Triple sec is the secret ingredient in a margarita and a crucial part of Long Island iced teas and cosmopolitans—but what exactly is it?
Simply put, triple sec is an orange liqueur used to add fruity flavors and a touch of complexity to cocktails, but not all bottles that fall under the umbrella of triple sec are made equally. Each has its own nuanced qualities. Curaçao was first crafted in the 19th century by Dutch settlers on the Caribbean island of Curaçao, made from the bitter oranges that grow there. Blue Curaçao is the same liquid but dyed blue to match the island’s cerulean waters. Triple sec is the French counterpart to Curaçao: same orange flavorings but slightly drier in style.
Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao
Large brand that's readily available
From a serious Cognac distiller
“Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao is extremely balanced,” says Crystal Chasse, beverage director at Talk Story Rooftop at the McCarren Hotel in Brooklyn, New York. “Designed in conjunction with David Wondrich [a notable spirits expert and historian], this Curaçao is created in the traditional French triple-sec style with three separate distillations blended together.”
Pierre Ferrand already produced delicious Cognac, gin, and rum before its collaboration with Wondrich. The orange peels used during distillation give this dry Curaçao a strong citrus note that isn't saccharine or cloying, says Gavin Humes, director of operations for the Scratch Restaurants Group in Los Angeles. It can be used in any cocktail calling for Grand Marnier, Cointreau, or triple sec.
Price at time of publish: $30
Region: France | Bottle Size: 750 mL | ABV: 40%
Best Orange Liqueur
Grand Marnier Cordon Rouge
Great for baking
Different sizes available
Might be too sweet for some
“Grand Marnier orange liqueur is a strong, but smooth liqueur that effortlessly blends citrus notes with that of tons of Cognac,” says Juan Fernandez, beverage director at The Ballantyne Hotel in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Grand Marnier is technically a blend between Curaçao and triple sec. With a recipe developed in 1880 by Jean Baptiste Lapostolle at a distillery near Paris, Grand Marnier starts with Cognac and distills the grape spirit through bitter orange essence and sugar. “It is very enjoyable neat, on the rocks or in addition to cocktails,” says Fernandez. Or, use it in savory dishes and classic French desserts: perhaps Grand Marnier truffles, a Grand Marnier cake, or a baked chicken Grand Marnier.
Fun fact: the bottle was originally named Curaçao Marnier because of its high brandy content, but after Cesar Ritz, the founder of the Ritz Hotel, dubbed it a "grand liqueur," the name was changed.
Price at time of publish: $40 for 750 mL
Region: France | Bottle Sizes: 200 mL, 375 mL, 750mL, 1 L, 1,14 L, 1,75 L | ABV: 40%
Rhum Clement Créole Shrubb D'Orange Liqueur
Like fancy Grand Marnier
An excellent cocktail modifier
More heavily spiced
Offers a more acquired taste
“I really enjoy Rhum Clement Créole Shrubb,” says Rob Vogel, bar manager at Monarque in Baltimore. “This intense orange liqueur is made with Agricole rhum that lends to aromas of fresh-cut grass and lemon peel. Clement has also added the 'secret' Creole spices that contribute to wonderful warming flavors.”
Rhum Clement combines white and six-year-old Agricole rhums (French rhums made with sugarcane rather than molasses) then macerates in Creole spices and sun-bleached bitter orange peels. The spirit then has cane sugar syrup added to it before bottling. Consider it similar to Grand Marnier, but with more complex spice and a beautiful smoothness to the bottle.
Vogel suggests experimenting with this orange liqueur during the cooler months. Consider using this in a Creole Royale (Champagne plus a dash of Angostura bitters) or a Sidecar.
Price at time of publish: $38
Region: Martinique | Bottle Size: 750 mL | ABV: 40%
Best for Cosmos
The most recognized option
A margarita essential
More mass produced
“In my humble opinion (and I'm positive I'm not alone in this) there is pretty much only one orange liqueur worth a damn when considering traditional components to most classic cocktails,” says Drew Johnson, the head bartender at Michelin-starred The Musket Room in New York City. “That liqueur is of course Cointreau."
Cointreau was invented in 1865 and is still one of the best-known brands of triple sec available. Made with bitter and sweet orange peels, and sugar beet alcohol, this triple sec has a crisp orange flavor and a balanced sweetness that shines in cosmopolitans. At 80 proof, try it in a margarita, but don’t skip on sipping it over ice.
Price at time of publish: $40 for 750 mL
Region: France | Bottle Sizes: 375 mL, 750 mL, 1 L, 1.75 L | ABV: 40%
Best for Whiskey Sours
Lazzaroni Triplo Triple Sec Orange Liqueur
Excellent in cocktails
Great in cosmos and mai tais
Use bitter and sweet oranges
Quite sweet and bright
This bottle is interesting as it combines both Caribbean Curaçao heritage with European triple Sec tradition. Lazzaroni uses both bitter oranges from Curaçao and the peel of sweet oranges from Sicily to give the liqueur a bright citrus flavor with sweetness. This bottle lends itself well to citrus-forward vacation drinks, like cosmopolitans, mai tais, and margaritas, but also plays well against brown spirits in a whiskey or amaretto sour.
The Lazzaroni family started their brand in the 18th century as a cookie business, making more than 300 different types of cookies that became beloved around Italy. They eventually branched out into making sweets-inspired spirits. Now, Lazzaroni produces a range of traditional liqueurs meant for sipping neat or in cocktails, including an exceptional amaretto.
Price at time of publish: $28
Region: Italy | Bottle Size: 750 mL | ABV: 38%
Best for Long Island Iced Teas
Bols Triple Sec 30 Proof
Works well with tropical drinks
Higher alcohol on the palate
“My winner of the best triple sec goes to Bols,” says Alex Pendergrass, the assistant director of food and beverage at Hotel Viking in Newport, Rhode Island. “It’s very fragrant with tons of orange peel on the palate.” That means it shines through the multiple layers of alcohol in a Long Island iced tea.
Bols' triple sec is made from the peels of Curacao oranges, balanced with a rainbow of complementary citrus distillates. This bottle is 30 proof, far lower than many of the other options on this list.
The spirit is crystal-clear in color, and on the palate, it’s slightly dry with a candied sweetness and cinnamon heat. The Dutch can be credited with inventing Curaçao, so expect tradition to go into this Dutch-made bottle. Bols is one of the oldest distilleries in the world, with a history dating to 1575.
Price at time of publish: $8
Region: Netherlands | Bottle Size: 750 mL | ABV: 15%
Luxardo Triplum Orange Dry Triple Sec
Not ideal to drink neat
“I enjoy Luxardo Triple Sec. It’s made with the dried peels of three oranges: Curaçao, sweet oranges, and mandarin oranges,” says Ellen Talbot, the beverage manager at The Hart in Nashville, Tennesee. “These, plus an exclusive blend of botanicals, create a nuanced flavor profile that blends particularly well in cocktails.”
Luxardo is one of the best budget options on the market: it’s a refined bottle with fresh citrus flavors and an easy-drinking sweetness. While this option isn’t as optimal to drink neat or on the rocks, it’s an excellent bottle to reach for when mixing up drinks. Thanks to a hearty 39 percent ABV, Luxardo Triple Sec acts as a great backbone in cocktails.
Price at time of publish: $28 for 750 mL
Region: Italy | Bottle Sizes: 750 mL, 1 L | ABV: 39%
If you're in need of a tried-and-true orange liqueur that can be used in drinks and foods, Grand Marnier Cordon Rouge is your best bet. When you want to spice it up a bit with something a little different, Martinique's own Rhum Clement Creole Shrubb d'Orange Liqueur will bring some complexity to your cocktails.
What to Look for When Buying Triple Sec
Triple sec is an orange-flavored liqueur. That said, there's surprisingly a plethora of tastes when it comes to the brands. Some offer flavor notes of spices, while others are cloying oversweet or too bitter. Find one that is pleasing to your taste and well balanced in flavor.
The aroma of orange peel wafting up from the bottle of triple sec after opening it can be quite pleasant. You might also catch a whiff of spices or fresh-cut grass, among other smells. Make sure that the aroma is pleasing to you and whoever else is partaking with you.
All triple secs are not the same. Read the ingredients list on the label so you know just what is in that bottle of triple sec. You might be surprised at finding extra sugar or sweeteners and a few ingredients that you can't pronounce.
What's the difference between triple sec, orange liqueur, and orange curacao?
To put it simply, all are orange-flavored liqueurs.The biggest difference is color. Triple sec is clear in color while orange liqueurs and orange curacao can range from lightly citrus colored to neon orange. The name Curacao nods to the name of the island where Curacao is often made, though orange curacaos do not need to be made on the island anymore.
What cocktails can you make with triple sec?
Some of the more familiar and popular cocktails that use triple sec are the Long Island iced tea, margaritas, cosmo, kamikaze, orange martini, and the sidecar.
Can you drink triple sec by itself?
Triple sec can be drunk neat or with some ice if you prefer.
How much alcohol by volume (ABV) is in triple sec?
Triple sec ranges from 15 percent to 40 percent in ABV.
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
Kate Dingwall is a sommelier and spirits writer. She has been writing about the bar and spirits world for five years and has her BarSmarts and WSET certification.