Spirits & Liqueurs Liqueur

What the #$@! Do I Do with This? Grand Marnier: What It Is and How to Use It.

Don’t call it a triple sec. It’s so much more than that.

Grand Marnier illustration

 Liquor.com / Laura Sant

You bought a spirit or liqueur because a cocktail recipe called for a very minute amount. Now you’re stuck with the remaining 9/10ths of the bottle and what to do with it. No worries. Thrifty bartenders weigh in with tips and recipes for getting every last drop out of an underutilized ingredient so it doesn’t gather dust on your bar shelf.

All orange liqueurs are not created equal, and very few can hold their own as both a cordial and cocktail component. But then again, not all orange liqueurs are made from cognac, which is why Grand Marnier can class up both your Sidecar and your after-dinner imbibing. Just don’t call it a triple sec, because it’s so much more. Rather than relegating it simply to making a top-shelf-worthy Margarita, embrace that base and see Grand Marnier for the très complexe ingredient it is.

“Grand Marnier is a classic backbar staple that certainly deserves front-row status,” says Zachary Faden, the lead bartender at Brasserie Liberté in Washington, D.C. “It offers cocktails citrus brightness, vanilla aromas and nutty nuances.” 

But Faden believes the orange liqueur’s appeal goes beyond libations, and it can be employed as a substitute for amaretto in an ambrosia salad or as a sublime addition to a marinade for sweeter seafood, like shrimp and scallops served with saffron and Grand Marnier-laced rice.

In drinks, however, Grand Marnier generally is used as a modifier to lend citrus tones. But it doesn’t need to be treated as a minor player, says New York City bartending vet Franky Marshall.

“That’s really limiting and does a disservice to the liquid,” says Marshall. “It’s a fantastic base to build from and works in a variety of styles of cocktails. Grand Marnier plays well with a variety of ingredients because of its richness and flavor—brown spirits, fresh fruits, coconut anything, sparkling wine." Salt and savory herbs are a refreshing contrast to the luscious citrus, and in tropical sips, it can play off the sweetness of aged rum.

In the same way that bowls of clove-studded oranges decorate holiday tables, Grand Marnier and spice is well, nice, says Courtney Tietze, the director of beverages at B on Top in New York City, who infuses the liqueur with cinnamon or cloves. “Also, if floated properly in a glass, you can light Grand Marnier on fire for a wow factor,” says Tietze. 

Tietze raves about Grand Marnier’s amber-gold color and its unique aroma and flavor profile. “It has a complex nose of orange flowers with hints of toffee and caramel, which is complemented by cognac with nuances of hazelnuts and bitter orange,” he says. “The smooth finish when drinking it by itself is long and harmonious.” 

So while you won’t find a word to rhyme with “orange,” there’s no shortage of ingredients to mix with this French liqueur made from the fanciest brandy. As Marshall puts it, “Orange flavors are not always represented well, but the flavor of Grand Marnier is fresh, with depth and notes of marzipan and citrus.” 

  • Figgy Smalls

    Figgy Smalls cocktail

     Liquor.com / Tim Nusog

    For this riff on a Sidecar, Tietze macerates dehydrated black mission figs in a bottle of cognac for two days until the spirit is sweeter and has a definitive figgy flavor. After double-straining out the figs and seeds, he shakes it with Grand Marnier, sugar and lemon and orange juices and serves it strained in a vanilla-sugar-rimmed cocktail glass, garnished with a sage leaf. “The cognac allows for a smooth finish that compliments and helps highlight its orange flavor as well as subtly showcasing the flavor of the oak barrels,” he says.

  • Aquavit Buck

    Aquavit Buck

     Liquor.com / Tim Nusog

    Faden calls Grand Marnier and carrots a “wonderful and uncommon pairing.” Here, they’re used in a fun riff on the classic buck, where freshly pressed carrot juice, sugar and Grand Marnier are shaken with aquavit, lime juice and ginger syrup and topped with soda water. “The Grand Marnier marries with the ginger and accentuates the herbaceous aquavit,” he says. 

  • Le Grand Louis

    Le Grand Louis cocktail

     Liquor.com / Tim Nusog

    Marshall believes Grand Marnier is incredibly mixable. “I love the body that it brings to cocktails,” she says. “The 40% ABV means it can stand up to anything you pair it with.” She uses a full two ounces of Cuvée Louis Alexandre, a higher-end expression that’s named in ode to its creator, Louis-Alexandre Marnier Lapostolle, in this cocktail, but the signature formula holds up equally well. It’s stirred with orange bitters and dry vermouth and served up with an expressed lemon twist. Marshall also suggests using it in other stirred drinks, like a split-base Old Fashioned or as a sub in any equal-parts cocktail; after all, it does have a hefty 40 percent ABV and a base of cognac.