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5 min read

This National Margarita Day: Let’s Celebrate An Unsung Hero, Orange Liqeur

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We’re not sure who decided to put National Margarita Day (February 22nd) in the coldest month of the year, but with these frigid temperatures and the pandemic keeping us from our winter retreats south of the border, it’s the perfect season to tip back a cool drink and dream of warmer times.

We’ve written extensively on the key ingredient of any margarita, the tequila, so this year we thought we’d talk about the unsung hero of one of America’s favorite cocktails, the orange liquor. After all, our classic margarita recipe features a 2 to 1 ratio of tequila to orange liquor. Remember, everyone has different and individual tastes. Some like them more sweet, some like them more sour. Some enjoy only top shelf ingredients, while others enjoy more affordable options. Either way, we like ours strong. Experiment with different ingredients and different ratios in the cocktail to determine your favorite.

Saying the drink calls for “orange liquor” is like saying a recipe calls for “red wine.” Variations drastically differ, and which one you choose will greatly affect the flavor of your margarita. The liquor’s basic recipe is relatively similar and simple. Distillers combine orange peels and spices to concoct a liquor that ranges from 15% to 40% in alcohol content by volume. However, the chosen ingredients’ quality -- the kinds of orange, spices, and alcohol -- separates the artists from the amateurs.

Liqueur d’orange: Cointreau, Grand Marnier, Ponche, Curaçao, or Triple Sec?


A dive into Cointreau's past teaches us that its creator, Édouard Cointreau, originally marketed his concoction as Triple-Sec Cointreau in 1885. Monsieur Cointreau brewed a mixture of sweet and bitter orange peels from Brazil, Africa, and Spain (the “triple”). thereby creating a less sweet (“sec” or French for dry) liqueur than the most popular liqueurs available at the time.

Jack Farrell spent a wonderful day at this distillery some time back. Robert Cointreau invited him and our American retail trade group, Wine and Spirits Guild of America (WSGA), for lunch at their facility in Angers, France - the ancestral home of Cointreau. It was one of his favorite visits ever! In addition to being treated to a behind-the-scenes tour, they enjoyed a fabulous lunch served with Champagne drinks and cocktails.

Today, admirers still celebrate the clear liqueur’s fine balance - refreshing and bitter, yet a little sweet. A distinguished choice for your margarita.

Top Shelf Cointreau Margarita


How to make a Cointreau Margarita:

  1. Combine ingredients in a shaker with ice.
  2. Shake well, and strain into a salt-rimmed rocks glass.
  3. Garnish with lime.

Grand Marnier

Grand Marnier is mixed with cognac, a grape-based liqueur, which has been aged for 20-30 years in oak barrels. Grand Marnier’s distillers pick the bitter Citrus Bigaradia oranges while they’re still green. After that, they sun-dry the peels and send them to the distillery. The resulting mixture gives Grand Marnier its incomparable roundness and subtlety. If you haven’t tried a margarita with Grand Marnier, you absolutely should-- you’ve got something phenomenal in your future.

Golden Grand Marnier Margarita


How to make a Golden Grand Marnier Margarita:

  1. Combine ingredients in a shaker with ice.
  2. Shake well, and strain into a salt-rimmed margarita glass.
  3. Garnish with lime.

Ponche Caballero

One of our favorites, Ponche Caballero, the Spirit of Spain, gets its flavor from a blend of Spanish brandy, orange peels from Andalusian oranges, cherries, grapes, and spices. A Spanish icon, this spicy and sweet liqueur puts an amazing twist on the classic margarita. As a matter of fact, Haskell’s is the top retailer in the world when it comes to the Ponche. “¡Olé!”

Caballero Margarita


Fresh lime juice
*Note this Margarita is going to be dark. As mentioned, Ponche is fortified with brandy.

How to make a Caballero Margarita:

  1. Combine ingredients in a shaker with ice.
  2. Shake well, and strain into a salt-rimmed rocks glass.
  3. Garnish with lime.

Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao

Upon hearing “Curacao,” you probably picture the sweet, bright blue liqueur that has its uses, but likely isn't a regular contender for your traditional margarita. However, Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao might surprise you. This less-sweet orange liqueur uses the Laraha orange, a special orange grown only on the small Caribbean island of Curacao with a fascinating origin story.

The Spanish brought the oranges to the island, but when they didn’t take off, the Spanish quickly abandoned the project. However, Mother Nature intervened and decades later, individuals exploring the area discovered that the oranges had not only grown but had even developed a unique flavor profile. The bitter Laraha orange peels mixed with aged cognac give the liqueur a deeper, more intense orange flavor. What we’re saying is, divine intervention suggests that this little number’s worth a try, and who are you to argue with Mother Nature?

Ferrand Dry Curacao Margarita


How to make a Ferrand Dry Curacao Margarita:

  1. Combine ingredients in a shaker with ice.
  2. Shake well, and strain into a salt-rimmed rocks glass.
  3. Garnish with lime.

Everyday Triple Sec

Not one to rock the boat? There’s nothing wrong with going with the simple everyday margarita made with Triple Sec. This classic may be the closest to the original mixed up by Carlos “Danny” Herrera at his small restaurant between Tijuana and Rosarito back in 1938 (or so the story goes). ¡Gracias Danny!

Simple Everyday Margarita


How to make a Simple Everyday Margarita:

  1. Combine ingredients in a shaker with ice.
  2. Shake well, and strain into a salt-rimmed rocks glass.
  3. Garnish with a slice of lime.


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