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Do you have triple sec alcohol stashed away in your liquor cabinet? If you don’t, maybe you should! While triple sec is not often the star of the show or enjoyed neat on its own, you can find it as a supporting flavor in many of the most popular cocktails. Ever heard of a cosmopolitan or margarita? You need triple sec to make them!
If you are a budding mixologist or want to impress guests at your next dinner party, consider adding triple sec to your repertoire. You can make some standout cocktails with its signature sweet orange taste. Here’s everything you need to know about choosing triple sec and some go-to recipes for the liqueur.
What is Triple Sec?
When it comes to orange liqueur, different brands and names can provide a variety of flavors. Some are dry, some are sweet, and others may even be colored. Understanding triple sec alcohol and other orange liqueurs will help you to perfect your cocktail recipes.
By definition, triple sec is an orange-flavored liqueur that leans more towards the drier side. Depending on the brand, it can range anywhere from 12-40% alcohol. The original flavors come from France, but many brands have now established themselves all over the world. Some brands will have triple sec in their name, while others will label themselves as an orange liqueur. Typically, a simple triple sec refers to a lower-grade version of the liqueur, while high-end brands, such as Cointreau, rely on the reputation of their name.
When looking at the name, sec is French for dry. The meaning behind triple isn’t clear, and there are many hypotheses about where it comes from. Some estimate that it indicates the level of dryness compared to other orange liqueurs, while others say it indicates the 3 separate distillation processes. Another suggests that it could imply the 3 types of oranges used to make the liqueur.
Traditionally, triple sec alcohol calls for the use of Seville and Laraha orange peels in distillation. While normally bitter oranges, this became a useful way to enjoy them as the taste turns out sweeter after processing the liqueur. In cocktails, the citrus taste of triple sec can help to offset other spices, smoke, or earthy tones common with other liquors.
Like any alcohol, you can find high-end brands or more affordable options at the liquor store.
The Beginning of Triple Sec
With so many orange liqueurs out there, the invention of triple sec becomes a tad blurry. Many came into invention around different parts of the world, and some inspired others. The Dutch East India Company began making a liqueur using dried orange peels from the island of Curacao combined with herbs and spices – what we now know as curacao liqueur.
Triple sec is a generic name for an orange liqueur that originated in France. The Combier distillery claims to be the inventor of triple sec. In 1834, Jean-Baptiste Combier began making an orange-flavored liqueur in the Loire Valley in France. At first, the drink was named Combier Liqueur d’Orange, but then the name slowly shifted towards triple sec.
To make the liqueur, they used Haitian orange peels, Normandy sugar beets, pure alcohol, and a secret ingredient. They sun-dry the peels of the oranges in neutral alcohol for at least 24 hours. Typically, most oranges are picked while still green, as the high concentration of essential oils gives them a more intense citrus flavor. Next, they would triple distill the alcohol in copper stills for maximum flavor and quality. To this day, the Combier family still uses the same copper stills.
In 1875, Cointreau created their own version of a triple sec using bitter and sweet orange peels. First, they named the drink curacao, then curacao triple sec, and then triple sec. It remains one of the most popular triple sec alcohol brands.
Triple Sec Alcohol Replacements
As you can tell by its blurry origins, there are many ways to enjoy triple sec. Since it is defined as an orange-flavored liqueur, you can find many alternatives. Blue curacao, Cointreau, dry curacao, Aurum, and Grand Marnier all work as substitutes. However, it should be noted that they all might have a slight difference in color and taste.
Curacao is the most common substitute, also labeled as an orange-flavored liqueur. It can come as clear or in many different colors but will taste the same regardless. While the original curacao used oranges from the island of Curacao, now the oranges are sourced from many different places.
In the 1800s, the different colors referred to the grade of the liqueur. For example, green meant it came from Laraha oranges that were picked, while still green and orange came from Seville orange peels. Today, you can often find blue curacao. This is a modern invention that allows bartenders to make blue cocktails that taste like orange.
Other orange-flavored liqueurs, such as Grand Marnier, will use an aged brandy base. Triple sec tends to be made with a base made from beet sugar rather than a grain, giving it a heavier taste. It also has a clear appearance and won’t affect the color of a mixed drink. When shopping for triple sec alcohol, be mindful of how the different brands and alternatives can affect the taste of your drink.
What is Triple Sec Used for?
Many people underestimate the power of triple sec alcohol. Some of the most famous drinks out there require orange liqueur, and you probably didn’t even realize it. Below are some of the most popular cocktails that you can use triple sec for (or their alternatives):
Yes, a margarita would be incomplete without triple sec! Whether you want to make it as a slushy or on the rocks, tequila, and triple sec alcohol are the key players in this drink.
To make a margarita, you will want to first salt the rim of your glass. Use a lime wedge to cover the rim, and then dip the glass in coarse Kosher salt. Using a cocktail shaker (because it should always be shaken, not stirred), you want to combine the following:
- 1 ½ oz tequila
- 1 oz triple sec
- Lime juice to taste
Shake your mixture until chilled. If you want some sweetness, feel free to add in agave or simple syrup. Pour your mixture into the salt-rimmed glass and then garnish with lime.
2. Mai Tais
If you want to feel like you’re taking a trip to the tropics, try making your own Mai Thai. When tart lime and sweet pineapple are combined, you get the ultimate fruity combination.
While rum is the main alcohol in this beverage, the triple sec alcohol adds a key fruity flavor to the drink. To make a Mai Tai, shake together the following:
- 2 oz pineapple juice
- 1 oz white rum
- ½ oz lime juice
- ½ oz triple sec
- ½ oz orgeat syrup (adds some almond flavor, but you can also use simple syrup)
- A splash of maraschino cherry juice
Once you’ve shaken and strained your cocktail, top it off with ½ oz of dark rum to get that signature dark layer on top. Garnish with mint, a pineapple slice, or a maraschino cherry.
Thanks to Carrie and the gang from Sex and the City, cosmopolitans really rose to popularity in the 1990s. Also affectionately known as a cosmo, they have a signature pink color but aren’t too sweet, making them a fun cocktail for a night out. To make a cosmopolitan, combine the following in a shaker:
- 1 ½ oz vodka
- ¼ oz lime juice
- ¼ oz triple sec
- ¼ oz cranberry juice
Strain the mixture into a martini glass and garnish with a lime wedge. If you really want to make your cocktail that much fancier, try chilling the glass beforehand!
One of the most well-known vodka martinis, many enjoy the sweet yet tart taste of a kamikaze. Traditionally, the drink is served without ice in a chilled glass, but some prefer to enjoy it as a shot or in a martini glass.
The recipe is a traditional sour, meaning it contains equal parts sweet and sour to two parts spirit. Triple sec acts as the sweet, while lime juice acts as the sour!
To make your kamikaze, shake up the following:
- 1 ½ oz vodka
- ¾ oz triple sec
- ¾ oz lime juice
Garnish with a lime and serve in a chilled martini glass.
5. Long Island Iced Tea
If you’re looking for a good time on a budget, the long island iced tea may just be your drink. Very tasty and full of lots of alcohol, it’s an easy yet hefty drink to have on a night out.
At home, you need to have 5 kinds of alcohol on hand to make this drink. The recipe also calls for lemon juice – and fresh is always best whenever possible.
To make your long island iced tea, combine the following:
- ¾ oz vodka
- ¾ oz white rum
- ¾ oz tequila
- ¾ oz gin
- ¾ oz triple sec
- ¾ oz simple syrup
- ¾ oz lime juice
Once combined, top off your drink with cola to the top of the glass and add a lemon wedge garnish. If this sounds like too much, you can lower the alcohol amounts and add more cola instead to make it less boozy. A long island iced tea is best served with a straw and is meant for slow sipping.
6. Singapore Sling
Named after the city of its creation, the Singapore Sling is a potent and sweet cocktail. Often a bright pinkish color, it looks as fruity as it tastes. Over the years, many variations of the Singapore Sling have come out. However, all require gin, citrus, some sweetener, and juice or soda.
Here is a recipe to try out and play with. Shake together:
- ½ oz gin
- ½ oz cherry brandy
- ¼ oz triple sec alcohol
- ¼ oz Benedictine liqueur (its unique taste will really make your cocktail stand out from others)
- 4 oz pineapple juice
- ½ oz lime juice
- ½ oz grenadine
Serve your drink over ice and garnish with a pineapple or maraschino cherry.
One of the most famous cognac drinks, the sidecar, came to be around WWI. A sour cocktail, a sidecar is a crisp and bright drink that is as delicious as it is stunning. To make it, line a cocktail glass with sugar. This will help to bring out the sweet and tart flavor. Then, shake together the following:
- 1 ½ oz cognac
- ¾ oz triple sec alcohol
- ¾ oz lemon juice
Pour into the sugar-rimmed cocktail glass and garnish with an orange twist.
When it comes to sangria, there are many recipes out there. Depending on the type of wine, fruits used, and sweetness desired, you can get a lot of different flavors when you order sangria. Not all sangria recipes have triple sec, but some do (including this one)! Since you can never make just one glass, here is a recipe for a pitcher.
- 1 750 ml bottle of sauvignon blanc
- 1/3 cup brandy
- ¼ cup of triple sec
- Orange juice to taste
- 1 tbsp brown sugar (optional)
- Slices of strawberries, raspberries, peaches, oranges, apples, and grapes (seasonal fruit is always best)
Combine your ingredients in a pitcher and let them stand at room temperature for at least 3 hours. Better yet, make the mixture ahead of time and let it sit overnight in the fridge. Feel free to muddle some of the fruit to bring out some more fruity flavor. Try some of the boozy fruit while drinking the sangria too!
9. Pink Floyd
One of the newest recipes on this list, the Pink Floyd cocktail, was invented by the late chef Floyd Cardoz. This recipe makes 4 drinks, so be sure to invite some friends over and introduce them to a brand-new cocktail.
To make a Pink Floyd, shake together the following ingredients:
- ½ cup cranberry juice
- ½ cup triple sec alcohol
- ½ cup lime juice
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 1 oz of Pimm’s liqueur
- 1 cup gin
Garnish your Pink Floyd with lemon, and enjoy!
How many calories in triple sec?
Triple sec has up to a hundred calories per ounce, depending on the brand. Nonetheless, it’s essential to remember that triple sec typically shares space with sodas, syrups, or juice; hence calorie counts can vary extensively between beverages.
How much sugar is in triple sec?
Triple sec has about 11-12 grams of sugar per standard serving size (or one ounce). Having said this, different companies have different recipes, so make sure to check the nutritional label on your bottle.
What is the difference between triple sec and Cointreau?
With its unique blend of sweet and bitter orange flavors enhanced by subtle hints of spices and botanicals, Cointreau sets itself apart from your average triple sec. Its higher price point is justified by the use of only top-quality ingredients, which gives it a luxurious taste and reputation.