Grand Marnier is a cognac-based orange liqueur known for its high proof and punchy flavors. Notes of orange zest, vanilla bean, and burnt orange create a structured and concentrated palate.
Company: Gruppo Campari
Distillery: Cognac, France
Still Type: pot still and column still
- Features a high proof for a liqueur, adding both punch and flavor to cocktails
- As with many liqueurs, Grand Marnier, although very balanced, may be too sweet for some.
Color: Deep golden amber
Nose: Fresh, bright orange zest, basil, vanilla bean, caramelized sugar
Palate: Flavors of bright and burnt orange, vanilla bean, and a balancing herbaceous note explode on the mid-palate and then run across your tongue. The alcohol drives the deepening concentration of the flavors, and the sweetness acts as a balance to the robust cognac that forms the ultimate structure of the liqueur.
Finish: Burnt orange, caramelized sugar, vanilla bean, and candied-orange peel are simultaneously sweet and bitter.
While the ingredients in Grand Marnier are fairly simple—Caribbean-sourced bigarade oranges and cognac—each requires quite a bit of care and time. The oranges are picked while still green in order to preserve a snappy bitterness to their flavor, peeled with the pith carefully removed, and then sun-dried. They’re shipped to the distillery, macerated in a neutral grape-based spirit, and then redistilled in a column still to make the orange liqueur. Cognac, of course, has its own restrictive set of production rules, requiring certain grapes from certain areas of Cognac, a still type (copper pot still), barrel type for aging, and a minimum amount of aging. For its base spirit, Grand Marnier sources from around 400 grower-distillers, which get blended to achieve the desired outcome. This is how Louis-Alexander Marnier made the spirit in 1880, and it’s still made that way today—just lots more of it.
But that’s all to say that the traditions behind Grand Marnier have been seriously adhered to for over 140 years, and it’s been exported into the U.S. for most of that time. But even with its long history stateside, Gruppo Campari has made some serious recent efforts to remind bartenders what an excellent, versatile tool it is in cocktails. Indeed, with the explosion of Margarita consumption, it’s a no-brainer. The difference between Grand Marnier and your workaday triple sec orange liqueur is that, first, Grand Marnier is in the curacao family, in that it uses bitter oranges, which lends itself to a more versatile and sophisticated flavor profile, and second, it’s cognac-based, with the spirit adding layers of flavor from the aging process in French oak. The resulting liqueur is suited for sipping neat or using as a modifier in a number of cocktails.
In 1921, Cesar Ritz, a friend of Louis-Alexander Marnier and the founder of the famed Hôtel Ritz in Paris, was responsible for renaming the liqueur from its original moniker of Curacao de Marnier and coming up with the idea of a mimicking the shape of the copper pot stills in which cognac, the liqueur’s base spirit, is distilled.
The bottom line: For sipping as well as cocktail mixing, Grand Marnier is the gold standard of orange liqueurs for its high-quality sourcing and careful process.