What is Triple Sec

By Sina Torner / Last updated on September 5, 2022

Triple Sec is a type of orange liqueur and once was intended to be a digestif. But now, it's a staple in every bar and appears in countless cocktail recipes.
Triple Sec Oranges

When reading the recipes of your favorite cocktails, it's almost impossible not to come across Triple Sec. Consequently, the orange liqueur is one of the absolutely essential ingredients every bad should have. 

Yet, if you ask people if they know what Triple Sec is, most don't have a clue. So if you've had your share of Margaritas without ever questioning what it is that you were drinking... you're not alone.

The good news is, you've come to the right place.

What is Triple Sec

Triple Sec is an orange-flavored liqueur. It once was a French digestif and is now a generic term for a liqueur made from orange peels and sugar beet. 

It is colorless and usually contains between 20% and 40% ABV. The flavor of Triple Sec is intensely orangy and citric.

The powerful orange aroma is a characteristic that makes Triple Sec a popular cocktail ingredient. Some famous representatives are, for instance, the Margarita, the Cosmopolitan, and many more. 

But why the name Triple Sec? That's easier to explain when looking into the production of the orange liqueur.

History of Triple Sec

The history of Triple Sec is closely tied to that of Curaçao. (Here's a comparison of the two.)

The Dutch East India Trading Company produced orange liqueur in the Caribbean. They called their liqueur, made by steeping dried orange peels, Curaçao - after the island.

The Dutch also took their liqueur back with them to Europe, where it rose in popularity during the 17th and 18th centuries. Of course, it also caught the attention of the French, and they wanted to create their own version.

More precisely, husband and wife Jean-Baptiste and Josephine Combier from Saumur claim to have had the idea to make their own orange liqueur. 

Allegedly in the back of their sweets shop in Saumur, they tried to create a liqueur based on orange essential oils that would be as true to the orange fruit as possible.

And even though it took them years to perfect their product, in the end, they succeeded.

First Triple Sec

How is Triple Sec made?

Jean-Baptiste and Josephine Combier made their Triple Sec with Haitian bitter oranges and a sweeter variety from Valencia in Spain. They sun-dried the peels of the fruits and infused their base spirit for at least 48h with these peels before distilling their liqueur from them. 

Production today

Things haven't changed overly much today. Triple Sec is still made by infusing a base spirit with flavors and essential oils from oranges. That base spirit often is derived from sugar beet because of its natural flavor.

To get the maximum out of the fruit, they get harvested when still green because that's when they are at their aromatic peak. 

The famous orange liqueur is then distilled from the more bitter, still green peels full of essential oils. Naturally -to balance the bitterness- there's also quite some sugar involved: about 25gr per 100ml, depending on the brand.

Why is it named Triple Sec?

And, finally, back to the question: why Triple Sec? The name seems illogical and far away from the ingredients used in the product. And that's right. However, most likely, the term refers to the production method and not to the ingredients.

Triple Sec is usually distilled three times in copper pots to guarantee its quality. And the translation of the French word Sec means dry, which could reference the distillation.

So Triple Sec probably did mean distilled three times and was intended to be a quality seal more than anything else.

Oranges for Triple Sec

The type of oranges used for Triple Sec is not defined. And the popular brands don't reveal all the varieties they are using. But a traditional variety most certainly part of many orange liqueurs is the Seville orange. 

But there's one thing that's more important than the actual type:

Triple Sec Oranges

As mentioned before, oranges for Triple Sec get harvested when their skin is still green. Since the liqueur is made from the peel and not the fruit flesh, the orange skin needs to have as much flavor and aroma as possible.

Yet, when oranges ripen, the essential oils seep through the skin into the fruit flesh. And once it's inside the pulp, it's lost for the producers of Triple Sec. 

Cocktails with Triple Sec

Triple Sec is a crucial ingredient in countless drinks. I briefly mentioned the two ultimate classics, the Margarita and the Cosmopolitan. But there are more classic recipes like the Corpse Reviver No. 2, the White Lady, or the Between the Sheets that ask for the orange liqueur.

And also, twists on classic drinks, like the tangy Lemon Drop Martini or a fruity frozen Mango Margarita, do not work without the aromatic citrus liqueur from France. 

For a better overview, check out this list of cocktails with Triple Sec.

Popular Brands

Jean-Baptiste and Josephine Combier, the likely inventors of Triple Sec, opened their candy shop in Samour in 1834, and this company is still in business today. 

When the Combiers' Triple Sec became such a big hit, they decided to devote their work 100% to liqueurs and turned their shop into the Combier Distillery. The Distillery in the French Loire Valley still sells its Triple Sec very successfully - along with many other liqueurs and Absinthe

But already in the late 1800s, Combier got some serious competition from no other than Cointreau -probably the best-known Triple Sec brand today. Other popular brands are Grand Marnier and the Dutch DeKuyper. - With Grand Marnier being close but not the same as a Triple Sec.

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