A friend recently asked me for the best margarita recipe. Authentic margaritas are composed of just three ingredients: tequila, lime juice, and triple sec. Of course, you can get creative and take liberties with substitutions, additions, etc., but these three ingredients are the true foundation. Making recommendations for margarita ingredients to my friend set me on an investigation into triple sec options. Triple sec is a variety of curaçao liqueur, and the gold standard for triple sec is Cointreau, which, as many of you know, ain’t cheap. I wanted to look into the best and most affordable substitutes for Cointreau to see if I might be willing to forgo the gold standard. Generic brands of triple sec, such as those offered by DeKuyper and Bols, are cheaply made and have a corresponding shelf price. While their low price makes them a tempting option, they tend to have somewhat of a chemical aftertaste and are clearly inferior to the likes of Cointreau.
In the 1930s, the Mexicans started making a domestic and more affordable alternative to Cointreau called Controy, which is clearly a knock-off of Cointreau both in name and bottle design. As such, the Mexicans have always had a hell of a time trying to market the stuff outside of Mexico; the producers of Cointreau tend to get a bit litigious at that prospect. As a marketing solution, the rights to Controy were bought by Patrón (of premium tequila fame), who now sells Controy in the states and elsewhere under the name Citronge. It’s the same stuff, just in a different package.
This morning (yes, this morning) I picked up a bottle of Citronge (a bargain at $15 compared to $32 for Cointreau) and did a side-by-side tasting against Cointreau to see how it stacks up against the heavyweight. Citronge has a thicker viscosity, which some would argue is a good quality for making a margarita. I didn’t notice that it was any sweeter than Cointreau, however. It also smells a bit like tequila, interestingly. Maybe some tequila or agave nectar is added to it to make it seem more “Mexican,” I don’t know. Cointreau has a definitively stronger and fuller flavor of orange, with a longer finish, but I found the flavor of Citronge to be pretty good, just milder, with a tequila note. Bottom line: I would definitely use Citronge for margaritas and might even sub it for Cointreau in other drinks. It’s a good value at half the cost of Cointreau. Other options I haven’t yet tried are Marie Brizzard triple sec and the Italian liqueur GranGala, both of which are reputed to be good-quality margarita ingredients. If you happen try them out (or have already), let me know how they stack up against Cointreau!