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.



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.



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?

Curaçao Liqueurs




Anything called Curaçao liqueur should be made of the zest or peel of Citrus aurantium currassuviencis, the Curaçao orange — an especially bitter variety of Citrus aurantium, the bitter orange. The Curaçao orange grows on the island of Curaçao in the Netherlands Antilles.


Surfin Curaçao liqueur is specifically distilled from of a maceration of the peels in an overproof spirit. It is considered the standard. Surfin is French for ‘superfine.’



Surfin Curaçao liqueur may be of any of several grades for sweetness, and intensity of bitter orange aroma.


In addition, surfin Curaçao liqueur of any of the above grades may also be either colored or left blanc (‘white’ or colorless).



The sweetest and most bitter grade of Curaçao liqueur is doux (French for ‘sweet’).  No Curaçao doux liqueur seems to be commercially produced anymore.






Less sweet than Curaçao doux is Curaçao sec.  Sec is French for ‘dry.’ Early French Curaçao liqueurs were very sweet, and Curaçao sec may have been created as a later adaptation toward the original type from the Netherlands.





One way to allow for the use of less sugar was to use the zest and peel of three types of oranges — usually Curaçao, Seville and common sweet —  to mitigate the bitterness associated with using only Curaçao oranges. This is the meaning of the descriptor “triple orange” found on the pre-‘grand’ product by Marnier, Curaçao Marnier.

Curaçao Marnier Triple Orange detail

When a Curaçao liqueur is both ‘triple orange‘ and ‘sec‘ it is called in French, Curaçao triple-sec.




The very driest and most aromatic grade of Curaçao liqueur is extra-sec (French for ‘extra-dry’). Though originally of a sweeter grade, Cointreau’s famous product has become drier over the decades (perhaps in response to the success of Cusenier’s extra-sec product), and is now an extra-sec Curaçao liqueur.



Watch for a future post giving the grams of sugar per liter for each easily-obtained true Curaçao liqueur still on the market!