Cointreau vs. Patrón Citronge

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!

Evans Margarita

Here’s another twist on a margarita in which I’ve replaced conventional triple sec with a mixture of herbal Bénédictine liqueur (Made in France since 1863. It’s creator claimed that the secret recipe was originally concocted by Benedictine monks, but really it wasn’t.) and crème de cassis. It turns out that backers of Kickstarter projects are rather partial to tart tequila drinks, and one person in particular whose last name is Evans is no exception. Enjoy, Mr. or Mrs. Evans.

Evans Margarita ✯✯✯✯1/2
2 oz silver tequila
1/2 oz Bénédictine
1/2 oz crème de cassis
3/4 oz lime juice

Shake and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

The Lloyd Promise

Have I mentioned how invaluable this backer drink project has been in honing my ability to come up with a tasty drink on the fly with whatever’s on hand? I’ve been crafting one new drink a night for going on two months now and have learned very much about what tastes good with what and what doesn’t. I suppose our next drink could be interpreted as a riff on a Manhattan, or on a Manhattan/Whiskey Sour frankenstein. Cherry Heering, a delectably sweet cherry liqueur made in Copenhagen since 1818, happens to pair nicely with whiskey and loves to get all tarted up with lemon juice. A dude whose last name is Lloyd may be enjoying this drink right now. Or he might hate it, I really can’t say for sure.

The Lloyd Promise ✯✯✯✯
2 oz Rittenhouse 100 rye
1/2 oz Cherry Heering
1/4 oz sweet vermouth
3/4 oz lemon juice
1/2 tsp rich (2:1) simple syrup

Shake and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

To be perfectly clear, rich simple syrup is mixed two parts sugar to one part water. In fact, here are explicit instructions for making it:

1. Stir 1 cup sugar (I recommend either demerara or turbinado for a rich, molasses-y flavor) with 1⁄2 cup water over low heat until the sugar is dissolved.

2. Funnel the syrup into a small bottle and add 1 tsp 151 rum to help keep it fresh.

3. Store in your refrigerator for up to two months.

Shelly’s Sea Shells

Something handy to keep in mind if you’re ever trapped in a bunker during a global natural disaster or zombie apocalypse: crème de cassis mixes very well with tequila. So does pineapple juice. Add them both to a more-or-less standard margarita, taking care to strike a good sweet/tart balance, and you arrive at our next backer drink, Shelly’s Sea Shells. L’chaim.

Shelly’s Sea Shells ✯✯✯✯1/2
1 1/2 oz silver tequila
1/2 oz Cointreau
1/2 oz crème de Cassis
1 oz lime juice
1/2 oz pineapple juice

Shake and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Lady Jake

Creating drinks for strangers is hard. You can send them a questionnaire asking them their basic preferences, but there are still going to be unknowns. Do they have expensive or cheap tastes? Are they highly knowledgable about spirits and cocktails, meaning they will be bored with a basic concoction, or are they novices who will be put off by esoteric and/or expensive ingredients? You do the best you can, trying to strike a balance between easy-to-put-together and educational-without-being-inaccessible. As an example, consider the Lady Jake. A pretty straight-forward tart and mildly-sweet pleaser with a highly accessible base (bourbon) and a potentially alienating sweetener (Domain de Canton). Basically a whiskey sour with some citrus and other flavor notes to make it unique. I like it, anyway, and would hope one Jocelyne H. does, too. I wouldn’t know, however; I haven’t heard back from her about it.

Lady Jake ✯✯✯✯
1 1/2 oz bourbon
1 oz Domain de Canton
1/2 – 3/4 oz lemon juice
1 dash Peychaud’s bitters
1 dash orange bitters

Shake and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Lemon peel garnish.

Negroni Sans

Today’s beverage is a twist on the classic Negroni. I came into possession of some Sanbitter, which is a non-alcoholic, bitter Italian aperitif soda. It reminded me of Campari quite a bit, so it wasn’t too big an achievement to figure out that it might make a good Negroni variant. It adds a nice effervescence to an otherwise still drink. I added a little lime juice for a tart, refreshing zing. This is a great hot weather cure.

Negroni Sans ✯✯✯✯✯
2 oz gin
1/2 oz sweet vermouth
1/2 oz dry vermouth
3.38 oz (100 ml) Sanbitter aperitif soda
1/4 oz lime juice

Pour the gin, vermouths, and lime juice into an ice-filled rocks glass. Stir. Top with the Sanbitter. If you must, garnish with a lime wheel.

San Francisco

I wanted to share a recipe for a great classic drink that I found in my copy of the Old Mr. Boston De Luxe Official Bartender’s Guide, which dates from 1961. Exhaustive research in the form of a quick google search did not yield for me the origins of the drink, unfortunately. I’m guessing it’s been around for quite a while, and it has the advantage of being both delicious and bearing the name of my favorite U.S. city.

San Francisco ✯✯✯✯1/2
3/4 oz sloe gin
3/4 oz sweet vermouth
3/4 oz dry vermouth
1 dash Angostura bitters
1 dash orange bitters

Stir and strain into a small cocktail glass.

Being as the drink is vermouth (fortified wine) based, it makes a great preprandial (before dinner) tipple. The sweetness of the sloe gin also adapts it well to being a postprandial drink. I recommend the use of a high-quality sloe gin such as Plymouth. Budget sloe gins tend to be a little over-sweet to the point of viscosity.

Time To Get Busy Here

I’ve really had my hands full dealing with getting my book printed and other of life’s diversions, but now I’m going to focus my energies on what this blog is all about. Namely, posting a lot of really tasty drinks. One task I’ve been busy with is concocting drink recipes for my many generous backers. I’ve made about 50 new namesake drinks, and I’ve got about 25 to go. The first drink I’ll post is actually one I created for me after a tough day and named accordingly. If you like tequila and bitterness, you’ll love this one. Without any further delay, let’s get to it.

A Long Day ✯✯✯✯1/2
1 oz añejo tequila
1 oz Cynar
1 oz sweet vermouth
1 dash orange bitters
1 dash grapefruit bitters

Build in a rocks glass half-full of ice. Squeeze a lemon peel over the top, rub it around the rim, and drop it in.

Cynar is an amaro, which is a bitter Italian liqueur. Cynar happens to be flavored with artichoke, if you can believe that. Amari work quite well with tequila, and this drink is no exception. I recommend the use of Cocchi sweet vermouth, which is nice and sweet with no bitterness, to balance against the amaro and bitters. Some dashes of orange and grapefruit help to brighten things up a bit.