Cocktail consultant, Liquid Productions
Co-owner, Pacific Standard
Co-owner, Clover Club, Leyenda, and Milady’s
Cointreau is a high-quality orange liqueur that remains one of the best examples of triple sec on the market, according to our reviewers. Its natural orange taste makes it excellent as a sweetening ingredient in cocktails like a Margarita, Sidecar, and Cosmopolitan, or any that call for orange liqueur. The bottling also expresses itself well as an after-dinner drink. However, these qualities don’t come cheap.
Classification: Triple sec
Company: Rémy Cointreau
Expression: Orange Liqueur
High-quality example of orange liqueur
Versatile enough to mix into cocktails or sip as an after-dinner drink
Complex orange flavor
Comparatively expensive to other bottles in the category
Our tasting panel unanimously agrees that Cointreau represents one of the finest representations of the orange liqueur category, also known as triple sec. Julie Reiner calls it “the gold standard for triple sec,” while Jeff Morgenthaler says it is “the undisputed king of triple secs” and considers it “the essential ingredient, other than tequila, in a Margarita.”
Each reviewer highlighted the natural taste of Cointreau compared to other orange liqueurs which can present more artificial overtones. “[It] does not have the cloying chemical taste that many triple secs have,” says Reiner, who noted multiple types of orange on the nose and palate.
All three of our experts recommend using Cointreau in cocktails that call for orange liqueur as a modifier, such as the Margarita, Cosmopolitan, Sidecar, White Lady, Pegu Club, and other drinks in the sour family.
“It’s also surprisingly delicious sipped straight after dinner,” says Morgenthaler. “It’s one of those rare and wonderful liqueurs that exhibits [enough] versatility to be able to work in both scenarios.”
Jacques Bezuidenhout agrees. “If you enjoy liqueurs on the rocks at the end of a meal then this is one that delivers,” he says.
Cointreau is sold at a relatively high price point compared to other products within the orange liqueur category. While the company suggests a price of $34.99 for a 750-milliliter bottle, you can expect to pay closer to $50 in some markets. Bezuidenhout says Grand Marnier is of comparable quality, but notes that because it is an aged orange liqueur it cannot be used as a direct substitute in cocktails. Morgenthaler and Reiner both call out Patrón Citronage as a potentially more affordable alternative.
It should be noted that Cointreau has a higher alcohol content than many orange liqueurs on the market, says Reiner. Some triple secs have an ABV as low as 15%, for example, compared to 40% ABV for Cointreau. “A Margarita made with Cointreau is a very boozy drink,” she says.
Cointreau is produced at the Carré Cointreau distillery in Angers, France, where it has been made since its inception. For the secret recipe, fresh and dried sweet and bitter orange peels are steeped in beet liquor. The liquid is distilled twice in copper alembic pots, and it is not aged.
When it debuted in 1885, in Angers, France, Cointreau was one of the first orange liqueurs in the world (though both Cointreau and Combier claim to be the first).
Decades before the liqueur was first released, a confectioner named Adolphe Cointreau diversified his company by introducing fruit liqueurs, including a popular local cherry liqueur called Guignolet. Adolphe’s brother, Eduoard-Jean, soon joined the family business, and in 1857 a recipe for orange liqueur appeared in the brothers’ recipe book. In 1885, Eduoard-Jean’s son, Eduoard, developed the Cointreau recipe that reportedly remains in use today. In 1893, the liqueur won a medal at the World’s Fair in Chicago, establishing a footprint in North America.
Cointreau’s place in cocktail history began in 1922, when the liqueur appeared as a name-brand ingredient in the Sidecar recipes that graced the pages of both Harry MacElhone’s ABC of Mixing Cocktails and Robert Vermeire’s Cocktails: How to Mix Them. Although the origins of the Margarita are hotly-debated, Cointreau claims that Dallas socialite Margaret Sames invented the cocktail in 1948, allegedly proclaiming, “A Margarita without Cointreau isn’t worth its salt.” The liqueur also starred in the original recipe for the Cosmopolitan, which Toby Cecchini created in 1988.
In 1989, Cointreau merged with cognac producer Rémy Martin to form Rémy-Cointreau, a global company that today owns eight spirits and liqueurs, including Mount Gay rum and Bruichladdich scotch.
—Written and edited by Audrey Morgan
Cointreau is an original ingredient in several classic cocktails, including the Sidecar, the Cosmopolitan, and the White Lady.
The Bottom Line
One of the best representations of an orange liqueur on the market, Cointreau is a reliable way to raise the quality of any cocktail that calls for triple sec. It can also be sipped solo and works well as a digestif. However, this quality and versatility can come at a comparatively high price point.