Triple Sec and Curaçao are two ingredients you can find in many cocktail recipes. -Triple Sec more often in cocktail classics, and Curaçao is typical for tropical drinks and Tiki cocktails.
Both, Curaçao and Triple Sec are orange-flavored liqueurs, and they can even look back on a shared past. So how did it happen that the two liqueurs are perceived and used completely different? -And also, how did they get such seemingly unlikely names?
Triple Sec vs. Curaçao in a nutshell
In brief, Triple Sec and Curaçao are both orange liqueurs, and there are no legal regulations for officially discerning them.
But there are some differences of practical and historical nature. One is the color: Triple Sec usually is colorless, while Curaçao is often blue or orange.
Both liqueurs have an intensely citric aroma. However, the aftertaste of Curaçao is more bitter than it is for Triple Sec. And their use in mixology is also quite different, which I will explain in more detail below.
What is Triple Sec?
Triple Sec is a generic term for French orange-flavored liqueur. It's a clear, see-through liquid and usually has an alcohol content of between 20 and 40%, sometimes also a bit lower.
The flavor of Triple Sec is very orange-forward and citrusy. Its strong orange aroma comes from the essential oils in the peel of premature oranges.
The base spirit used for Triple Sec usually is derived from sugar beet because it's neutral and won't spoil the orange aroma. This base spirit gets infused with the green orange peels, and the result then gets distilled three times.
This triple distillation, most likely, is also the reason for the name of the liqueur: Triple Sec - three times dry. Actually, it once was a quality indication rather than a product name.
If you want to know more about the origin and invention of the French orange liqueur, check out the article about Triple Sec.
What is Curaçao?
Curaçao also is an orange liqueur with an ABV of 15 - 40%. It comes in many different (artificial) colors, but it's mainly known to be blue. In fact, Curaçao is the forerunner of Triple Sec.
It's made with the peels of oranges, just like its French relative. However, the oranges used to make Curaçao are of a very particular variety: the Laraha orange growing on the ABC islands in the Caribbean.
In the early 16th century, the Dutch brought the Seville orange to Curaçao Island (the C in ABC). They wanted to grow them there and profit from the sunny climate.
However, the sun was too intense, and the oranges turned out bitter and inedible. But the skins of the fruit were very aromatic. One thing led to another, and the result was Curaçao, a slightly bitter orange liqueur produced in the Netherlands.
If you want to know more about Curaçao and why it is often blue, read this article about Blue Curaçao.
The difference between Triple Sec and Curaçao
So now, what's the difference between Triple Sec and Curaçao? There's no official or even legal definition of the two, and sometimes there are even products that proclaim to be both, Triple Sec and Curaçao. - Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao would be one example.
Still, there are some factors that can serve as a general distinction when comparing Triple Sec and Curaçao:
Both liqueurs are very fragrant and have a strongly orangy aroma. However, Curaçao tends to be a little more bitter than a classic Triple Sec.
Triple Sec with a high ABV like Cointreau sometimes is compared to orange-infused Vodka. Curaçao liqueurs are more bitter-sweet but are similarly citrusy and aromatic.
Both types of orange liqueur usually work with a neutral base spirit to make sure the orange shines: Triple Sec with sugar beet, native to Europe, while Curaçao is often based on sugar cane, typically growing in the Caribbean region.
Triple Sec usually is see-through. Even the market leader, Cointreau, is colorless despite many thinking otherwise due to the iconic orange-colored bottle.
Curaçao, in turn, is best known for its vibrant blue version, Blue Curaçao. However, there's also dry Curaçao which usually has an orange shade - some more intense, some less. Rarely do you come across a colorless Curaçao, too, but that's really an exception.
There's no set ABV for either Curaçao or Triple Sec. Also, the typical range for both is similar, with 15- 40% for Curaçao and 20 - 40% for Triple Sec.
However, many established producers of Triple Sec can be found at the upper end of the scale. For instance, Combier, Cointreau, and the closely related Grand Marnier all have an alcohol content of 40%.
Popular Curaçao brands, in turn, usually clock in somewhere below 28% vol. If you take, for example, Bols, Drillaud, or DeKuyper's Blue Curaçao, you will find them between 15 and 27% ABV.
Triple Sec and Curaçao are commonly produced with a neutral base spirit that gets infused with the peels from oranges.
Originally, Curaçao was produced only from the Laraha oranges growing on the island of Curaçao. But only Señor & Co., located on Curaçao, is still doing that.
These days the Seville orange and several other varieties are used for both types of orange liqueurs. Their peels are soaked in alcohol and then get distilled to concentrate the flavors.
By the way, Señor & Co. is one of the brands selling their product as Curaçao/Triple Sec and has an ABV of 40%.
Regarding the distillation, there's also no general rule. However, top-shelf Triple Sec brands still triple-distill their product, as the name suggests.
Triple Sec initially was a digestif and meant to be served after a meal. But over the years, people stopped drinking it neat. And also, Curaçao is not a liqueur you would usually serve neat or on the rocks.
Both orange liqueurs are essential cocktail ingredients in today's world of mixology.
People sometimes wonder if the two liqueurs can be used as a substitute for one another. And since both are citric, orange-flavored liqueurs, you can do that, of course. Just be aware that the difference is palpable and also visible.
Cocktails with Curaçao
Popular cocktail recipes that ask for Blue Curaçao are usually of the tropical kind. Iconic Blue drinks like the Blue Lagoon, the Blue Hawaiian, or the Swimming Pool are famous representatives.
And Blue Curaçao is also the go-to choice for the blue part when making Rainbow shots. In general, it's safe to say, that nearly always you see bright blue in a drink, Blue Curaçao is involved.
Cocktails with Triple Sec
Triple Sec is an ingredient you find in various classic cocktail recipes, like the Cosmopolitan. And the classic Margarita as well as many different tweaks and twists. The Spicy Grapefruit Margarita or a refreshing Coconut Margarita, for example.
And it also is part of more recent creations like the Lynchburg lemonade developed by Tony Mason.
For a more exhaustive list head over to the overview of cocktails with Triple Sec.
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