When in France: Cointreau

pecho mamaWhilst on a petite tour of Caen with Pecho Mama, I found time to focus on some French spirits. Third up is Cointreau.

Wiki [currently] says ‘Cointreau is a brand of triple sec produced in Saint-Barthélemy-d’Anjou, France. It is drunk as an apéritif & digestif and is widely used as a component for several well-known cocktails cointreau.com. It was originally called Curaçao Blanco Triple Sec’.

Triple sec

Cointreau triple secWiki [currently] says ‘Triple sec is a variety of Curaçao liqueur, an orange-flavoured liqueur made from the dried peels of bitter & sweet orange. Triple sec is so named because of the triple copper-still distillation process through which the oranges or fruits that go into it are subjected. The ‘sec’ part of ‘triple sec’ means “dry,” and is borrowed directly from French sec, which is derived from the Latin word, siccus,” and Latin verbal siccare, which means “to dry; to dry up; to make dry; to remove moisture”’.

cocktail geek says, ‘Using a base of neutral alcohol, and with the addition only of sugar and water, Cointreau produces this famous triple sec using the peel from bitter Caribbean, and sweet European oranges. These are first macerated in the alcohol before being distilled in copper stills. The original product was in fact sweeter than what we currently enjoy today, and it is Cointreau that therefore holds claim to the creation of the ‘triple sec’ (extra dry) category’.

Some historical titbits

  • 1849 Brothers Adolphe & Edouard Jean Cointreau set up a distillery. Their first success was with the cherry liqueur guignolet, but they struck gold when they blended sweet & bitter orange peels to pure alcohol from sugar beets.
  • 1875 The first bottles of Cointreau are sold.
  • 1990 For 141 years they remained purely family-owned until a merger with Remy Martin forms Remy Cointreau plc.

Cointreau van.png

Today: An estimated 13 million bottles are sold each year in more than 150 countries. 90% of production is exported, not unlike cognac of which 95% is exported. Meanwhile French imports of Scotch continue to grow. Talking of whisky, Remy Cointreau recently bought the French distillery Domain de Hautes Glaces.

I brought to Caen two Cointreau’s, one bottled at 40% and another at 70 proof.

Cointreau [1990’s] 40%

  • Cointreau 40%.jpgN: Rather smells as you’d imagine and how i remember it. Not surprisingly the bitter<sweet zing from the oranges gives off a marmalade note. There are also notes of sweet potato mash & orange sponge in the distance but its the oily orange, mandarin & clementines that offer the spectacle. Baby cham?
  • T: An intense bitter<<sweet with the oranges et al to-ing and fro-ing. Water takes off the sweet hit without detracting from the orange complex. The dryness soon kicks in. A total straight shooter.
  • F: As you’d expect, the lips & palate become sticky very quickly with the orangey sugary spirit zinging around the back edges of the tongue. There’s a shampoo note at the death.
  • C: I don’t know my oranges but according to Chris Carlsson at spiritsreview.com, they are mostly sourced from Spain & Haiti.


Cointreau [1970’s] 70 proof

  • Cointreau 70 proof.jpgN: Rather different to the previous 40% bottling. Here the nose is of sweet tropical shampoo but that could be down to the spirit-on-aluminium [or tin?] cap, or the previous Cointreau’s finish. Theres a faint nuttiness. The oranges are really faded compared to the more modern & direct/blunt bottling. Where the former had an oily nose, here theres a butteriness. As this opens, any OBE dissipates, allowing the subtle complexities to grow. A buttery floral note [without the shampoo], begins to flourish. In time, the oranges come to the fore, albeit with more subtlety and complexity. Marzipan? Pancakes with maple syrup for sure, a little [grain] emulsion, creamy orange milk-chocolate liqueurs and orange cacoa – is that a thing, it ort [Dogberryism] to be.
  • T: No sharp intensity here. Theres a thicker/denser sweet mouthfeel with a large herbal note of mint & sugary vinegar [mint sauce], a little cinnamon>lemon balm=thyme>root beer/Dr Pepper,… Soft-dry.
  • F: Medicinal/herbal sweet with dentists mouthwash [fluoride] to finish. At the death, its herbal orange that resides with a far better finish than the more modern bottling.
  • C: What a difference a few decades makes. It feels rather scorable given the complexity.

Further reading: therumhowlerthespiritsbusiness

Time to hop on the ferry back to ole’ Blighty.