensive write-up of orange liqueurs, but there's a lot of work involved and I haven't gotten around to it yet. In the meantime, though, Michael Dietsch at Serious Eats has put together a very useful primer on the subject.

Dietsch does a good job of defining the different types of orange liqueur, although in practice the terms are so misused that it's often hard to tell what is what. In short:

  • Orange liqueur is any sweetened distilled spirit with orange flavoring added. This includes curaçao, triple sec and other varieties.
  • Curaçao is a liqueur made with a base of brandy that is sweetened and flavored with orange. It was originally a liqueur produced on the island of Curaçao, made from brandy and flavored with the dried peels of Curaçao (Laraha) oranges. There is still one company, Senior, that produces curaçao in this fashion.
  • Triple sec is a liqueur made with a base of neutral spirit (essentially vodka) that is sweetened and flavored with orange. The "sec" in this case is the French word for "dry," since originally triple sec was less sweet than curaçao.

Grand_marnierDietsch includes a lot more detail and history, which is definitely worth reading. And yes, the subject gets confusing, especially as there are no regulations on the use of the different terms. So distillers can call their product "triple sec" or "curaçao" without regard to how it's actually produced or what it contains.

The bulk of the article is a look at several different brands of orange liqueurs, with brief critiques of each. I agree with most of what he wrote, and it's something you'll want to review before making your next trip to the liquor store.

The two most important names in orange liqueurs are the two that most people already know: Cointreau and Grand Marnier. These are two of the most expensive liqueurs you're likely to buy, but in this case you really get what you pay for. Their quality may not be unmatched, but it's certainly unsurpassed. (However, if you're like me and hate paying for the good stuff, Dietsch suggests some alternatives.)

As for the answer to the question that is so often asked: Grand Marnier is curaçao and Cointreau is triple sec.

Now go make a Mai Tai. Or Margarita. Or Cosmo. Or Sidecar. Or Kamikaze. Or White Lady. Or Pegu Club. Or Derby. Or…

Drink Recipes History Rum

Cohasset Punch: Chicago’s Own Cocktail

Cohasset is a small town on the coast of Massachusetts, not far from Boston. It can fairly be described as tiny, barely mustering a population of 7500 souls. So how did it come to be the namesake of one of Chicago's signature cocktails?

According to Eric Felten, the drink was created for Victorian-era actor William H. Crane by a Chicago bartender named Gus Williams. Crane was a very successful comedian and would throw lavish parties at his summer house in Cohasset. One year he brought Williams along with him to mix drinks, and it was there that he invented Cohasset Punch.

Williams brought the cocktail back to Chicago with him and began serving it in his bar on Lake Street. It caught on with customers and became one of the town's most popular tipples, a status it maintained until at least the mid-20th century.

CohassetSavvy businessman that he was, Williams kept the recipe secret. When he retired, he sold it to the owners of the Lardner Brothers saloon on West Madison Street. There the cocktail proved so popular that they billed themselves as "Home of Cohasset Punch" and even sold it in bottled form.

Admittedly, it doesn't sound like a delicious concoction. It's a mixture of rum, vermouth and lemon juice, sweetened with the syrup from a can of peaches. (Here's a recipe, circa 1917, from Tom Bullock's The Ideal Bartender. So much for keeping it a secret.)

In 1936, the Chicago Daily Tribune described it as "harmless looking, pleasant tasting." Not exactly a ringing endorsement, although it apparently had plenty of fans. I didn't mix any up to try — I'm not a fan of canned peaches, so we didn't have any in the house — but Felten did and he pronounced the end result "not bad" but "bland."

Through experimentation, he discovered that the drink was improved by reducing the amount of Vermouth and adding a touch of Grand Marnier, the Cognac-based orange liqueur. Here is his recipe:


Cohasset Punch
Courtesy of Eric Felten 

1 1/2 oz Dark Rum
1 oz Sweet Vermouth
Juice of 1/2 Lemon
1/2 oz Syrup from Canned Peaches
1/2 oz Grand Marnier
2 Dashes Orange Bitters

Start by putting half a canned peach in the bottom of a saucer champagne glass; then half-fill the glass with shaved ice. Put all the liquid ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake and strain into the glass.


Recently, Professor Cocktail's Chicago Correspondent, Bob Montgomery, paid a visit to The Drawing Room, one of the city's finer eating and drinking establishments. He discovered there on the menu a drink he knew I'd be interested in: Cohasset Punch #2.

Created by bartender Mathias Simonis (from Distil in Milwaukee), Cohasset Punch #2 is an updated — improved, I'd say — version of the original drink. Simonis' version still has rum, vermouth and lemon juice, but replaces the canned peach syrup with cinnamon syrup, a change that works very well. (You can see Mathias' recipe and watch a video of him making one here.)

Inspired by his creation, I did some tinkering on my own, playing around with it to find what would best suit my palate. Here's what I came up with:


Cohasset Punch #2

2 oz Pyrat XO Rum
1 oz Sweet Vermouth
3/4 oz Fresh Lemon Juice
3/4 oz Cinnamon Syrup

Shake with ice, then strain into a rocks glass filled with crushed ice. Garnish with a lemon twist.



It's a very tasty drink. Big thanks to Mathias and The Drawing Room!

Note: The reason I recommend using Pyrat XO Rum for this cocktail is because Pyrat is a dark rum with pronounced orange accents. You can substitute a different high quality dark rum, but in that case I'd advise adding some orange bitters to the mix. The orange flavor really helps bring it all together. For the Cinnamon Syrup, I used the Sonoma Syrup brand. They make excellent products, and I highly recommend them.