Posted by: Matt Browner Hamlin | March 4, 2009

Review: Combier Liqueur D’Orange

I’ve been meaning to get to this review for a while. I’ve always been intrigued by the various high end orange liqueurs, as they play such a large role in such a wide variety of cocktails. I was a bit delayed because I was initially only given one 50 mL airplane bottle, which is insufficient to review. (Note to spirit reps: if you want a review, I need enough of your product to actually sample, not merely get a wiff of). I was able to receive more and now I finally have a time to give Combier Liqueur D’Orange, an 80 proof triple orange liqueur, a look.

Combier claims to be the original triple sec, with European sales dating almost 175 years. I’ll be honest and take them at their word, because I know next to nothing about the history of triple sec. Combier is only just now being distributed in the United States — I saw a bottle of it on the shelves of Astor Wine & Spirits last week, but have yet to see it in DC liquor stores.

My DeKupyer triple sec weighs in at 24% alcohol, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the 40% Combier. The nose is powerful, with an immediate hit of orange. I also smell an undertone of lemon peel, though that could also be the high alcohol content hitting my nostrils before I even inhale. The Liqueur D’Orange starts very sweet and sugary on the tongue; this gives way to a strong orange flavor, which is followed by more of a bitter orange aftertaste which isn’t overpowering and is quite pleasant. The mouth feel is slightly oily and viscous. The second sip shows greatly reduced sweetness as the orange flavor dominates more thoroughly. As far as a triple sec goes, this is a far cry from what you’ll find in the well bottles of any bar in the U.S.

The Combier sample included a small, wire-bound pocket cocktail book. Unlike many spirit tag-alongs with their 4-10 recipes that over prominently feature the bottle they’re attached to, Combier’s cocktail book is comprehensive. It’s actually fairly similar in size and scope to the Museum of the American Cocktail’s great pocket guide. This book is edited by Leo DeGroff. What I really liked is that while the book includes classic and popular recipes which don’t call for Combier products, the recipes that do are color-coded to the correct Combier liqueur. In addition to D’Orange, Combier makes a Creme des Mure, Creme de Framboise,  and a Creme de Peche de Vigne. This is a great decision because it shows enough confidence in their product to recognize that the people who buy it are likely to make drinks that don’t include their product. This is true of any spirit, but it’s the first time I’ve seen a contemporary spirit company be sensible about the obvious reality.

Rather than use of my own recipes or something from another book, I thought I’d pick a recipe from Combier’s cocktail book to test the liqueur in use.

Deshler Cocktail (Combier)

1 1/2 oz Dubonnet Rouge
1 1/2 oz rye whiskey (Sazerac)
1/4 oz Combier Liqueur d’Orange
Dash Angostura bitters

Shake and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange peel.

This is a great classic cocktail, though I normally think of it with about a 3:2 ration of rye to Dubonnet. I checked and this is actually the same recipe that Dale DeGroff published in The Craft of the Cocktail, though the Combier replaces regular triple sec. I would, in hindsight, almost certainly stir this cocktail in the future. I’m not sure why shaking is called for, as it leaves the drink with the cloudiness you get when you shake drinks with vermouth. The Deshler is in my second tier of favorite classic cocktails – balanced, sweet, and boozy. With Combier Liqueur d’Orange, the orange flavor and sweetness play a stronger role in the flavor profile. Adding to the sweetness of the Dubonnet, this is a pretty sweet drink now. The rye still has prominence and the cocktail still has punch. It’s nice to get a bigger orange play in this drink than you’d find with cheaper triple secs.

I don’t like using cheap ingredients in my drinks. I’ve made do with DeKuyper largely because there aren’t great options for triple sec as triple sec out there. Sure, you can bump up to a Cointreau or Grand Marnier, but then those become Cointreau or Grand Marnier drinks, instead of triple sec drinks. I think Combier walks the line — it adds quality and character, but doesn’t dominate the cocktail. In the Deshler, it’s stronger where there’s room to be strong — in the orange flavor working alongside the rye and Dubonnet. It doesn’t throw the cocktail out of balance. Additionally, the Combier Liqueur D’Orange has a price point below Cointreau and in the same range as Grand Marnier, making it a viable alternative to the other big names in the orange liqueur category.

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Responses

  1. Interesting, Matt, nice report. But there is good news on the triple-sec horizon. Stay tuned 🙂

  2. Oh I’m intrigued!

    I also heard from Derek that you’re expecting to get some of the Tuthilltown Spirits line in to Ace next week. I’m hoping that’s true…


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