Triple sec is the unsung hero in many classic cocktails, including the Margarita. It’s a sweet, orange-flavored, clear liqueur that brings a citrus punch to the mix, offsetting notes of spice, earthiness, or smoke that the other spirits provide. There are some higher-end expressions available, as well as cheaper versions that you can find in any liquor store. You can also try substituting an orange liqueur made from cognac, rum, or neutral spirit base to open up a new world of flavors in your drink. Here are some of the best triple secs and orange liqueurs to drink now, with a little insight from bar industry experts.
Best Overall: Cointreau Liqueur
Region: France | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Orange, Vanilla, Lemon
“Growing up in Mexico, I wasn't a huge fan of triple sec,” says Katsumi Yuso Ruiz, bartender and co-owner of Curio Bar, Roger's Liquid Oasis and Brass Tacks in Denver. “I really thought it ruined Margaritas, but Cointreau definitely changed my mind and now I use it for my home margs.” “I love the bright orange and soft floral notes,” agrees Jess Weinstein, beverage director for Maydan and Compass Rose.
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Best French: Combier L'Original Liqueur d'Orange
Region: France | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Bittersweet, Citrus, Orange
“Combier was the first triple sec ever made,” says Carlos Lopez, bar manager at Stiltsville Fish Bar in Miami Beach. “Enough said.” The recipe was created back in 1834 by Jean-Baptiste and Josephine Combier in Saumur, France. This liqueur is fantastic in a Margarita, playing well with the earthy agave notes from the tequila and the sour tinge of the lime.
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Best Value: Dekuyper Triple Sec Liqueur
Region: The Netherlands | ABV: 24% | Tasting Notes: Sweet, Orange, Lime
DeKuyper makes a wide range of inexpensive schnapps and liqueurs, including this triple sec. This is a classic for a reason—it’s sweet but not overly so, and provides just the right amount of citrus flavor for any cocktail, from a Margarita to a Cosmopolitan. And it’s available everywhere. If you’re looking for something dependable but not fancy, this is the way to go.
“The most important thing to look for in an orange liqueur is the perfect balance between orange aroma and sweetness,” says Emanuele Balestra, area bars director at Le Majestic Hotel and Le Gray d’Albion in Cannes. Additionally, paying attention to raw materials is key. “When choosing an orange liqueur, the first thing I look for is the quality of ingredients,” says King. “Curacao oranges can be an essential aspect of a truly quality orange liqueur, but the base spirit may, in fact, hold equal weight.” King recommends looking for orange liqueurs with a cognac or brandy base, which often provide “gorgeous character and depth of flavor.”
Best for Cosmopolitan: Bols Triple Sec 30 Proof
Region: The Netherlands | ABV: 21% | Tasting Notes: Orange, Grapefruit, Honey
Bols is another Dutch company behind an inexpensive and dependable triple sec, one that is perfect for making a Cosmopolitan. The liqueur is flavored with Curacao orange peel along with a variety of botanicals, infusing it with a complexity that is unique for something at this price point.
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Best Craft: Solerno Blood Orange Liqueur
Region: Sicily, Italy | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Candied citrus, blood orange rind, white flowers
Produced and bottled on the island of Sicily, this extremely pleasant orange liqueur is crafted using three small-batch distillations in copper stills. The liqueur is made without any added coloring or corn syrup, as its source of sweetness comes from natural sucrose from sugar beets. Expect flavors of candied citrus, blood orange rind, and a touch of white flowers to lead to a prominent finish. Perfect for solo sipping or Italian-inspired cocktail creations.
Rob Krueger of BAR CHRYSTIE explains that the best orange liqueurs have a good spirit base, and preferably a backbone of around 40% ABV. “From there, you want the liqueur to offer some more complexity, which could be in a few different directions,” he says, citing robust aromatics, tropical spices, or herbal additions. “But remember you can't do it without enough sugar in the equation. It's not orange vodka!” he exclaims.
Best for Sidecar: Rhum Clement Créole Shrubb D'Orange Liqueur
Region: Martinique | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Bitter Orange, Spice, Caramel
“I love Rhum Clement Creole Shrubb,” says Javelle Taft, bartender at Death & Co. in New York City. “The sugarcane-based rum orange liqueur is esoteric. It reminds me of calamansi, the Philippine fruit hybrid. Creole Shrubb has a pungent, bitter orange flavor up front with a bright lime zest finish. It’s versatile enough to use in a Mai Tai but saccharine enough to slip into a Sidecar too.”
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Best Splurge: Grand Marnier Cuvee Louis Alexander
Region: France | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Orange zest, bergamot, herbal tea
Danilo Božović, Author of Barkeep:The Art of Mixology, Bar & Cocktails explains that when deciding which orange liqueur to use in a cocktail creation, it all comes down to how sweet the liqueur is (as well as how its aromas work in the cocktail). Božović reveals that his current go-to splurge is Grand Marnier’s Cuvée Louis Alexandre. Like its entry-level (and very recognizable) counterpart, Grand Marnier, this exclusive cuvée is crafted using a precise selection of VSOP Cognacs from Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, Borderies, Fins Bois, and Bons Bois, along with liqueur d’orange aged in oak casks in Bourg-Charente. Dominant flavors include orange zest, bergamot, and a hint of herbal tea.
Krueger agrees. “You cannot beat the upper marks of Grand Marnier. As they go up in price, they get drier, bolder, and more complex,” he says. At Bar Chrystie, Krueger uses Grand Marnier Cuvée Louis Alexandre in the Champagne Boilermaker—a Champagne cocktail that incorporates dropping a chilled shot of the liqueur into a fizzing and frothing glass of Veuve Clicquot with 24k gold and Angostura Bitters.
Best for Tropical Cocktails: Senior Orange Curacao
Region: Curacao, Antilles | ABV: 31% | Tasting Notes: Candied orange peel, orange marmalade
Looking to add a burst of color (and flavor) to your tropical drinks without breaking the bank? Then Senior Orange Curacao is for you. Crafted using Laraha orange peels in the heart of the Antilles, this budget-friendly liqueur jumps with flavors of candied orange peel and orange marmalade.
“At the moment, my favorite cocktail with orange liqueur is the twist on the El Presidente that I created for my menu at Swizzle Rum Bar & Drinkery,” says Božović, whose go-to orange liqueur for tropical cocktails is Senior Orange Curaçao. “The El Presidente is not only a classic cocktail, it is also very delicious but hard to execute,” he says. After much testing and tasting, his final recipe comprises 1 1⁄2 oz. Brugal 1888 Rum, 3/4 oz. blanc vermouth, 1⁄2 oz. dry curacao, 1⁄2 oz. pomegranate molasses, and three dashes of Angostura bitters.
Best Upgrade: DeKuyper 03 Premium Orange Liqueur
Region: Schiedam, Netherlands | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Orange, lemon, exotic fruits
For an instant level up to your usual DeKuyper purchase, grab a bottle of this Premium Orange Liqueur. Produced from the pulp, juice, and rinds of Brazilian Pera oranges, this flavorful liqueur shows flavors of orange, lemon, and exotic fruits. Although this liqueur errs on the sweeter side of things, the beverage still remains balanced, smooth, and undeniably refreshing. We recommend using in cocktail creations at home, though a simple solo sip promises to satisfy your craving for something tangy and sweet.
Best for Sipping: Grand Marnier Cordon Rouge
Region: France | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Orange Peel, Spice, Vanilla
“If we're talking about orange-flavored liqueurs, then Grand Marnier is excellent,” says Nestor Marchand, director of food and beverage at Plunge Beach Resort in Lauderdale-By-The-Sea, FL. “Made with a blend of cognac, distilled essence of bitter orange, and sugar, Grand Marnier is by far the best you can get.”
Best for Cocktail Creations: Luxardo Triplum Orange Dry Triple Sec
Region: Padova, Italy | ABV: 39% | Tasting notes: Citrus, zagara
“For a more cost effective, ‘bartender’s bestie’ option, at Brother Wolf, we use Luxardo Triplum Triple Sec,” reveals Jessica King of Brother Wolf in Knoxville, TN. Crafted in Italy, the triple sec is made with curaçao oranges, combined with two other orange varieties, and distilled again. King cites a bouquet of herbs that includes pennyroyal and orange flower. “This sec is priced for mixing and sharing,” she says.
Orange liqueurs are ideal for solo sipping and mixing into cocktails, and at the end of the day, it comes down to personal preference. Well known brands like Grand Marnier, Cointreau, and Combier tend to be relatively easy to find, though going the extra step to seek out more craft options like Pierre Ferrand and Solerno promise to please. For simple cocktail mixers, DeKuyper and Bols are reliable options.
What to Look For
When it comes to finding an orange liqueur, look for something balanced, refreshing, and made with all-natural ingredients. Be sure to also consider the base spirit of the orange liqueur (cognac, brandy, etc.) as this can also play a major role in the liqueur’s final flavor profile.
What's the difference between triple sec, orange liqueur, and orange curacao?
Triple sec and orange curacao are both orange-flavored liqueurs. While triple secs are generally clear, curacao can span a variety of hues. Contrary to popular belief, the term curacao on a label does not designate that the product is from that island. In short, all orange liqueurs are alcoholic beverages that are sweetened with orange flavoring.
What's the alcohol content?
Orange liqueurs tend to clock in between 30% and 40% ABV mark.
Can you drink triple sec or orange liqueur on its own?
Yes. While entry-level versions are recommended to be used as mixers, higher-end expressions are more than suitable for solo sipping.
What's the best spirit to mix with triple sec / orange liqueur?
There is truly no “best” spirit to mix with triple sec / orange liqueur, as it all comes down to a matter of taste. The best part of the liqueur is its versatility, which can be matched with tequila, whiskey / other brown spirits, rum, and beyond.
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Jonah Flicker is an experienced writer who has been covering spirits and traveling the world visiting distilleries for the past six years. His work has appeared in many different national outlets covering trends, new releases, and the stories and innovators behind the spirits. His first love remains whiskey, but he is partial to tequila, rum, gin, cognac and all things distilled.
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