Curaçao Liqueur Lexicon

Curaçao Surfin

Curaçao liqueur is a a specialty liqueur, traditionally made of the zest and pith of the the Curaçao bitter orange, grown on the island of the same name in the Netherlands Antilles. It is the single most encountered liqueur in the history of mixology. Though Curaçao liqueur was first made in the Netherlands, and that produced by Amsterdam’s Wynand Fockink distillery was reputed by many to the best, the bulk of high-quality Curaçao liqueur bottlings have come from France. It is important to understand the the following French terms as they relate to Curaçao liqueur.

Curaçao — In historical French texts, the word Curaçao might refer to the Netherlands Antilles island of the same name, the unique bitter orange from that island, the dried peel of that bitter orange, a liqueur made of that peel, or a liqueur made of the peel of other types of bitter orange with similar flavor.

Curaçao Surfin — Curaçao surfin (‘refined Curaçao’) is Curaçao liqueur properly distilled from bitter orange peel macerated in a spirit (rather than just compounded with it).

Curaçao Blanc — Curaçao blanc (‘white Curaçao’) describes any Curaçao liqueur that is left colorless.

Curaçao Brun — Curaçao brun (‘brown Curaçao’) describes any Curaçao liqueur that is colored to match the brown color of the mature Curaçao bitter orange.

Curaçao Orange — In historical French texts, the phrase Curaçao orange might describe the unique Curaçao bitter orange, but more likely refers to any Curaçao liqueur that is colored orange by a post-distillation maceration using strips of the zest of ripe, sweet oranges (or Curaçao liqueur that is artificially colored to similar visual effect).

Curaçao d’Hollande — In historical French texts, the phrase Curaçao d’Hollande (‘Curaçao of Holland’) referred either to: Curaçao liqueur made in the Netherlands (where there would have been little reason to not use orange peel from the Netherlands Antilles island of Curaçao), or French Curaçao liqueur made using only authentic peel of Curaçao orange from the Netherlands Antilles island of Curaçao (shipped by way of the Netherlands) instead of cheaper, more-common (in France), less-reputed peel of bitter orange from Haiti or other places. The sugar content of Curaçao d’Hollande liqueur was typically 375 grams per liter, or close to it.

Bardinet Curaçao Chypre Doux Brun detail

Curaçao Doux — French Curaçao doux (‘sweet Curaçao’) liqueur is the most flavorful and bitter Curaçao liqueur because it is made wholly of Curaçao bitter orange peel. It is also the sweetest, is traditionally containing more than 450 grams of sugar per liter.

Curaçao Sec — French Curaçao sec (‘dry Curaçao’) liqueur traditionally contains fewer than 350 grams of sugar per liter.

Curaçao Marnier Triple Orange detail

Curaçao Triple-orange — The phrase Curaçao triple-orange (‘triple-orange Curaçao‘) on a bottle of liqueur from France indicates that, in addition to Curaçao bitter orange peel, that of sweet oranges is used as a second orange ingredient, along with the third orange ingredient — hydrosol of orange peel. This may have first been done to cut costs. The mixture of the various types of orange zest and peel creates a less-bitter distillate with less Curaçao flavor. “Curacao Marnier” was a triple-orange Curacao liqueur before Cognac brandy was added creating the product “Grand Marnier” (consequently an orange-flavored brandy liqueur — like the recent product by Ferrand called, humorously, “Dry Curaçao”).

Cointreau Curaçao Blanc Triple-sec detail

Curaçao Triple Sec — French Curaçao triple sec (‘dry, triple[-orange] Curaçao’) liqueur is Curaçao liqueur that is both triple-orange and sec. To mitigate the triple-orange-associated loss in flavor, Curaçao triple sec liqueur is traditionally further aromatized with hydrosol of orange peel. Curaçao triple sec liqueur traditionally contains fewer than 350 grams of sugar per liter. An earlier version of Cointreau’s famous product was Curacao triple sec liqueur. That was before it followed Cusenier into extra-dry territory.

Extra-sec History Labels

Curaçao Extra-sec — French Curaçao extra-sec (‘extra-dry Curaçao’) liqueur is made like Curaçao triple sec liqueur, except that the orange blend contains even less of the more bitter varieties to allow for even less sweetening. Because this results in even less flavor, Curaçao extra-sec liqueur is traditionally even more aromatized with hydrosol of orange peel than Curaçao triple sec liqueur (see the description in the Cusenier promotional booklet from 1935 below). Curaçao extra-sec liqueur traditionally contains fewer than 250 grams of sugar per liter.

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Shopping News: Good, French-made Dubonnet

Dubonnet Red

Those of you who have tasted the good, original Quinquina Dubonnet that is actually made in France can never go back to the stuff that has been under license in Kentucky for about 75 years. Drinks writers like David Embury and others decried the blatantly different taste and quality between the two. Why do you suppose American drinks containing Dubonnet suddenly stopped being made in anything like the previous numbers around 1940?

Well, if you are like me and are willing to pay the price of getting a trans-Atlantic every now and then (combining enough key products a large enough order to mitigate the shipping costs), there is good news! The Whisky Exchange in London, for a while out of stock, now has authentic, French-produced Dubonnet ready to ship!

WARNING: Don’t purchase the so-called Dubonnet Blanc on the Whisky Exchange website. The French producer has never made a “blanc.” What the Whisky Exchange is selling as the blanc is the American product. It was invented in the U.S.A. and is just as crappy, in my opinion, as their other product called ‘Dubonnet.’

Giffard vs. U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau Ignorance

Giffard CTS

I like and use Giffard products. But, as an Aspie, I am driven a little crazy that their excellent triple-sec Curaçao liqueur must be labeled, by decision of the ever-ignorant U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (a.k.a. ‘T.T.B.’), only as ‘triple sec’ — an adjectival phrase bereft of any noun — for the American market.

Giffard vs Giffard

This is like calling a shaggy, white dog just a “shaggy white.”

In the rest of the world, the label reads, in French, “Curaçao Triple Sec.” To translate that, we must also put it into English word order. It becomes, “Triple Dry Curaçao.”

The official product description in the Giffard USA website says: “A distillation of the finest blend of sweet and bitter oranges from the island of Curaçao.”

Duh, T.T.B.! That’s what Curaçao liqueur is!

This one from Giffard does happen to be of the triple-sec grade — traditionally containing between 250 and 350 grams of sugar per liter. It’s not wrong for those words to be on the label. But just calling something ‘triple-dry’ without saying what it is, is just wrong, and nothing less than the bureaucratic imposition of ignorance upon the rest of us by the T.T.B.

Not all Curaçao liqueurs are of the triple-sec grade.

Curaçao Liqueur Grades

Cointreau and Senior produce extra-sec Curaçao liqueur — having just 240 grams and 242 grams, respectively, of sugar per liter. Legendary, long-gone Cusenier produced the first extra-sec Curaçao liqueur in the early decades of the twentieth century. But it was never the only grade they produced.

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Is there anyone who will try to assert that understanding the different, traditional grades of Curaçao liqueur is pointless? Is there no point in understanding varying levels of sweetness, bitterness and aroma? If we want to elevate the mixing of drinks, we cannot carry on in such ignorance of ingredients.

I imagine someone with more power than education at the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau objected to the original label, saying something stupid like, “Which is it: triple-sec, or Curaçao?” [As you play that in your head, be sure to hear it by one of the dumb-jock-type characters so excellently voiced by Patrick Warburton over the years — Seinfeld’s Puddy, perhaps.]

That would be like asking about a red fire-engine, “Which is it: red, or a fire-engine?

Elemental Mixology Mixing Stock Pages Being Added

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For those that have not noticed it, I have been adding pages to the website giving the liquor products that I like to work with during Elemental Mxiology courses.

I have gotten through the geist spirits. Any thing after that is still under construction, but the Elemental Mixology Mixing Stock page already contains a lot of information worth looking at.

Keep checking back!

Oaxacan Mezcal & Tequila Mezcal

Vaquero

French (and therefore European Union and international) law requires that Cognac brandy be produced in Cognac using the Charentais still. Any variance from that point of origin or that method of distillation yields a product that is simply brandy or French brandy. This is all very common knowledge.

Now imagine, if you will, France changing, for no other reason than an obvious attempt to boost profits and tariffs, its laws concerning brandy and Cognac brandy. Imagine the new regulation leaving the appellation rules for ‘Cognac’ mostly unchanged, while restricting the use of the generic term “brandy” only to brandy produced in the Burgundy region. The fact that brandy from Cognac, distilled the traditional Charente way, could no longer be legally labelled as brandy would not change that fact that that is exactly what it is.

This is why I persist in stating that there are two major types of mezcal available at market in the U.S.A. – Oaxacan mezcal and Tequila mezcal.

Nevertheless, the Mexican government’s manipulation of labeling regulations has worked very well.

Once upon a time, Tequila mezcal was the more-exclusive stuff made near the city of Tequila, Jalisco of a more specific ingredient (blue agave) — while other mezcals could be made anywhere in Mexico from less-specific ingredients (any type of agave), and were usually less expensive. Non-Tequila mezcal was then the common tipple of campesinos in the southern parts of Mexico and of hard-working, under-paid vaqueros in the central and northern parts.

I think of the 1971 Columbo episode, “A Matter of Honor.” In it, el dueño del rancho, played by Ricardo Montalban, tosses a bottle of mezcal to an old cowboy, who responds, “Good mezcal, señor. You touch the heart of an old vaquero.”

Watch the episode. It’s pretty good. But, that was 1971, and non-Tequila mezcal is not for old vaqueros any more.

In their lust to transform Oaxacan mezcal into the next expensive, boutique spirit on the world stage, the Mexican government and the Oaxacan distillers have turned their backs on the campesinos and the vaqueros.

You should consider that next time you want to go to a bar to try various mezcals from bottles that routinely retail for around $200. The focus on the paradigm would be sharpened if the bar were in a freshly ‘gentrified’ part of the city and the guy next to you were paying for his precious, exclusive, sips of Oaxacan mezcal with the proceeds of flipped houses.

What would be needed to remedy this situation would be the Evan Williams or Old Grand-dad of Oaxacan mezcal – something with reliably-acceptable quality at a price that won’t mock the poor heart of the campesino or vaquero (or even of the median-or-lower-income Yanqui).

Real de Magueyes

One such product was the Real de Magueyes mezcal (sensibly without any worm or insect) that I routinely bought at the Beverage Warehouse in Culver City for $19.99 for the yearling (añejo — I never did see the blanco there). It was from San Luis Potosi instead of Oaxaca. It was smokey, yet smooth and perfectly delicious. It seems to have disappeared from the U.S.A. around 2010. Nothing has filled the void it left.

Buenas noches, viejo vaquero.

“Viejo Vaquero” — there’s the product name for a solid mezcal at about $20 per bottle. Now, someone, make that happen!