Using complementary orange liqueurs

sidecar-2We have quite a number of orange liqueurs in our cabinet, and we’ve been curious for a while whether it was good, bad, or indifferent to use an orange liqueur with a base spirit that’s complementary to the primary liquor in a cocktail. For instance, it is better to use Grand Marnier as opposed to any other orange liqueur when making a brandy cocktail? Read on to see what we found.

We thought it could really go any way. The complementary flavors could accentuate the positives of the primary spirit, or the similarity could make the cocktail flat and not as interesting, or the it might just be different rather than better or worse. So in the name of scientific inquiry :), we mixed up several simple cocktails featuring a base spirit, orange liqueur, and citrus component. We made two versions of each, one with an orange liqueur with the same base as the primary spirit, and one with Combier as a clean, orange, base-neutral control. ‘Cause we’re doing science!

We started with a Sidecar to see how brandy and Grand Marnier worked together.

sidecar-1Ritz Sidecar – from Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails

  • 1 1/4 oz cognac
  • 3/4 oz orange liqueur
  • 1/2 oz lemon juice

Shake all ingredients with ice. Strain into a glass. Enjoy. The original recipe calls for a sugared rim, but we prefer our drinks on the drier side.


  • Nose: Cognac, fresh lemon & orange, gentle barrel notes, slight elderflower fragrance, mild pipe tobacco.
  • Palate: Sweet lemon and elderflower on the front. Orange, caramel, and resin notes (somewhere between mint & pine) on the mid-palate. Clean, astringent lemon finish with some bitter notes. Sweet in contrast when tasted side-by-side with the Grand Marnier version. Brings out more of the floral characteristics in the cognac.

Grand Marnier

  • Nose: Fresh lemon, fainter than the Combier variation. Grape eu de vie. Cooked orange like marmalade. Floral notes from the cognac are muted.
  • Palate: Not as sweet as the Combier variation. Yeasty orange rolls  and some mint/pine resin on the front. Very clear orange with a hit of sweet/tartness on the mid-palate. Tobacco notes on the mid-palate when tasted side by side with the Combier version. Very dry and astringent finish with lots of bitter orange. Brings out more of the earthy, barrel and leather notes of the cognac.

Next, we decided to try tequila with Patron Citronage in a classic Margarita.


  • 1 1/2 oz tequila
  • 1 oz orange liqueur
  • 3/4 oz lime juice
  • pinch salt

Shake all ingredients with ice. Strain into a glass. Enjoy! Normally one salts the rim, but we prefer a pinch of salt because that gives us more control over the amount.


  • Nose: Smoke, vegetal notes,  woody mesquite, clay, dry mineral, lime & orange peel, little bit of lime and orange juice. Christa gets more of the orange juice and lime peel.
  • Palate: Sweet orange, then mineral, smoke, and lime oil at the front. Sweet lime, orange and agave qualities on the mid-palate along with a tiny bit of petrol and mineral. Finish is lime and orange peel, kind of tingly and a little tongue-numbing. Little bit sweeter with more limeade qualities than the Patronage variation. More of a “sit in the garden in the sun” margarita that’s a touch brighter and refreshing.

Patron Citronage

  •  Nose: Mesquite and smoke are lighter. Clay, mineral, caramel, orange, little bit of lime. Sweeter nose. More grassy notes.
  • Palate: Sweet/tart throughout. Bitter-sweet orange on the intro with grassy vegetal notes from the tequila. Really nice aromatic mesquite and lime on the mid-palate. Grassy agave carries through, much stronger in this drink than the Combier variation, probably because we’re doubling down on the tequila. Bitter orange peel and smoke on the finish. Again with the tingling/numbing effect as with the Combier.  Less sweet than that variation, with more earthy notes. More of a “evening out with spicy food” margarita that’s a touch more complex and darker flavored.

Finally, we wanted to try rum in combination with Clement Creole Shrubb in an Outrigger.

outrigger-1Outrigger – from Beachbum Berry

  • 1 1/2 oz Barbados rum
  • 3/4 oz orange liqueur
  • 3/4 oz lemon juice

Shake all ingredients with ice. Strain into a glass. Enjoy! Again the original recipe calls for a sugared rim, but you know the drill. 🙂


  • Nose: Orange creamsicle, vanilla pastry, lemon, sugar cane.
  • Palate: Orange creamsicle and vanilla pastry to start. Very sweet orange on the mid-palate. Big hit of acid at the end of the mid-palate and into the finish.  Bitter orange, peach and peach pit on the finish.  Sweeter than the Creole Shrubb variation, with a sort of powdered sugar flavor. More lemony too.

Clement Creole Shrubb

  • Nose: Cooked orange, barrel funk, pollen, honey comb. Earthier, less creamy.
  • Palate: No creamy qualities. Fresh squeezed orange and lemon on the front. Kinda tart, little bit of sweetness, very bright. Caramel, tannic black tea, dark earthy notes on the mid-palate. Pithy bitter orange on the finish, almost like a kumquat. Orangier and with more earthy notes than the Combier variation.

outrigger-2We liked all of the variations we tried, and certainly Combier does a yeoman’s job in providing clean, straightforward orange flavor. What seemed to hold true with all of comparisons was that doubling down on the base spirit by having it in the orange liqueur as well pulled forward the aged qualities of the liquor in question – earth, wood, funk, caramel, tobacco, leather, etc. All of those drinks were “darker”, less sweet, and a little less fresh citrus-forward. So depending on the time of year, time of day, your mood, and the tastes of your guests, pull out the mixer that best suits your needs.

This entry was posted in aged rum, cognac, tequila, triple sec and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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