A Brief History of Orange Flavored Liqueurs

Orange liqueur is a staple of any bar, used for dozens of different mixed drinks, from simple classics like the margarita, to obscure Prohibition-era drinks like the XYZ. But there are several different styles of orange liqueur, and it can be hard for the average consumer to tell just what it is they need. We’re here to give an overview of orange liqueur, and hopefully shed some light on, for example, what Grand Marnier is, and how it’s different from triple sec.

In general, there are two distinct styles of orange liqueur: triple sec and curaçao, but there is a tremendous amount of debate over which came first, and where, and how. Curaçao (pronounced ‘kura-sow’), a sweet creation of Dutch origin, and is named after an island off of Venezuela that the Spanish used to cultivate oranges during and after the conquest of the Americas. Unfortunately for the Spanish, but fortunately for us, the climate of the island proved woefully inadequate for growing oranges, and the fruit ended up tough and bitter. Eventually, the island was sold to the Dutch, who discovered that the peels of these bitter, inedible fruits could be dried out and added to spirits to give the resulting liqueur a distinctive, sweet orange taste. Curaçao was initially made using brandy, but these days most inexpensive curaçao is made with simple neutral spirits, like vodka. Because of conflicting stories, we don’t really know whether curaçao as a liqueur was first created by Bols in the Netherlands or the Senior family, which was based out of the island itself. Arguably the most famous brand of curaçao is actually French, however: Grand Marnier, which uses French Cognac for its spirit base. And then there’s blue curaçao, which actually is just the same thing as regular or orange curaçao, only dyed blue. The dye doesn’t (or at least shouldn’t) impact the taste of the liqueur, and so is entirely for aesthetic purposes for mixed drinks.

So if that’s what curaçao is, then what’s triple sec? Triple Sec is a French spin on orange liqueur, and has its origins in two famous liqueurs: Combier and Cointreau. Both Combier and Cointreau claim to have invented triple sec, just like Bols and Senior Curaçao of Curaçao do with curaçao, though with triple sec we at least have a general idea of when triple sec came to be: both Cointreau and Combier were marketed starting sometime in the mid-1800s, with Combier claiming 1834 and Cointreau’s statement of ‘1849’ right there on the bottle. So how does triple sec differ from curaçao? Well, the French word ‘sec,’ meaning ‘dry,’ belies its intent: in theory at least, triple sec is meant to be less sweet than curaçao, though where they got ‘triple’ from is still somewhat clouded in mystery. Like curaçao, most triple sec these days are made with neutral spirits, with Cointreau specifically being made with a spirit derived from sugar beets.

So to reiterate the main points: curaçao is sweeter, triple sec is drier (in theory… really both are quite sweet). Grand Marnier is a brand of curaçao, whereas Cointreau is a brand of triple sec. Now that you have the basics, try a margarita with both and let us know in the comments which one you prefer!

Review: Virginia Distillery Port Finished Virginia Highland Malt Whisky

Virginia Distillery — which takes authentic single malt from Scotland and finishes it in unique barrels in Virginia — is back with another release, and like its inaugural release, this one finished in Port wine barrels. (Again, note that this expression differs from that first release and carries a different label.) The first Virginia release to carry a batch label (this one’s #3), the malt is finished in Port barrels from King Family Vineyards, Horton Vineyards, and Virginia Wineworks, for 12 to 26 months depending on the particular barrel.

The deep amber color is enticing, leading into a nose that is salty, a bit sweaty even, with hints of seaweed, roasted grains, and banana bread. The nose is a bit floral at times, much like Virginia’s Cider Barrel Matured release, though there’s no real hint of the raisiny Port notes from the finishing barrel.

There’s more evidence of the Port barrel on the palate, but even here it’s quite restrained, allowing more toasty cereal notes, vanilla-heavy barrel char, citrus peel, and hints of iodine to show themselves more fully. The Port influence becomes clearer as the finish approaches, though it takes on a chocolate character primarily, along with some hints of nutmeg and cinnamon. All told, it does bear significant resemblance to the original Virginia bottling, though here everything seems less well-realized, less mature, and generally a bit undercooked. While it’s still got plenty to recommend it, it simply lacks the magic of some of Virginia’s other releases.

92 proof.

B / $58 / vadistillery.com

Bar Review: Mezcalito, San Francisco

You needn’t think too hard to figure out what the spiritual focus of San Francisco’s Mezcalito, a bar and restaurant which opened seven months ago. It’s right there in the name.

At a recent tasting, bar manager Adam Mangold walked us through a good chunk of the extensive cocktail list here, almost all of which involves healthy doses of mezcal.

Mangold welcomed us with a small pour of Union Uno, the house mezcal, served with chili-spiced pineapple and orange slices. This is a fresh and clean starter mezcal, light on the smoke and earthy notes, with a restrained body. It was an excellent entry to the broader list, when things get more exciting.

Straight out of the gate, Mangold hit a home run by crafting the establishment’s Maracuya Sour, which blends Siete Misterios mezcal, passion fruit, vanilla agave, lime, and egg whites. Peychaud’s bitters are spritzed across the top of the frothy drink, using a stencil to leave a big red M across the drink. Tropical, with a big lime kick, it’s a fresh and fun drink with a subtle smokiness, growing in power as the volume of liquid left in the glass drops.

The Fresita de San Felipe was originally made with gin, but the bar recently swapped it for reposado tequila, which pairs with a strawberry jalapeno shrub, ginger, and lime. It’s a solid drink, but I found the herbal notes a little hefty, overwhelming the strawberry notes, which I’d love to see more of.

The Tequila Pimm’s Cup is exactly what it says, a Latin spin on a classic Pimm’s, with cucumber-infused blanco tequila, Pimm’s No. 1, mint, lime, ginger, and ginger beer to finish it off. The presentation of the drink is gorgeous, and the character is akin to a spiked iced tea, punchy with an herbal kick on the back end. Summery but bold, it’s both curious and refreshing.

Jonathan’s Gin & Tonic (that’s the official name) is just now debuting on the cocktail list, and it’s a Barcelona-style G&T, spiked with mezcal (of course). Gin, mezcal, and Fever Tree Mediterranean Tonic Water are the core of the drink, but it’s the addition of dried hibiscus that takes this to another level. Bold and bitter at first, the hibiscus slowly infuses into the drink over 10 to 15 minutes to give it a fresh, floral character — and coloring the initially clear cocktail a lovely shade of pink. Your patience is rewarded on this one with a complex and vibrant cocktail.

Closing off the night after a dinner of traditional and not-so-traditional Mexican dishes, ranging from fresh oysters with smoked mignonette (a killer combo with mezcal) to a lobster role with chili butter on the side, Mangold brought by the Xoco-Mil, a dessert cocktail made with mezcal, Aperol, creme de cacao, yellow Chartreuse, and cream soda. A very grown-up milkshake, it’s a sultry, spicy chocolate kick that is fun and filling. Pro tip: Ditch the straw and drink it from the top to get bits of the cocoa garnish with every sip.

None of these sound like they’re to your liking? Check out one of the dozens of mezcals, many of which are incredibly hard to find, on the mezcal list.

Review: Michter’s Single Barrel Bourbon 10 Years Old 2017

A new release of Michter’s top-shelf 10 year old single barrel bourbon is here, approved for release by new Master Distiller Pamela Heilmann, who has taken over for Willie Pratt. Same story as always: This is sourced bourbon (from whom, Michter’s doesn’t say), but it is bottled at a full 10 years old, which isn’t something you see too much of these days.

Michter’s 10 year old single barrel is always a whiskey with a lot going on (and plenty to recommend it), and Heilmann has not missed any strides en route to this release. The nose is relatively restrained, offering modest notes of cinnamon red hots and ripe banana, atop a somewhat gentle vanilla/caramel core. The palate is spicier — is there more rye in the bill or is it just me? — with fresh ginger and mint, more of those red hots, and some smoldering, burnt sugar notes that linger for a while. The finish is a bit crunchy with barrel char and a hint of flamed orange peel, but also a touch gummy on the fade-out, sticking a bit uncomfortably to the cheeks.

While the 2015 release is marginally better, this 2017 expression is plenty enjoyable on its own terms.

94.4 proof. Reviewed: Barrel #17B302.

A- / $170 / michters.com

Review: Tres Papalote Mezcal

Tres Papalote is a new joven (silver) mezcal, crafted from wild Cupreata agave harvested in Guerrero, Mexico, and chatted up by celebrity spokesman Cheech Marin. (Marin even chose the image for the label, we’re told.) Two other expressions of Tres Papalote, “Normal” and “Botanical,” are also available but are not reviewed here.

This is a bold mezcal, huge with smoke right from the start, a far cry from the “starter mezcals” we’ve seen a lot of lately. The nose offers intense wood smoke, heavy lemon juice (with grilled peel), plus notes of petrol. The palate is just as powerful, melding that wood smoke with burnt sugar, some roasted apple, and hints of green banana and papaya on the finish.

Throughout it all, the smoke, rolling and penetrating, never lets up. It’s readily detectable when you crack open the bottle, and it endures for a long while after you’ve finished a glass of the stuff. That all unfortunately comes at the expense of complexity, however.

That said, mezcal fans asking cual es mas macho need look no further. Cheech knows.

92 proof.

B / $49 / papalotemezcal.com

Salud! Cocktails for Cinco de Mayo 2017

Clarified Avocado Margarita
When the Mexican holiday of Cinco de Mayo comes up, most of us automatically think “margarita” and “party.” We also love both of those; however, sometimes it’s fun to get outside the box. Here are several cocktails which are either margarita hybrids or inspired by the beauty and independent spirit of Mexico.

Give these cinco drinks a try and let us know what you think.

LageritaLagerita
courtesy Liquor.com
2 oz. tequila
¾ oz. Cointreau or Grand Mariner
1 oz. lime juice
4 oz. Mexican lager
1 lime wheel

Fill a highball glass with ice and set aside. Add the tequila, Cointreau and lime juice to a shaker and fill with fresh ice. Shake; then strain into the prepared glass. Top with the beer and garnish with a lime wheel.

This cocktail is inspired by the tamarind margarita served up at Casa Herradura. We turned it into something light and refreshing.

Tamarind and Tequila SodaTamarind and Tequila Soda
12.5 oz. bottle Tamarindo Jarritos (you can find this at a Mexican market or the ethnic section of a grocery store)
½ oz. ginger syrup
2 oz. añejo tequila
orange sliced, dipped in cinnamon powder

Shake syrup and tequila with ice. Pour into a tall glass. Top with half the bottle of Tamarindo and serve.

Spring Fling
courtesy of San Francisco Bartender Justin Blackwood (One Market Restaurant)
¾ oz. Crème de Violette
2 oz. Blanco tequila
½ oz. elderflower liqueur

Add ingredients to a rocks glass with ice and stir. Garnish with an edible flower before serving.

Margarita SangriaMargarita Sangria
courtesy of Completelydelicious.com
1 750 ml bottle dry white wine (like a sauvignon blanc or chardonnay)
1 1/2 cup blanco tequila
1 cup triple sec
1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1 orange, sliced
2 limes, sliced
fresh cilantro
crushed ice, for serving

In a large pitcher, combine the white wine, tequila, triple sec, orange juice, and lime juice. Add the orange slices, lime slices, and the cilantro. Chill for at least two hours and then serve over ice. Bear in mind the cilantro does get stronger as the pitcher sits so, if you have guests who aren’t fans of cilantro, then add it to individual glasses instead of the whole pitcher.

This next one makes a large amount and requires a bit of planning, but it can definitely be worth the effort.

Clarified Avocado Margarita
created by San Francisco Mixologist, Leon Vazquez
16 oz. Tequila Don Julio 70 Añejo Claro
6 oz. fresh squeezed lime juice
4 oz. simple syrup
30 dashes orange bitters
1 avocado
2 serrano peppers
1 bushel of cilantro (approximately 40 leaves)
6 Tbsp. salt
40 oz. whole milk
lime twist for garnish

Combine 4 ounces lime juice, simple syrup, orange bitters, avocado, peppers and cilantro into an airtight container. Coarsely grind the peppers, avocado, and cilantro. Add 14 ounces boiling water and immediately cover so that no liquid evaporates. Let mixture sit overnight, then strain the mixture into a clean container and add Tequila Don Julio 70 Añejo Claro.

Bring whole milk to a boil. Add the boiling milk and the remaining 2 ounces of lime juice to the strained mixture, the milk will curdle. Strain the liquid slowly with cheesecloth. Pour liquid into a clean container, cover and refrigerate overnight. Serve neat with a lime twist.

No celebration of independence is complete without some thing savory to go with the drinks. This recipe comes to us from Brooklyn’s McCarren Hotel & Pool.

Spicy Chorizo TacosSpicy Chorizo Tacos
5 pounds fresh chorizo
1 Tbsp. olive oil
100 g Spanish onion, diced
10 g garlic, crushed
10 g fresh red Thai chile, sliced very thin, seeds intact
5 sprigs epazote (epazote has a distinctively sharp, herbal flavor, reminiscent of oregano and fennel with minty, pine notes)
½ cup cilantro leaves (save the stems and mince them fine to include in the meat mixture)
2 quarts Queso Fresco cheese
corn tortillas
vegetable oil
¼ cup pickled chiles
¼ cup Spanish onion, finely minced
lime wedges
sriracha hot sauce

In a large pot or skillet, brown the chorizo, onion, and garlic with the olive oil. As it cooks, add the cilantro stems, red chile, and epazote. Once the chorizo is done, turn off the pan. In a separate small skillet, heat up the vegetable oil on high. Then fry the corn tortillas until soft (1-2 minutes), with tongs, flip the tortilla over and fry the other side. How long you fry them will determine whether you get soft tortillas or hard ones…longer makes them hard. Put each cooked tortilla onto paper towels to soak up the vegetable oil. After frying the desired number of tortillas, turn off the skillet and remove it from the stove burner to avoid a fire hazard.

Queso Fresco cheese can be sliced or crumbled between your fingers. Either works for this recipe, though we prefer to crumble it. In the center of each tortilla, layer the chorizo mixture, pickled chiles, minced onion, cilantro leaves, and cheese. Squeeze a lime wedge across the mixture and add a dash of sriracha sauce. Fold the tortilla in half into a taco and serve with plenty of napkins.

Tasting the Wines of Artesa, 2017 Releases

I realized I hadn’t visited Artesa, located in California’s Carneros region, in many years, and on a lark I paid a visit to their tasting room. I ended up spending nearly an hour here digging through rarities you won’t encounter much in the wild. (Pro tip: Avoid the winery’s supermarket bottlings; the gold is upmarket.)

Brief thoughts on everything tasted follow.

2016 Artesa Albarino – Dry, with good acidity, herbal and lightly toasty. B / $28

2014 Artesa Estate Reserve Pinot Noir – Very green, skip it. C / $40

2013 Artesa Block 91D Pinot Noir – Bold body, lots of red fruit. Structured and built in a vague Burgundy style. Highly worthwhile. A / $80

2014 Artesa Sangiacomo Pinot Noir Carneros – Softer but meatier, a bit tougher on the finish. A- / $80

2013 Artesa Cabernet Franc Single Vineyard Foss Valley – Big at first, but layered with fruit. Amazing structure highlights pretty aromatics. Luscious, rounded. One of the best cab francs I’ve experienced. A / $85

2013 Artesa Malbec – Chewy, with big tannins, but a solid fruit core. B+ / $45

2013 Artesa Pinnacle – A blend; quite dry, with jammy berries, some currants, light tannin, and a meaty edge. B / $55

2013 Artesa Rive Gauche Cabernet Sauvignon – Left-bank style blend (hence the name); soft, a little marshmallow, and some brown sugar. Quite floral. A- / $60

2013 Artesa Foss Valley Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon – Blackberry and spice, licorice, dark fruits. A- / $90

2013 Artesa Morisoli-Borges Cabernet Sauvignon – Blueberry notes, bold fruit, some cranberry sauce. A- / $90

artesawinery.com

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