The world has no shortage of orange-flavored liqueurs. If generic triple sec, Cointreau, or Grand Marnier aren’t good enough, you can always delve into a dozen or so orange-infused vodkas on the market.
I’d say there’s room for one more, but La Distillerie Combier has a different claim to make: It owns up to being the world’s first triple sec, first distilled in 1834 in France. Combier has been available in Europe for nearly 175 years, but only now is it finally coming to the States.
It was worth the wait.
Combier is a very pristine and clean orange liqueur. Distilled frwom West Indian orange peel and French sugar beets (as a base), it’s totally clear (unlike, say, Grand Marnier), and the flavor is nothing but pure, sweetened oranges. I put it head to head against my standby orange liqueur, Cointreau, and found them virtually identical: Both are totally clear, 80 proof, powerfully sweet, and unadulterated in their orange-ness. Strain all you want to taste them, but any additional “secret ingredients” go unnoticed in both these spirits.
The bottom line is that Combier and Cointreau are largely interchangeable, though thankfully both are of exceptional quality. The only difference is that Combier is slightly sweeter than Cointreau, which has a tiny bitter tinge in the finish. But you would never notice the difference in a cocktail. (Note that Combier is quite a bit different than Grand Marnier, though — lacking the honeyed, oaky character that comes from that spirit’s cognac base.)
Try them both and see if you find a favorite — they cost about the same, too — and if you can’t, well, buy the one that’s on sale.