What brands of orange liqueur to buy? What’s the difference between Cointreau, Grand Marnier and Triple Sec? Here’s what to know.
Need an orange flavored liqueur but not sure which one to buy? Got a cocktail recipe that calls for Cointreau or Triple Sec, but want to know the differences? Orange liqueur brands can be confusing: there are lots of options and terminology. Here’s what to know about the major types and which one to buy for your liquor collection!
Types of orange liqueur
There are several major types of orange liqueur that fall under two categories. Curaçaos is the original orange flavored liqueur invented in the 19th century by Dutch settlers on the island of Curaçao. The flavor is generally sweeter. Triple Sec is the more popular category in modern cocktails: it’s a dryer style of orange liqueur that includes Cointreau and Triple Sec. Here are the main orange liqueur brands and types you’ll run into in cocktail recipes, and the major differences in flavor.
What’s the best orange liqueur for a margarita? Cointreau: it has the most complex, smooth flavor that makes for a superior drink. Second choice: find a high quality Triple Sec.
Triple Sec (least expensive)
Triple Sec is a category for any clear dry orange-flavored liqueur, including Cointreau. But in most liquor stores, bottles labeled Triple Sec are lower in quality and more affordable than Cointreau. Triple sec has a straightforward flavor: it’s very citrusy, almost like an orange-infused vodka. The quality ranges based on the brand and price.
Triple Sec is inexpensive: a 375 ml bottle costs $7 to $10, and a 750 ml bottle costs $10 to $15. It’s used in classic cocktails like the Margarita and Sidecar. But go for Cointreau if you have the budget for it: it has the best flavor.
Cointreau is a clear, orange-flavored liqueur made from sweet and bitter peels. It is a type of Triple Sec and was introduced in the 1880’s in France. The flavor is balanced and complex, with a fragrant aroma and a smooth, clean finish.
Cointreau is mid-priced: a 350 ml bottle costs around $20 to $25, and a 750 ml bottle costs around $30 to 35. Use it for classic cocktails like the Margarita, Sidecar, White Lady and Cosmo: it’s a better pick flavor-wise vs Triple Sec.
Grand Marnier (most expensive)
Grand Marnier is a brand of French liqueurs, best known for its product Grand Marnier Cordon Rouge. This is a French orange liqueur that’s mixture of Triple Sec and Cognac, created in 1880. It’s considered a top shelf liquor and has a sophisticated, developed flavor.
Grand Marnier is the most expensive orange liqueur. A 375 ml bottle costs $15 to $20, and a 750 ml bottle costs $30 to $45. Drink it neat, or in high-end cocktails like the Cadillac Margarita.
Orange Curaçao is the original orange liqueur. It has a sweet, balanced orange flavor, but you can also buy it in a Dry Curaçao” style, which has a dryer finish. More common is actually Blue Curaçao, bright blue in color and used in drinks like the Blue Hawaii and Blue Lagoon. Don’t substitute Blue Curaçao for orange since it will alter the color of the drink.
Orange liqueur cocktails
Looking for cocktails to make with one of the options above? Scroll down to make a margarita using any orange liqueur, or browse from this list!
- Cointreau Cocktails All the greats, from the margarita to the Lemon Drop Martini.
- Grand Marnier Cocktails Swap in Grand Marnier for a high-end touch in these cocktails.
- 15 Best Margarita Recipes Try every flavor of margarita there is!
The best margarita recipe! Here’s how to make a classic margarita on the rocks with 3 simple ingredients: lime, Cointreau and tequila (no added sugar!).
- 1 1/2 ounces tequila blanco or reposado
- 1 ounce orange liqueur: Cointreau, Grand Marnier, or high quality Triple Sec or Orange Curacao*
- 3/4 ounce (1 1/2 tablespoons) fresh lime juice
- Kosher salt or flaky sea salt, for the rim
- For the garnish: Lime wedge
- Cut a notch in a lime wedge, then run the lime around the rim of a glass. Dip the edge of the rim into a plate of salt (or for a festive look, use our Margarita Salt).
- Place all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with 4 ice cubes and shake until cold.
- Strain the margarita into the glass with the salted rim. Fill the glass with ice and serve.
*Look for the highest quality Triple Sec or Orange Curacao you can find (go for a mid-priced or higher priced option). The best everyday option is Cointreau, which is used in many other cocktails. Or for a high-end option use Grand Marnier, a top shelf blend of Cognac and Triple Sec.
- Category: Drink
- Method: Shaken
- Cuisine: Cocktails
Keywords: Orange Liqueur
About the Authors
Sonja Overhiser is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best healthy cookbooks of 2018. She’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the food blog A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Sonja seeks to inspire adventurous eating to make the world a better place one bite at a time.
Alex Overhiser is an acclaimed food photographer and author based in Indianapolis. He’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the recipe website A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Alex is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best vegetarian cookbooks by Epicurious.