For Cinco de Mayo: The story of Cointreau, the original triple sec

MCCLATCHY-TRIBUNE NEWS SERVICEMay 3, 2014 

The berry margarita features the flavor of blackberries.

MCT

Cinco de Mayo (Monday, this year) in the United States is a fairly well-celebrated holiday, whether you have Mexican heritage or not. The drink of choice, of course, is the margarita and often the focus is on the tequila used in this classic drink. But let's discuss the other key ingredient to the perfect margarita: the triple sec.

The orange liqueur was first produced by Cointreau, a company founded in 1849. But what we know today simply as Cointreau - a name synonymous with triple sec - wasn't the company's first product. Brothers Edourd-Jean and Adolphe Cointreau first produced a wild cherry liqueur called Guignolet.

In 1875, they created another fruit liqueur - triple sec, made with a blend of bitter and sweet orange peels. This became their main product and was introduced at the World's Fair in Paris in 1889.

That's quite a long history for a liqueur, and it remains a standout today. But why?

Kyle Ford, Cointreau's brand ambassador and a former bartender in New York and San Francisco, said it is the original triple sec - it defined the category. But the company wasn't able to patent the name, so "copies were rampant." Cointreau eventually removed the more generic "triple sec" term from their label altogether since "Cointreau" already had become defined as the liqueur, Ford said.

Another possible reason for its popularity?

"Other varieties of triple sec generally are sweeter than the 80-proof Cointreau," Ford said.

Because of this, while technically a liqueur, Cointreau also could be served as a digestif.

Triple sec is "generally seen as a modifier," Ford said, but it has recently seen huge popularity in the rickey - a cocktail with lime juice, soda water and liquor or liqueur. The popularity is likely, Ford said, because "it's 80 proof, and you're not losing the alcohol's integrity in this drink," and it's sweet. "It balances out the lime juice and makes a far more balanced cocktail."

Today, the company remains a family business. Alfred Cointreau, at just 28, is a fifth generation Cointreau working for the company. He's the company's historian and he also runs one of the distilleries.

"So the Cointreau you get might have been made by an actual Cointreau," Ford said.

Try the Cointreau rickey, the classic margarita recipe and some interesting twists on that classic to keep your taste buds tantalized.

THE PINA MARGARITA

2 ounces tequila

1 ounce Cointreau

1 ounce lime juice

1 ounce pineapple juice

Muddle fresh pineapple in the bottom of a mixing glass. Add remaining ingredients with ice and shake. Strain over ice in a cinnamon-sugar rimmed rocks glass. Garnish with a pineapple wedge.

RIO BRAVO

1 ounce tequila

1 ounce bourbon

1 ounce Cointreau Noir

1 ounce lime juice

Shake all ingredients with ice. Strain over ice into a chili salt-rimmed rocks glass. Garnish with chili salt and lime wheel.

THE ORIGINAL MARGARITA

2 ounces blanco tequila

1 ounce Cointreau

1 ounce lime juice

Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass and add ice. Shake and strain into a Margarita glass. Garnish with a lime wheel and salt.

SPICY MARGARITA

2 ounces blanco tequila

1 ounce Cointreau

3/4 ounce lime juice

Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass and add ice. Shake and strain into an iced rocks glass. Garnish with cilantro and jalapeno spiral.

THE BERRY MARGARITA

1 1/2 ounces tequila

1 ounce Cointreau

1/2 ounce lime juice

1/2 ounce blackberries

Add berries to a shaker and muddle. Add remaining ingredients, ice and shake well. Strain into a sugar-rimmed rocks glass. Garnish with two blackberries on a silver toothpick.

COINTREAU RICKEY

2 ounces Cointreau

1 ounce fresh lime juice

3 to 4 ounces club soda or seltzer

Build all ingredients in a glass with ice. Stir briefly. Garnish with orange peel and lime twist.

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