April 2nd, 2008


Orange liqueur tasting

A while ago - and I'm not going to dignify by saying how long ago, as it makes me look more like a slacker the more I think about it - my compatriot tmfiii and I did a taste test of three different orange liqueurs - Cointreau, Grand Marnier, and Creole Shrubb.

The impetus behind this endeavor was our new acquisition of bottles of Creole Shrubb, as well as knowledge of how certain drinks such as the Satan's Whiskers will have different variations using both Cointreau and Grand Marnier.  Marshall has a preference towards Cointreau over all, or at least, he did before the Creole Shrubb.  I, personally, had usually been agnostic, typically sticking with Cointreau for mixed drinks but not afraid to have a nice big pour of Grand Marnier along with a beer as a post-dinner bar drink.

Yeah, I'd gotten that habit from some bartender friends and it works well as a digestif.  I just don't do Budweiser like most of them do.

So we sat down and did the tasting.  I do believe I have pictures of it, but if you remember from a day or two ago I'll be darned if I can remember where my dang camera/USB cable is.  Therefore and thusly, I'll edit this post with pictures when and if I find them, and you can come back here constantly and check it if it matters that much to you.

EDIT: Twice in a row attempts to insert pictures into the post have caused Firefox to crash.  Screw this I'll put in a new post.

(Not tonight, though, since I have kickball.  At least, assuming that we don't go to the bar afterwards.  What, a cocktail nerd can't go play flip cup with cheap domestic beer?  Would you rather I do it with a hefeweizen or Belgian?  Perhaps you'd like to cover my bar tab, eh buddy?  Huh?  Would ya?  Because if you would, that'd be swell.)

A few notes, first.

Each of the liqueurs are 40% alcohol by volume, so 80 proof.  We did each by nose, color, and taste, with taste being broken up between "straight" and "on ice".

Another thing:  I did them in order Cointreau -> Creole Shrubb -> Grand Marnier.  Marshall did them in the opposite order, either because he's a card-carrying freedom-hating commie mutant traitor, or possibly because he was sitting on the opposite side of the table from me.  Keep that in mind for definitions of what we thought of things.

Base: neutral spirits

Cointreau is the original triple sec.  In fact, it's so original that they don't even put that on the label anymore, THAT'S how original it is.  If you're extremely interested in the history of triple secs and Cointreau in general, there are books that go into it in more detail.  What matters most to me is how well it mixes in drink, and the fact that my precious 375mL bottle, which I've refilled several times from miniature bottles because, if you haven't figured this out already, I'm really not that bright, desperately needs replacing.  Maybe today.

Color:  Clear

SeanMike:  I found a hint of orange, but also a hint of alcohol to it.
Marshall:  Clean, sweeter smell, alcohol/medicinal back, not as hot as the other two.  Strong orange.
Taste (straight):
SeanMike:  orange (obviously), sweet fills the mouth with a definite burn on swallow, leaving a sweet, sticky orange taste in the mouth and a mellow burn down the throat.  No taste but orange.
Marshall:  Very sweet, low burn, orange coats mouth well; not bitter; slightly viscous - good mouth feel.
Taste (on ice):
SeanMike: Still has the burn...orange is still prevalent, very little complexity that I can pick up.
Marshall:  Much more viscous; no burn; orange very upfront and dissipates quickly; Ice seems to soften up / round out flavors; very good over ice.
Creole Shrubb
Base: Rum

Creole Shrubb is a rare bird in this part of the country - Marshall had to order his from Sam's Wines over in Chicago while I managed to find mine in a close-out bin over at Ace Beverage.  Unfortunately for me, not long ago Marshall, some friends, and I polished it off while drinking and smoking cigars at a friend's place in my condo complex, so it's gone.  I'm either going to have to order more or beg/suck up to Joe to get more.

Color:  tawny, pale (SeanMike), gold (Marshall)

SeanMike:  orange, spice, a bit of rum
Marshall:  sweet, bitter orange not as forward as Grand Marnier, rum back gives it an earthy/musky bent, not as hot as G.M.
Taste (straight):
SeanMike:  much more subtle orange, no burn at all.  Leaves an orange afterglow in the mouth with a lingering burn hint in the back of the throat.  Hints of something floral.
Marshall:  Viscous - good mouth feel; very sweet; no burn; after taste very slightly bitter; woodsy/earthy taste from rum base.  Round flavor.
Taste (on ice):
SeanMike:  Lowers the overall hit of orange but still has floral, leaves a lingering burn after swallow that is not unpleasant
Marshall:  Thick; orange is diminished but stays on palette longer; sweetness of rum is enhanced.
Grand Marnier
Base: cognac

I spent the last few minutes (since I'm writing this while at my office - sshhhh, don't tell anyone) trying to think of jokes about cognac and France while wandering around talking to people in my office.  Yes, it's an exciting joke, but short of calling it surrendergac or something like that I decided, well, crap, I'm not going to make fun of it.  To be honest, I don't know much about Grand Marnier outside of what it is, and no, that's not an argument about what is is or anything like that.  I do know you can find really big bottles of it that make me laugh, and really expensive bottles, and that bartenders like to drink it, and so does my future sister-in-law's dad (who I had high hopes of introducing to Creole Shrubb but the before-mentioned drinking of it with cigars helped negate that), and hey, I like it too.  Mostly straight, because the only drink I use it in regularly seems to be margaritas, for differing values of "regularly" (i.e. I don't make those concoctions very regularly, but when I do, I think I use G.M. in it - or maybe in Satan's Whiskers...I can't remember, I'm distressingly sober right now).

Color:  golden, dark (SeanMike), dark amber (Marshall)

SeanMike:  Strongest of orange, masks the rest.
Marshall:  hot, sweet, strong orange smell, cognac very much on par with orange
Taste (straight):
SeanMike:  Milder orange with a mild burn, lots of hints of something (maybe caramel?) and other flavors.  Leaves an interesting tingle on the gums.
Marshall:  Seems less viscous; not nearly as sweet; orange tends to be very forward then backs off quickly -> not much after taste.  Low burn as well.  Round flavor.
Taste (on ice):
SeanMike:  Almost a completely different drink.  Much much less orange, none of th cognac feel and a long, consistent lingering burn.  A little less syrupy but remains thicker than the others.
Marshall:  Orange is a back note & cognac jumps to the fore; good mouth feel & nice sweetness, still well rounded.

So that's it!  Note I didn't put a conclusion or anything on here.  I would say that none of them were bad, per se, but rather that they all have their own place.  I feel like the best by itself was the Creole Shrubb by a long margin, and the G.M. between the other two, but through experience I think Cointreau often works the best as an ingredient in cocktails.

Your mileage, of course, may vary, and I'm sure Marshall will pipe up in the comments to give his $.02 worth.

And as a side note, after conceiving of this idea but before getting around to actually implementing it, we did find out that Jay from Oh, Gosh! was doing the same thing!

His is incredibly more detailed and has a lot more products than we have.  I highly recommend you go hit his blog postings about it - he has some interesting triple secs et al that I haven't heard of before, and he isn't handicapped by having half his blog run by a befuddled dolt (that would be the guy on this blog that isn't bald, thank you very little).

But that might be just the fact that it's getting seriously close to time to go home for me!