It's officially summer cocktail season, and that means margaritas. We've usually got a half-empty bottle or two of tequila lying around, but the orange liqueur tends to require a debit card commitment. On the street it's known as Triple Sec (translation = triple dry), or Curaçao (a variety of Caribbean bitter orange), depending on whom you ask. As there are a dizzying number of Triple Sec producers around the globe at just about every price point, it doesn't make choosing easier. But there's only one that claims to be the original: Combier, from France (1834), which back in the day was made by Jean-Baptiste Combier using orange peels from Haiti.
Great. So we need another French orange liqueur for a taste comparison. Grand Marnier (1880)? Not a level playing field, as it's cognac-based, hence the reason it's so robust and tasty, with all that barrel-aging. Cointreau (1849), now that's a fun taste-off. Add to the to mix that both Combier and Cointreau are distilled from sugar beets, with the resulting spirit steeped with orange peels. Bingo, we have a zero-sum tasting game.
Apparently, we picked a little too well. They're both clean, bright, and sweet with a solid, one-dimensional orange finish (translation: remarkably similar). Sure, on first whiff, Combier is a bit lighter, and Cointreau has a headier orange presence, but that's really fairly insignificant in the lime juice-saturated margarita game. Price doesn't help resolve the quandry, either, as they both clock in around $40 each. Fine. Both producers make a high end Cognac-based brand similar to Grand Marnier. And so, we move on to premium margaritas.
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Here, the two couldn't be more different. Cointreau Noir ($65) is oaky and complex, with a crystal-clear sweet orange flavor. Hence the reason it's so great in premium margaritas, with the really good tequila (it doesn't compete too much, yet adds more depth than your everyday orange liqueur). Royal Combier ($50) is spicy, equally complex, with a distinct bitterness that we really dig from those bitter oranges. Does that make it ideal in a margarita? Maybe, if you like a hint of bitterness with your citric acid. But we prefer Royal Combier straight up. Or drizzled over vanilla ice cream. Fresh off that Spiked Creamsicle Food Truck. Please.