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Love a liqueur? You're not alone

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Liqueurs add a welcome flavour infusion to cocktail-making.

Liqueurs add a welcome flavour infusion to cocktail-making. Photo: Adam McLean

Forget about the garish, neon '80s concoctions such as the Blue Lagoon that were so beloved by tacky hotel resort bars. A different sort of liqueur is gracing the shelves of top bars, yet it's not something new.

Many bars are armed with a range of generic liqueurs, or the latest flavour hit that will remain in vogue for all of three months. But even modest venues will stock at least one proprietary brand such as Galliano, DOM Benedictine, Chartreuse and Cointreau. They boast hundreds of years of history between them, yet are still finding relevance in a world that has given birth to marshmallow and acai-berry-flavoured vodkas.

Many brands live by the mantra of "innovate or die" yet there is also a sound rationale behind being constant, reliable and authentic for more historical brands. One, Cointreau, has even hired a "heritage manager" to spread the word about the liqueur's rich history. And he knows a bit about the brand; at 27, Alfred Cointreau is a sixth-generation member of the Cointreau family that launched Cointreau "Triple Sec" in 1875.

“I travel around the world to meet the distributors and bartenders, to understand the cocktail culture and different ways of drinking … I take care of the history of the brand and the authenticity,” Cointreau explains.

He tells me that in the 19th century, orange liqueurs made with the bitter oranges from the Dutch-controlled Caribbean island of Curaçao were very popular. Oranges themselves were a rare treat that would be given as gifts at Christmas. Édouard Cointreau (Alfred's great-great-grandfather) spent 10 years working on a recipe for triple sec, a triple-concentrated but drier take on the Dutch curaçaos.

“Today we respect very well the authentic recipe created by Édouard Cointreau … and that makes the difference – that's why it is unique and why Cointreau is the best," Cointreau junior says.

"The secret of us surviving this 'marshmallow world', if you will, is because we respect the authentic recipe with just four ingredients … water, alcohol at 96 per cent, sugar from the sugar beet and the sweet and bitter orange peel.”

The master distiller for Cointreau, Bernadette Langlais, has developed a new variant for Cointreau – Cointreau Noir – that Alfred was in Australia to launch this week. But even this innovation is inspired by a recipe by Édouard Cointreau from 1902. Langlais' Cointreau Noir is a blend of 70 per cent Cointreau with 30 per cent champagne cognac from Remy Martin. Cointreau junior assures us that this new release “doesn't lose the DNA of Cointreau”.

Cointreau - the liqueur - and indeed generic 'triple secs' have benefitted by being very versatile in cocktail making, appearing in 20th century classics such as the Sidecar, the White Lady and the Margarita. A resurgence in cocktail culture over the past two decades has certainly helped give liqueurs a new lease on life.

Even more obscure brands such as the herbal DOM Benedictine and Green Chartreuse – whose primary purpose used to be as a digestive tipple – are being dusted off and used in cocktails again.

Chartreuse, which is based on a recipe handed to an order of Carthusian monks in 1605, is positively ancient in the world of spirits and despite its distinctive medicinal flavour is far more versatile than might be expected. A Green Chartreuse cocktail called The Last Word is a cult classic cocktail amongst bartenders in Australia. In New York, the Manhattan has made way for modern takes on its formula like the Greenpoint – named for a trendy neighbourhood in Brooklyn.

The Greenpoint

60ml straight rye whiskey

15ml Yellow Chartreuse

15ml sweet vermouth

1 dash Angostura bitters

1 dash orange bitters

Method:

Add all ingredients into a chilled mixing glass. Fill with ice and stir for about 20 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a lemon twist.

Sidecar

45ml of quality cognac

20ml Cointreau

20ml fresh lemon juice

Method:

Add all ingredients into a shaker. Shake briskly and strain into a chilled cocktail glass rimmed with castor sugar.

What's your favourite way to enjoy a liqueur?

18 comments

  • Cointreau on ice was THE drink at my 1986 high school formal after-party. We all thought ourselves terribly sophisticated sipping the fiery orange stuff (in our taffeta puffs and bad perms!).

    My current favourite is St Germain Elderflower Liqueur. Best enjoyed in an elegant fine-glass or crystal aperitif glass, or splashed in sparkling wine. The gorgeous bottle looks rather nice on the bar cart, too.

    Commenter
    ahopp
    Date and time
    March 15, 2014, 12:06AM
    • ... love Frangelico neat -- great after dinner (...and otherwise...) ...

      Commenter
      mama
      Date and time
      March 15, 2014, 1:49AM
      • Then try Franjelico on ice with a dash of lime juice cordial and a squeez of lime.......cheesecake......mmmmmmmm

        Commenter
        shemp
        Location
        melb
        Date and time
        March 16, 2014, 8:12AM
      • @shemp melb Date and time March 16, 2014, 8:12AM

        ... sure ...
        ... I live swimming in lime juice (...and mint)...
        ...still neat rules supreme...

        Commenter
        mama
        Date and time
        March 17, 2014, 2:10AM
    • Being old, I enjoy liqueurs straight. However, when travelling, I do find Cointreau very versatile. Grab a duty free bottle on the way out. On the rocks before dinner and straight after the meal or as a nightcap.

      Commenter
      oldgreenguiy
      Location
      Killara
      Date and time
      March 15, 2014, 10:24AM
      • Don't forget there are two 'colours' of Chartreuse - the well known Green and the Yellow which is distilled in Tarragona, Spain. The Green is distilled at Voiron, not far from Grenoble in France. Mix the two to-gether and you have an 'Episcopal' - one of the finest after dinner drinks. And Cointreau? Whatever happened to Max, Robert & Pierre Cointreau? All gone to heaven perhaps?

        Commenter
        Clive Deverall
        Location
        Perth WA
        Date and time
        March 15, 2014, 12:14PM
        • All production of Chartreuse is located in Voiron, France. The Tarragona distillery ceased production in 1989. And there are currently 8 variations being produced being Elixir de Vegetal, Green and Yellow as well as the VEP versions of these, 9th Century, 1605 and MOF

          Commenter
          Stretch
          Date and time
          March 16, 2014, 1:06PM
        • I stand corrected. Apparently Yellow Chartreuse is no longer distilled in Tarragona but in Voiron, together with the Green. But they still ,combined as an Elixir Vegetal, make a splendid end to a meal.

          Commenter
          Clive Deveral
          Location
          Perth Australia
          Date and time
          March 17, 2014, 10:34AM
      • Pity so many Aussies think that Cognac is not a brandy.

        Commenter
        Bradstow
        Location
        Mildura
        Date and time
        March 15, 2014, 1:38PM
        • ... do not know how they do not ... (!)
          ... sheer ignorance i 'd say... n'est-ce pas ... (?)

          Commenter
          mama
          Date and time
          March 17, 2014, 2:35AM

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