The Ultimate Guide To Orange Liqueur

This is for anyone who wants to know what an Orange Liqueur is and how to use it. There are tons of recipes that call for orange liqueur so it’s important to know what kinds there are available and what the difference is between them. There are different brands, different taste profiles and even non-alcoholic versions known as extracts. This will be your guide to all things “Orange Liqueur” to help you identify, use, and even make your own version.

What Is The Difference Between An Orange Liqueur And An Extract?

An orange liqueur is an alcoholic drink composed of a distilled spirit that contains an alcohol content typically between 15% to 30% ABV(Alcohol By Volume). It has orange flavor that is either added or infused into an already prepared spirit like cognac or brandy. It then has sweeteners or extracts added to bring about a sweet and flavorful taste. It is typically used as a mixer in drink recipes or as an aperitif(before dinner drink) on the rocks. There are plenty of varieties of Orange Liqueur and even more mixed drink recipes that include them.

There are also extracts available to use as flavoring as well. The definition of an extract is “a preparation containing the active ingredient of a substance in concentrated form”. In this case we would be talking about an Orange extract. The extract is usually made by mixing the peel of the orange and mixing it with 40% abv vodka mixed with water and then placing it in a container to let the extraction process take its place. This process allows the chemical reactions from the vodka and water to break down the compounds of the orange peel. Basically the flavors are brought about by these chemical reactions. It’s a little bit of kitchen know-how and science.

There is also a non-alcoholic version of the orange extract that you can get as well. The process is essentially the same but instead of using alcohol as the agent to breakdown the orange peels or orange zest, it uses food-grade liquid glycerin. People have their opinion on which one is better but the concentration of orange is essentially the same and you will not be able to notice a difference.

A Brief History Of Orange Liqueur

Orange Liqueur has an interesting origin. Long ago an Explorer by the name of Amerigo Vespucci set out on a quest to map and discover parts of the South American Coast. Among the coastline was an island. Some of the sailors traveling with Vespucci had come down with Scurvy and were left on this island. When they returned to the island to pick up the ailing sailors they were found to be in good health. The island was then known as Curaçao, which translates in portuguese to “cure”. There is some debate as to whether or not this is true but it is an entertaining tale.

The rest of the story is accurate, however, as there are records going forward. The island of Curaçao was thought to be a small bit of paradise at first but this turned out to be too good to be true. The small size of the island could not support long term orange farming and the Spanish explorers at the time found little gold. It remained under Spanish control, but was largely left alone until 1634.

The government backed Dutch West India Company seized control of the island. Under Dutch control the island was found to be quite profitable. They found other avenues of making profit from maize, peanuts, and salt. The orange trees were still there but the fruit they bore was bitter and tough. However, they found a unique way to use them. The orange rinds were quite useful in flavoringing brandy, thus orange liqueur was made.

Can I make It At Home?

There are multiple recipes online for you to make your own orange liqueur. It’s relatively simple and easy to do as well. Here are the steps that you will need to follow to make your own orange liqueur.

  1. Wash the oranges thoroughly to make sure there isn’t any residue from pesticides or preserving chemicals left on the peel as this will also make it into your liqueur if not properly washed. You can try this fruit and veggie wash from Amazon.
  2. Zest the oranges by using a small zesting tool. There are several types of tools that you can do this with but we recommend using one that will leave you with larger pieces that will be easier to strain at the end.
  3. Put the orange zest into your container and add 2 cups of vodka, brandy, or cognac into the container as well. Store this in a cool place for a month while the alcohol absorbs the flavors of the orange peel.
  4. Remove the peels from the mixture by straining the liquid. Mix together a ½ cup of sugar and ½ cup of water over heat to dissolve the sugar. Then mix with the strained alcohol once it has cooled. Place into a cool spot for another month to let the flavors mature.
  5. Enjoy!

Brands Of Orange Liqueur

Clément Créole Shrubb

This liqueur is produced by Rhum Clément, It's similar in style to curaçao. It is a pot-stilled spirit flavored with bitter orange and spices. The base spirit used is Clément's rhum agricole, giving this drink a nice complexity. Great to use in tropical rum drinks, such as the Mai Tai.

  • Price: $40 
  • Size: 750 mL
  • Strength: 80 proof
  • Country: Martinique
  • Aroma: Bitter orange, funky rum, spice.
  • Taste: Dry, sharp, bitter orange, hints of rhum agricole and spice.

Cointreau

There is good reason why Cointreau is so popular. There is a perfect balance between bitter orange and sweetness. Warm spices complement the orange. In a great orange liqueur the flavors should enhance the orange flavor and in this, Cointreau excels. It's great for cocktail versatility.

  • Price: $40
  • Size: 750mL
  • Strength: 80 proof.
  • Country: France
  • Aroma: Subtle orange, spice, some alcohol.
  • Taste: Well balanced. Dry, bitter orange, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove.

Grand Marnier

This liqueur is made of a blend of pot-stilled cognacs, bitter-orange peel, and spice. It is a clear winner as an after-dinner sipper. The flavors are well balanced and not overly sweet. As a mixer this drink can be too forward on the brandy. 

  • Price: $40
  • Size: 750 mL
  • Strength: 80 proof.
  • Country: France
  • Aroma: Brandy, orange, alcohol.
  • Taste: Dry, bitter orange, subtle brandy notes, very subtle hints of wood aging, some spice.

Hiram Walker Triple Sec 

As the old saying goes “you get what you pay for”. This is not a stellar orange liqueur as it tastes like it has been artificially flavored but when mixed with other liquors it doesn’t become that big of a deal.

  • Price: $11 
  • Size: 750 mL 
  • Strength: 60 proof.
  • Country: USA
  • Aroma: Sweet orange
  • Taste: Very sweet, artificial orange.

Patron Citronge

You’ll be disappointed if you expect this drink to have a tequila base. It's purely a neutral-spirit based triple sec. It's a medium quality liqueur.

  • Price: $22 
  • Size: 750 mL
  • Strength: 80 proof
  • Country: Mexico
  • Aroma: Orange (almost artificial), alcohol.
  • Taste: Moderately sweet, orange (mildly bitter), some floral notes.

Senior Curaçao of Curaçao

This is made by a family that claims to have invented the drink. It's sweeter than most. They also offer a clear version and a blue curaçao. If you really must have blue curaçao for your cocktails, Senior Blue is much better balanced than any other blue product on the market.

  • Price: $25 
  • Size: 750 mL.
  • Strength: 62 proof
  • Country: Curaçao, Netherlands
  • Aroma: Orange, and some alcohol.
  • Taste: Mildly sweet, bitter orange, moderately balanced. Some clove notes.

Santa Teresa Rhum Orange Liqueur

This tastes more like an orange-flavored rum than a rum-flavored orange liqueur. It's a little sweet so depending on your tastes it may make a great sipper. It is complex with a hint of barrel aging.

  • Price: $18 
  • Size: 375 mL
  • Strength: 80 proof
  • Country: Venezuela
  • Aroma: Smells strongly of rum, with orange and vanilla in the background.
  • Taste: an orange rhum agricole. Rhum dominates the palate, with hints of orange, spices, and vanilla on the finish.

Luxardo Triplum

Nicely balanced blend of bitter orange, sweet orange, and spice. Lovely to sip. It is very comparable to Cointreau with a cheaper price tag.

  • Price: $22 
  • Size: 750 mL 
  • Strength: 78 proof
  • Country: Italy
  • Aroma: Orange, alcohol, light spice.
  • Taste: Dry, bitter orange, spice.

Are There Different Flavors Of Orange Liqueur?

Solerno Blood Orange Liqueur

This liqueur tastes very specifically of blood orange. I was very surprised by this, pleasantly so. If you want to add a unique and unexpected flavor to your cocktails, this is the way to go. 

  • Price: $40
  • Size: 750 mL
  • Strength: 80 proof
  • Country: Italy
  • Aroma: Definitely blood orange
  • Taste: Orange, and tastes specifically of blood oranges.

Mandarine Napoleon

This smelled very specifically like mandarin oranges. Unfortunately the mandarin flavors are overwhelmed by sweetness in this liqueur.

  • Price: $32 
  • Size: 750 mL
  • Strength: 76 proof
  • Country: Belgium
  • Aroma: Not just orange aroma, but specifically, and very obviously, mandarin orange.
  • Taste: Cloying, one note, not specifically mandarin at all.

Elegant Tangerine Liqueur

Elegant tangerine is a sweet liqueur made with essences of selected ripe tangerine. Its aroma surrounds you with an elegant spring breeze. It is a very delicious drink liqueur.

  • Price: $28 
  • Size: 700 mL
  • Strength: 50 proof
  • Country: Italy
  • Aroma: Sweet and spring-like
  • Taste: Sweet, tangy orange with a bit of sour

Drillaud Grapefruit Liqueur

Pale pink with grapefruit and citrus overtones. Notes of bitter orange and sweet fruit make for a beautiful smooth finish.

  • Price: $15
  • Size: 750 mL
  • Strength: 30 proof
  • Country: France
  • Aroma: Sweet but bitter resonance
  • Taste: Citrus, Fruit, Complex

Sweet And Bitter Orange Liqueurs

These Liqueurs, even though they are all orange, still fall into different categories. They are made in different ways, with different liquors, different spices, and different amounts of sweetness. If you are looking for a specific kind of taste like sweet or bitter take a look at the lists below. We also have some bitters listed as well. These are different than the liqueurs themselves. They are an added ingredient to the drinks. You can learn more about them in our recent blog post on cocktail bitters.

Orange Bitter per wikipedia: “Orange bitters is a form of bitters, a cocktail flavoring made from such ingredients as the peels of Seville oranges, cardamom, caraway seed, coriander, anise, and burnt sugar in an alcohol base. Orange bitters, which are not to be confused with standard Angostura aromatic bitters, are currently enjoying a resurgence among cocktail enthusiasts”.

Sweet – Patron Citronge, Hiram Walker Triple Sec, Mandarine Napoleon

Bitter – Clément Créole Shrubb, Combier Liqueur d’Orange, Grand Marnier

Bitters – Angostura Orange Bitters, Regan’s Orange Bitters No. 6, Fee Brothers West Indian Orange Bitters

How Orange Liqueur Can Improve Your Cocktail

Orange Liqueur is a great mixing agent mostly because orange is just a brilliant flavor. It has a complexity to it that most foods do not. They are sweet, tangy, bitter, and sour. Citrus fruits in general have most of these qualities but oranges have more of a sweetness than their counterparts. There are so many fruit based cocktails that this flavor flows so well with like a margarita. It can also go great with whiskey and tequila on its own because it has that right amount bitter taste to it as well. It’s just very flexible as far as flavors go.

The alcohol content is another reason that orange liqueurs are so easy to use as a mixer. They aren’t overly strong on the alcohol side. They generally range from 15% to 30% but can go up to 40%. This makes them an ideal mixer to go with an 80 proof or 100 proof liquor. They can add a sweetness while also mellowing out any harshness from a higher proof alcohol.

Orange doesn’t just go well with liquor as a mixing agent or flavor. It also works really well with beer. Some cases in point are a couple of beers from the mid 90’s that made their mark. The first is from a brewery in Kalamazoo, MI called Bell’s Brewery. They have a beer called Oberon, created in 1992, that they insist be served with an orange garnish. In Michigan they celebrate it with Oberon day every March 25th as it is a seasonal release and only available for the summer. They other is a beer made in 1995 called Blue Moon. It’s from Coors/Miller and it is brewed with orange flavor.

As a matter of fact they even have a recipe for a beer mixed with orange liqueur. You can check out the original recipe here.

Orange Shandy Satsuma

Orange Shandy Satsuma

Prep 0 mins
Cook 0 mins
Ready-in 0 mins

Ingredients

12 ounces Orange Juice
1.5 ounces Satsuma Orange Liqueur
12 ounces Blue Moon beer
Orange Wedges or Slices for garnish

Instructions

  1. Mix the orange juice and orange rum liqueur together in a large glass or shaker.
  2. Divide into two glasses with a few ice cubes.
  3. Open the beer and divide between the two glasses.
  4. Give the glasses a quick stir.
  5. Garnish with an orange wedge or orange slice.
  6. Enjoy!!
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3 Great Cocktails Made With Orange Liqueur

Margarita

Margarita

Prep 0 mins
Cook 0 mins
Ready-in 0 mins

Ingredients

Ice cubes
3 oz tequila
2 oz freshly squeezed lime juice
1 oz Simple Syrup
1/2 to 1 teaspoon orange liqueur
1 tablespoon Lime-salt-sugar
Lime-salt-sugar
Zest of one lime
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons sugar

Instructions

  1. Fill a cocktail shaker with ice.
  2. Add tequila, lime juice, Simple Syrup and orange liqueur.
  3. Cover and shake until mixed and chilled, about 30 seconds.
  4. Place Lime-salt-sugar on a plate.
  5. Press the rim of a chilled rocks or wine glass into the mixture to rim the edge.
  6. Strain margarita into the glass.
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Long Island Iced Tea Cocktail

Long Island Iced Tea Cocktail

Prep 0 mins
Cook 0 mins
Ready-in 0 mins

Ingredients

3⁄4 oz Vodka
3⁄4 oz White rum
3⁄4 oz Silver tequila
3⁄4 oz Gin
3⁄4 oz Triple sec
3⁄4 oz Simple syrup
3⁄4 oz Fresh lemon juice
Cola, to top

Instructions

  1. Add all ingredients except the cola into a Collins glass with ice.
  2. Top with a splash of the cola and stir briefly.
  3. Garnish with a lemon wedge.
  4. Serve with a straw.
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Orange Martini

Orange Martini

Prep 0 mins
Cook 0 mins
Ready-in 0 mins

Ingredients

2 ounces vodka
1 ounce triple sec orange liqueur
2 ounces orange juice
1/2 ounce simple syrup or to taste

Instructions

  1. Pour all ingredients over ice in a shaker.
  2. Strain into chilled martini glass.
  3. Garnish with an orange slice.
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Orange Liqueur Substitutes To Use

If you are looking to add a little bit of orange flair to your drink, cooking, or baking and don’t want to go the alcohol route, then we have some ideas. There are a few things that you can use in lieu of an orange liqueur. The first option would be to use a concentrate. These are a condensed syrup that you can add to your recipes. They come in all different varieties of orange as well. They have Orange Juice, Orange, Blood Orange, etc.

You can also use an orange extract. These are even more potent than a concentrate. While a concentrate generally uses a syrup added by ounces, an extract typically is added using a dropper to add a few drops at a time. So it is very potent. Try this from Amazon.

Here at hmmwhat2drink.com, we strive for a commitment to excellence. We enjoy our beers, spirits, and specialty drinks as much as the next, but we urge you to drink responsibly. These articles and recipes are intended for adults and as such, should be used in the proper context. So have fun, relax, but do it responsibly in your home or with a designated driver. If you have any suggestions please email us at hmmwhat2drink@gmail.com.

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