Grand Marnier is a popular orange liqueur made in France from a blend of French cognac and bitter orange liqueur. That familiar bottle that adorns bars worldwide is technically called Cordon Rouge, though it's most often simply called Grand Marnier. It is the best-known French liqueur on the market and among the top choices for orange liqueurs in the world. Grand Marnier is a brilliant cocktail ingredient and it offers a smooth citrus taste when drunk on its own.
Grand Marnier is sometimes used as a generic term for an orange liqueur and there are plenty of substitutes available. The best options are those that also use a brandy base, such as the Italian Gran Gala. For many recipes, you can also use a premium-quality triple sec (Cointreau is a favorite) or curaçao. Grand Marnier can be a substitute for any of these in most cocktails as well. To retain the quality of your cocktail, avoid extremely cheap orange liqueurs as they can be syrupy and throw off the drink's balance.
- Ingredients: Orange peel, brandy
- Proof: 80
- ABV: 40%
- Calories in a shot: 76
- Origin: France
- Taste: Sweet, slightly bitter citrusy
- Serve: On the rocks, cocktails, shots
What Is Grand Marnier Made From?
The distillery that would create Grand Marnier was founded in 1827 by Jean Baptiste Lapostolle outside of Paris. His granddaughter married Louis-Alexandre Marnier in 1876 and he joined the family business. In 1880, Marnier developed a cognac-based orange liqueur using Caribbean bitter oranges. Originally named Curaçao Marnier, the name was changed to Grand Marnier due to a suggestion by César Ritz, founder of the Ritz Hotel because it was a "grand" liqueur. The now-famous expression is also called Cordon Rouge and its bottle was designed to look like a traditional cognac still adorned with a red wax seal and red ribbon. Today, Grand Marnier is owned by the Campari Group.
At the most basic, Grand Marnier is a cognac-based liqueur flavored with a bitter orange distillate. The production process is more complicated. The cognac used in the blend is made from Ugni Blanc grapes grown in the Cognac region of France. It is double-distilled in copper pot stills and aged in oak casks before blending and being sent to Grand Marnier.
A separate process creates the orange distillate. The flavor comes from sun-dried bitter orange (Citrus bigaradia) peels which are harvested while green to capture the most intense flavor essences. They're then macerated into neutral alcohol at Grand Marnier's Château de Bourg-Charente distillery in France and slowly distilled.
The two spirits are then blended together by Grand Marnier's master blender: 51 percent cognac and 49 percent orange liqueur. It is bottled at a full 40 percent alcohol by volume (ABV, 80 proof), making the liqueur as strong as most brandy, whiskey, and other base distilled spirits.
What Does Grand Marnier Taste Like?
The amber-colored liqueur offers a brilliant taste of bitter orange against a backdrop of fine brandy. The cognac itself imparts vanilla, oak, and toffee flavors, which adds to the liqueur's complexity.
The brand produces a few different orange liqueurs. These are upgrades to Cordon Rouge and are best enjoyed on their own, either neat or on the rocks. All are bottled at 80 proof and range from right under $100 to $800, so they're definitely a luxury.
- Cuvée Louis-Alexandre: Named after the brand's founder, this bottling is a blend of 82 percent V.S.O.P. cognac and 18 percent bitter orange liqueur.
- Cuvée de Centenaire: Using the same ratio as Louis-Alexandre, this expression uses older X.O. cognacs in the blend. It was created in 1927 to mark the distillery's 100th anniversary.
- Cuvée 1880: A higher concentration of cognac, it is made of 90 percent X.O. cognac sourced from the Grande Champagne region in France with only 9 percent bitter orange liqueur.
- Cuvée Quintessence: The rarest offering from Grand Marnier, this expression uses the 82 percent cognac and 18 percent orange liqueur ratio. However, the Grande Champagne cognacs are very old and the blend includes "special reserves from the private family cellar."
At times throughout the years, Grand Marnier has released additional flavored liqueurs. The Signature Collection Series, for instance, included Grand Marnier Cherry (2012) and Grand Marnier Raspberry Peach (2013). Both were limited edition expressions that quickly impressed drinkers and were wonderful in cocktails. It's unclear whether these or any other liqueurs will be released again in the future, though it's a good idea to keep an eye on the brand's special releases.
How to Drink Grand Marnier
Grand Marnier can easily be enjoyed on its own, whether straight or on the rocks, and makes a great sipper for dessert or a nightcap. It's also one of the preferred orange liqueurs for cocktails and mixed drinks. It's refined flavor and high alcohol means it can be the base for a drink, too. Top it with club soda or tonic water over ice. Use it to replace the gin of a Tom Collins or the whiskey of an old-fashioned. Many cocktail recipes call specifically for Grand Marnier and its considered an upgrade from triple sec in drinks like the margarita. Due to its higher price, it's not used in shot recipes often, though it does appear in a few. It is prized for its sweet orange flavor and golden color in layered shots.
Grand Marnier may be the star of a cocktail or a sweet mixer that adds a citrus accent. It can be poured into nearly any cocktail that calls for an orange liqueur, especially classic recipes that suggest curaçao. There are also recipes designed specifically to let it shine.
Cooking With Grand Marnier
Grand Marnier is almost as popular in the kitchen as it is in the bar. Its premium taste makes it a preferred brand for food recipes that get a boost from the orange liqueur and the sweet-bitter citrus adds a festive touch to every dish it's used in. This includes candies, pastry creams, cakes, and other sweets. It's used to make sweet citrus sauces for both dessert and savory dishes, it can be used to soak fruits, and it's often added chicken marinades. Experiment by adding a bit of this liqueur to any citrus-flavored dish and create your own recipe. If you don't want to buy a full bottle, many liquor stores sell smaller sizes or you can use orange juice concentrate as a substitute.
For an elegant bread spread, beat together 1/2 cup of softened butter, the finely grated zest of one orange, 2 tablespoons of orange marmalade, and 1 tablespoon of Grand Marnier. This mixture also makes a wonderful glaze for poultry.